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GCHQ experts back scanning of encrypted phone messages to fight child abuse



GCHQ experts back scanning of encrypted phone messages to fight child abuse

Companies could police encrypted messaging services for possible child abuse while still preserving the privacy and security of the people who use them, government security and intelligence experts said in a discussion paper published yesterday.

Ian Levy, technical director of the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), and Crispin Robinson, technical director for cryptanalysis at GCHQ, argued that it is “neither necessary nor inevitable” for society to choose between making communications “insecure by default” or creating “safe spaces for child abusers”.

The technical directors proposed in a discussion paper, Thoughts on child safety on commodity platforms, that client-side scanning software placed on mobile phones and other electronic devices could be deployed to police child abuse without disrupting individuals’ privacy and security.

The proposals were criticised yesterday by technology companies, campaign groups and academics.

Meta, owner of Facebook and WhatsApp, said the technologies proposed in the paper would undermine the internet, would threaten security and damage people’s privacy and human rights.

The Open Rights Group, an internet campaign group, described Levy and Robinson’s proposals as a step towards a surveillance state.

The technical directors argued that developments in technology mean there is not a binary choice between the privacy and security offered by end-to-end encryption and the risk of child sexual abusers not being identified.

They argued in the paper that the shift towards end-to-end encryption “fundamentally breaks” most of the safety systems that protect individuals from child abuse material and that are relied on by law enforcement to find and prosecute offenders. 

“Child sexual abuse is a societal problem that was not created by the internet, and combating it requires an all-of-society response,” they wrote.

“However, online activity uniquely allows offenders to scale their activities, but also enables entirely new online-only harms, the effects of which are just as catastrophic for the victims.”

Neural Hash on hold

Apple attempted to introduce client-side scanning technology – known as Neural Hash – to detect known child sexual abuse images on iPhones last year, but put the plans on indefinite hold following an outcry by leading experts and cryptography experts.

A report by 15 leading computer scientists, Bugs in our pockets: the risks of client-side scanning, published  by Columbia University, identified multiple ways that states, malicious actors and abusers could turn the technology around to cause harm to others or society.

“Client-side scanning, by its nature, creates serious security and privacy risks for all society, while the assistance it can provide for law enforcement is at best problematic,” they said. “There are multiple ways in which client-side scanning can fail, can be evaded and can be abused.”

Levy and Robinson said there was an “unhelpful tendency” to consider end-to-end encrypted services as “academic ecosystems” rather than the set of real-world compromises that they actually are.

“We have found no reason as to why client-side scanning techniques cannot be implemented safely in many of the situations that society will encounter,” they said.

“That is not to say that more work is not needed, but there are clear paths to implementation that would seem to have the requisite effectiveness, privacy and security properties.”

The possibility of people being wrongly accused after being sent images that cause “false positive”  alerts in the scanning software would be mitigated  in practice by multiple independent checks before any referral to law enforcement, they said.

The risk of “mission creep”, where client-side scanning could potentially be used by some governments to detect other forms of content unrelated to child abuse could also be prevented, the technical chiefs argued.

Under their proposals, child protection organisations worldwide would use a “consistent list” of known illegal image databases.

The databases would use cryptographic techniques to verify that they only contained child abuse images and their contents would be verified by private audits.

The technical directors acknowledged that abusers might be able to evade or disable client-side scanning on their devices to share images between themselves without detection.

However, the presence of the technology on victims’ mobile phones would protect them from receiving images from potential abusers, they argued.

Detecting grooming

Levy and Robinson also proposed running “language models” on phones and other devices to detect language associated with grooming. The software would warn and nudge potential victims to report risky conversations to a human moderator.

“Since the models can be tested and the user is involved in the provider’s access to content, we do not believe this sort of approach attracts the same vulnerabilities as others,” they said.

In 2018, Levy and Robinson proposed allowing government and law enforcement “exceptional access” to encrypted communications, akin to listening in to encrypted communications services.

But they argued that countering child sexual abuse is complex, that the detail is important and that governments have never clearly laid out the “totality of the problem”.

“In publishing this paper, we hope to correct that information asymmetry and engender a more informed debate,” they said.

Analysis of metadata ineffective

The paper argued that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse metadata, rather than the content of communications, is an ineffective way to detect the use of end-to-end encrypted services for child abuse images.

Many proposed AI-based solutions do not give law enforcement access to suspect messages, but calculate a probability that an offence has occurred, it said.

Any steps that law enforcement could take, such as surveillance or arrest, would not currently meet the high threshold of evidence needed for law enforcement to intervene, the paper said.

