Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


Suspect provenance of Hunter Biden data cache prompts skepticism and social media bans



A cache of emails and other selected data purportedly from a laptop owned by Hunter Biden were published today by the New York Post. Ordinarily a major leak related to a figure involved in a controversy of Presidential importance would be on every front page — but the red flags on this one are so prominent that few editors would consent to its being published as-is.

Almost no news outlets have reported the data or its origin as factual, and Facebook and Twitter have both restricted sharing of the Post articles pending further information. Here’s why.

When something of this nature comes up, it pays to investigate the sources very closely: It may very well be, as turned out to be the case before, that foreign intelligence services are directly involved. We know that Russia, among others, is actively attempting to influence the election using online influence campaigns and hackery. Any report of a political data leakage — let alone one friendly to Trump and related to Ukraine — must be considered within that context, and the data understood to be either purposefully released, purposefully edited, or both.

But even supposing no global influence effort existed, the provenance of this so-called leak would be difficult to swallow. So much so that major news organizations have held off coverage, and Facebook and Twitter have both limited the distribution of the NY Post article.

In a statement, Twitter said that it is blocking links or images of the material “in line with our hacked materials policy.” The suspicious circumstances surrounding the data’s origin apparently do not adequately exclude the possibility of their having been acquired through hacking or other illicit means. (I’ve asked Twitter for more more clarity on this; Facebook has not responded to a request for comment.)

The story goes that a person dropped off three MacBook Pros to a repair shop in Delaware in April of 2019, claiming they were water damaged and needed data recovery services. The owner of the repair shop “couldn’t positively identify the customer as Hunter Biden,” but the laptop had a Beau Biden Foundation sticker on it.

On the laptops were, reportedly, many emails including many pertaining to Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which Trump has repeatedly alleged were a cover for providing access to Hunter’s father, who was then Vice President. (There is no evidence for this, and Joe Biden has denied all this many times. Today the campaign specifically denied a meeting mentioned in one of the purported emails.)

In addition, the laptops were full of private and images and personal videos that are incriminating of the younger Biden, whose drug habit at the time has become public record.

The data was recovered, but somehow the client could not be contacted. The repair shop then apparently inspected the data, found it relevant to the national interest, and made a copy to give to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani before handing it over to the FBI. Giuliani, through former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, shared the data with the New York Post, which published the articles today.

There are so many problems with this story it is difficult to know where to begin.

  1. The very idea that a laptop with a video of Hunter Biden smoking crack on it would be given to a random repair shop to recover is absurd. It is years since his drug use and Burisma dealings became a serious issue of international importance, and professionals would long since have taken custody of any relevant hardware or storage. It is beyond the worst operational security in the world to give an unencrypted device with confidential data on it to a third party. It is, however, very much a valid way for someone to make a device appear to be from a person or organization without providing any verification that it is so.
  2. The repair shop supposedly could not identify Hunter Biden, who lives in Los Angeles, as the customer. But the invoice (for $85 — remarkably cheap for diagnosis, recovery, and backup of three damaged Macs) has “Hunter Biden” written right on it, with a phone number and one of the email addresses he reportedly used. It seems unlikely that Hunter Biden’s personal laptop — again, loaded with personal and confidential information, and possibly communications with the VP — would be given to a small repair shop rather (than an Apple Store or vetted dealer) and that shop would be given his personal details for contact. Political operators with large supporting organizations simply don’t do that — though someone else could have.
  3. Even if they did, the idea that Biden or his assistant or whoever would not return to pick up the laptop or pay for the services is extremely suspicious. Again, these are supposedly the personal devices of someone who communicated regularly with the VP, and whose work had come under intense scrutiny long before they were dropped off. They would not be treated lightly or forgotten. On the other hand, someone who wanted this data to be inspected would do exactly this.
  4. That the laptops themselves were open and unencrypted is ridiculous. The serial number of the laptop suggests it was a 2017 MacBook Pro, probably running Mojave. Every Mac running Lion or later has easily enabled built-in encryption. It would be unusual for anyone to provide a laptop for repair that had no password or protection whatsoever on its files, let alone a person like Hunter Biden — again, years into efforts to uncover personal data relating to his work in Ukraine. An actor who wanted this data to be discovered and read would leave it unencrypted.
  5. That this information would be inspected by the repair shop at all is very suspect indeed. Recovery of an ostensibly damaged Mac would likely take the form of cloning the drive and checking its integrity against the original. There is no reason the files or apps themselves would need to be looked at in the course of the work in the first place. Some shops have software that checks file hashes, if they can see them, against a database of known child sex abuse material. And there have been notable breaches of trust where repair staff illicitly accessed the contents of a laptop to get personal data. But there’s really no legitimate reason for this business to inspect the contents of the devices they are working on, let alone share that information with anyone, let alone a partisan operative. The owner, and avid Trump supporter, gave an interview this morning giving inconsistent information on what had happened and suggested he investigated the laptops of his own volition and retained copies for personal protection.
  6. The data itself is not convincing. The Post has published screenshots of emails instead of the full text with metadata — something you would want to do if you wanted to show they were authentic. For stories with potential political implications, it’s wise to verify.
  7. Lastly, the fact that a copy was given to Giuliani and Bannon before being handed over to the FBI, and that it is all being published two weeks before the election, lends the whole thing a familiar stink — one you may remember from other pre-election shenanigans in 2016. The choice of the Post as the outlet for distribution is curious as well; one need only to accidentally step on one in the subway to understand why.

