China Operates Secret ‘Police Stations’ in Other Countries

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For years, AlphaBay ruled the dark web. If you were in the market to buy drugs or stolen credit cards, the digital bazaar was the place to turn. At its peak, more than 350,000 products were listed for sale—an estimated 10 times the size of the notorious Silk Road market—and the website proved to be the ire of law enforcement the world round. That was until cops took AlphaBay offline in 2017.

This week, WIRED published the first in a six-part series detailing the hunt for Alpha02, the mastermind believed to be behind AlphaBay, and the huge international takedown operation that wiped the marketplace from the web. Each week, we’ll publish a new part of the series, excerpted from WIRED reporter Andy Greenberg’s new book, Tracers in the Dark.

Schools across the US have faced dozens of hoax calls about mass shootings in recent months. After a call is made, police scramble to the scene fearing the worst, only to find out there is no shooter. Now hoax phone call recordings obtained by WIRED and conversations with law enforcement officials reveal how the calls have been made and show that law enforcement officials are closing in on the alleged hoaxer. Police are looking for a male “with a heavy accent described as Middle Eastern or African” and have linked the phone calls to Ethiopia.

Elsewhere, a bug in Apple’s new macOS 13 Ventura operating system is causing problems for malware scanners and security monitoring tools. With the new software update, Apple accidentally crippled third-party security products in a way users may not notice. The company is planning to fix the bug in an upcoming software release.

We also looked at a newly discovered Chinese influence operation that is targeting US elections—although it is not having much success. And now that Elon Musk owns Twitter, here’s how you should think about your privacy and security on the bird website. [LINK TKTK]

But wait, there’s more! Each week, we highlight the news we didn’t cover in-depth ourselves. Click on the headlines below to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Officials in Canada and the Netherlands are investigating allegations that Chinese police forces have operated a network of illegal police stations within their countries. According to reports that emerged this week, Chinese police forces have been operating out of clandestine bases and using their presence to track and threaten dissidents. The Dutch government has called such sites “illegal” and said it is “investigating exactly what they are doing here,” while officials in Canada said they are investigating “so-called ‘police’ stations.”

However, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Spanish civil rights group Safeguard Defenders first claimed that Chinese police forces from the cities of Fuzhou and Qingtian were running “overseas police service stations” across the West in a report published in September. Since 2018, the group claims, more than 38 police service stations have appeared in “dozens of countries” spread across five different continents. “Such overseas police ‘service stations’ have been used by police back in China to carry out such ‘persuasion to return’ operations on foreign soil, including in Europe,” the report states. Lawmakers in both England and Scotland are also planning on investigating the stations, reports say.

Chinese officials have not denied the existence of the service stations, but say they exist to provide bureaucratic services to Chinese citizens and don’t involve police operations. The Chinese embassy in Canada said

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the stations exist to allow Chinese citizens to complete tasks such as renewing their driving licenses: “The main purpose of the service station abroad is to provide free assistance to overseas Chinese citizens in this regard.”

If stalkerware is installed on your phone or laptop, the malicious software can send every tap, message, and photo back to the person who added it to your device. The software is often hard to find, and the insidious industry that creates it operates in the shadows. This week, a TechCrunch investigation revealed how a huge stalkerware network, with hundreds of thousands of victims, operates.

Leaked data obtained by TechCrunch shows TheTruthSpy stalkerware has been installed on more than 300,000 devices and has victims all around the world. Over a six-week period analyzed by the publication, more than 9,400 new devices were infected with the stalkerware. Thousands of calls, millions of text messages, and more than 470,000 photos and videos were collected by the app without its victims’ knowledge. And data was also likely collected from the phones of children. This tool can tell if your device was compromised.

A pair of Chinese intelligence officers attempted to bribe a US official involved in the criminal case against Huawei, the US Department of Justice claimed this week. Across three separate cases, the Justice Department charged 13 people with alleged efforts to “exert influence” in the US on behalf of the People’s Republic of China. The charges range from trying to disrupt the US government’s Huawei investigation to trying to recruit people as intelligence agents. Two people were also arrested for allegedly attempting to “cause the forced repatriation” of a Chinese national living in the US. “The actions announced today take place against a backdrop of malign activity from the government of the People’s Republic of China that includes espionage, attempts to disrupt our justice system, harassment of individuals, and ongoing efforts to steal sensitive US technology,” deputy attorney general Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement. In an unprecedented move in July, the head of the FBI and the UK’s MI5 made a joint public appearance to warn about the perceived threat from China, saying the nation is the biggest threat to economic and national security.

The website and Twitter account of the New York Post were hacked this week. On Thursday, the publication’s Twitter account started sharing links to stories with offensive headlines and posts about politicians. US president Joe Biden, US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and New York governor Kathy Hochul were all targeted. The Post, which is owned by News Corp, tweeted that it was investigating the incident, but very few details have been made public so far. In February this year, News Corp announced it had been hacked, with the attackers believed to have accessed journalists’ emails. The latest attack against the Post echoes a recent hack of the business news website Fast Company. In September, the publication’s content management system (CMS) was breached and the attacker sent offensive push notifications to Apple News subscribers.

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