“Down this road lies the dystopian future depicted in the film Minority Report,” it added.

Online Safety Bill

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at children’s charity the NSPCC, said the paper showed it is wrong to suggest that children’s right to online safety can only be achieved at the expense of privacy.

“The report demonstrates that it will be technically feasible to identify child abuse material and grooming in end-to end-encrypted products,” he said. “It is clear that the barriers to child protection are not technical, but driven by tech companies that don’t want to develop a balanced settlement for their users.”

Burrows said the proposed Online Safety Bill is an opportunity to tackle child abuse by incentivising companies to develop technical solutions.

“The Online Safety Bill is an opportunity to tackle child abuse taking place at an industrial scale. Despite the breathless suggestions that the Bill could ‘break’ encryption, it is clear that legislation can incentivise companies to develop technical solutions and deliver safer and more private online services,” he said.

Proposals would ‘undermine security’

Meta, which owns Facebook and WhatsApp, said the technologies proposed in the paper by Levy and Robinson would undermine the security of end-to-end encryption.

“Experts are clear that technologies like those proposed in this paper would undermine end-to-end encryption and threaten people’s privacy, security and human rights,” said a Meta spokesperson.

“We have no tolerance for child exploitation on our platforms and are focused on solutions that do not require the intrusive scanning of people’s private conversations. We want to prevent harm from happening in the first place, not just detect it after the fact.”

Meta said it protected children by banning suspicious profiles, restricting adults from messaging children they are not connected with on Facebook, and limiting the capabilities of accounts of people aged under 18.

“We are also encouraging people to report harmful messages to us, so we can see the reported contents, respond swiftly and make referrals to the authorities,” the spokesperson said.

UK  push ‘irresponsible’

Michael Veale, an associate professor in digital rights and regulations at UCL, wrote in an anlaysis on Twitter that it was irresponsible of the UK to push for client-side scanning.

“Other countries will piggyback on the same (faulty, unreliable) tech to demand scanning for links to abortion clinics or political material,” he wrote.

Veale said the people sharing child sexual abuse material would be able to evade scanning by moving to other communications services or encrypting their files before sending them.

“Those being persecuted for exercising normal, day-to-day human rights cannot,” he added.

Security vulnerabilties

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said client-side scanning would have the effect of breaking end-to-end encryption and creating vulnerabilities that could be exploited by criminals, and state actors in cyber-warfare battles.

UK cyber security chiefs plan to invade our privacy, break encryption, and start automatically scanning our mobile phones for images that will turn them into a ‘spies in your pocket’,” he said.

“This would be a massive step towards a Chinese-style surveillance state. We have already seen China wanting to exploit similar technology to crack down on political dissidents.”

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Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance




Microsoft Teams is finally fixing this ear-splitting annoyance
Four people in a meeting room video conferencing with four remote participants.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.

The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence. 

However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.

Teams’ howling

Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.

Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting. 

If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.

Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.

The news follows a number of recent updates largely aimed around improving the audio quality on Microsoft Teams calls using AI and machine learning.

The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.

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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed




Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer breakdown: 6 thing you might have missed
Shazam points at someone off camera in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.

Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:

Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).

But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.

1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?

Kalypso hands Hespera the wizard's staff in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

New movie, new villains. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.

Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.

So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.

2. Mythological monsters

A dragon prepares to breathe fire at one of Shazam's fellow heroes in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam isn’t the only person taking flight in Fury of the Gods. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.

Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.

But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.

3. You can’t get the staff these days

Hespera uses the wizard's staff as Kalypso looks on in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

“So I just point it and then what?” (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.

In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.

The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players. 

Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.

4. Prison break

Djimon Hounsou's wizard blows som magic dust out of a prison window in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Time to break out, Mr. Wizard. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.

We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.

Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.

5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?

Shazam flies past some rotating buildings in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Where have we seen this kind of aesthetic before? (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you? 

Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.

Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.

6. Light the way

Shazam prepares to fight Kalypso and her dragon in Shazam! Fury of the Gods

A yellow bolt out of the blue. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.

Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.

Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.

For more DCEU-based coverage, find out where we placed 2019’s Shazam! in our DC movies ranked article. Additionally, read up on the best superhero films of all-time or check out how to watch the Batman movies in order.

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As TechRadar’s entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You’ll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot (opens in new tab).

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.

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You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!




You can lock Chrome incognito tabs on Android now. Bring it to the PC!

Chrome logo on a phone with a lock image over it

Image: Deepanker Verma / Pexels

Author: Alaina Yee
, Senior Editor

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

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