As you can see, very little about the story accompanying this data makes any real sense as told. None of these major issues is addressed or really even raised in the Post stories. If however you were to permit yourself to speculate even slightly as to the origin of the data, the story starts to make a lot of sense.

Say, for example, that Hunter Biden’s iCloud account was hacked, something that has occurred to many celebrities and persons of political interest. This would give access not only to the emails purported to be shown in the Post article, but also personal images and video automatically backed up from the phone that took them. That data, however, would have to be “laundered” in order to have a plausible origin that did not involve hackers, whose alliance and intent would be trivial to deduce. Loaded on a laptop with an obvious political sticker on it, with no password, left at a demonstrably unscrupulous repair shop with Hunter Biden’s personal contact details, it would be trivial to tip confederates off to its existence and vulnerability.

That’s pure speculation, of course. But it aligns remarkably well with the original story, doesn’t it? It would be the duty of any newsroom with integrity to exclude some or all of these very distinct possibilities or to at least explain their importance. Then and only then can the substance of the supposed leak be considered at all.

This story is developing. Inquiries are being made to provide further information and context.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


NASA’s robot just landed on Bennu after 2 years — but its mission has only just begun



Relief showed clearly on the faces of the team of NASA scientists and engineers as they were told: “Touchdown is complete”. Then applause a few seconds later for “back away burn complete”. The most hazardous part of the mission was over – and seemingly successful, although we will have to wait for a few more days to hear the scale of the success.

OSIRIS-REx (for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer)) was launched in September 2016, arriving at its target asteroid 101955 Bennu in December 2018. The purpose of the mission was to characterize the asteroid, then bring some of it back for study on Earth.

The spacecraft spent two years circling Bennu, making detailed maps of its surface, learning as much as possible about the asteroid before the next phase of the mission: looking for somewhere safe to land. Or, rather, not to land, but to make a very rapid “touch-and-go” visit to the surface – where it would collect fragments of material to return to Earth. It was completion of the touch-and-go manoeuvre that prompted the clapping and cheering in mission control.

Why Bennu? And why the relief? After all, this is not the first asteroid that a spacecraft has visited – and it is not the first small body that has been landed on. That record is held by the NEAR spacecraft that made a controlled crash-landing on Asteroid 433 Eros in 2001. And I still remember the emotion in the control room when Philae landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.

The relief was because Bennu is small – only about 500 meters across – a fact that was known when it was selected as a target. But it is oddly shaped and active – two things that were not known. It looks a bit like an old-fashioned spinning top, or a rough diamond, pointed at the top and bottom and fatter in the middle. Because it is so small it was assumed that Bennu would be quiescent – it wouldn’t, for instance, be behaving like a comet and ejecting bursts of gas and rocks.

But because nothing in the solar system is simple, when OSIRIS-Rex got close to Bennu, it found that the asteroid was throwing small amounts of material from its surface. The particles were less than a centimeter across, and most of them landed back on the asteroid – generally closer to the equator than the poles, which changed its shape over time.

Image of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx in 2018.
Image of Bennu taken by OSIRIS-REx in 2018. NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

One of the consequences of the activity – explained by changes in temperature fracturing larger boulders and breaking up the rocks – is that the surface of Bennu is completely covered in rubble, much more than had been expected. This made selecting a site for sample collection more difficult.

Secrets of the solar system

Bennu is a Near Earth Asteroid – it has a one-in-2700 chance of colliding with the Earth in about 170 years’ time. It is also believed to be rich in the type of organic compounds that might have seeded the Earth to enable life to arise.

Another surprising find that came from the mapping campaign was that Bennu was not only rich in clay minerals, but that veins of carbonate were present. Clay and carbonates require water – lots of it – so these minerals must have formed when Bennu was part of a larger asteroid. There is no running water there now – but there might be small pockets of ice below the surface. While this ice will not be collected by OSIRIS_Rex, the effects of water should be seen in the material it’s gathered.

Studying these materials will help us understand the primitive dust from which the solar system grew, and the range of organic compounds present. It will also tell us the physical properties of something that might hit the Earth, potentially helping us stop it.

It was always going to be tricky to collect material from the surface – any attempt to land would be unlikely to succeed, because the low gravitational pull of Bennu would not grab onto a lander and hold it in place. A lander would bounce off, back into space. This is why NASA used the touch-and-go approach – the spacecraft approached the asteroid very slowly, hovering only a meter or so from its surface, while an arm was extended to touch the surface to collect a sample.

It did this by blowing a jet of nitrogen gas onto the surface, which was sufficiently powerful to throw material into the collection canister. The slow approach to the surface took several nail-biting hours, while the collection operation took a matter of seconds. Collection over, and the spacecraft backed away – hence the relief at mission control at the “back away, burn complete” message, showing that OSIRIS-Rex was moving away from the surface.

We don’t yet know how much material was blown into the canister – and we won’t know until it arrives back on Earth in September 2023. It might be 60 grams – which is the target – or it might be as much as a kilogram. An attempt will be made later this week to see how the moment of inertia of the spacecraft – its uniform motion in a straight line – has changed, which should give a first approximation of the amount collected.

When the sample comes back to Earth, it will be analyzed by an international team of scientists who will measure all aspects of the material’s composition and structure, especially the organic and water contents of the soil.

This is when we’ll get some answers, which will tell us about our own origins as much as about the origin of asteroid Bennu.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences, The Open University under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Continue Reading


Airbnb recruits ex-Apple design honcho Jony Ive



Next time you stay in an Airbnb you better expect some aluminium sides, some polished and laminated leathers, and, potentially, the most innovative flat you’ve ever stayed in. That’s right people, Airbnb has brought on Jony Ive, the ex-Chief Head of Design at Apple.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jony Ive, he’s the man behind lots of your favorite thingsHe left Apple last year after almost 30 years at the company. During that time, he oversaw the development of almost any modern Apple product or service you want to name, from the iPod to the Apple Stores themselves. Even more importantly, he helped build the design team that’s still pumping out quality shit to this very day.

Anyway, after Ive left Apple, he formed his own company: LoveFrom, an organization so exclusive it doesn’t appear to even have its own web page. I assume this is the internet rich dude version of a bar with no sign.

The reason I mention LoveFrom is because that’s who Airbnb has made a deal with, not Ive directly.

The flat-sharing accommodation chain’s CEO — Brian Chesky — announced this collaboration in on its blog. Chesky wrote that Airbnb and LoveFrom will be “engaging in a special collaboration,” working together through a “multi-year relationship.”

The goal? Well, that’d be to “design the next generation of Airbnb products and services” and help “develop its internal design team.”

What this actually means — according to the Financial Times — is that Ive will overhaul Airbnb‘s app and website, one element of this being revamping the site’s rating system for guests and hosts.

All this is exciting, but a shame if you were expecting a fleet of swanky new Airbnb complexes that are an engineering feat, managing to distill the essential form of humanity into a relevant architectual mechanism. You’ll have to make do with a new website instead.

Airbnb has been hit hard by the pandemic (bookings were down by 80%), but it is bound to survive. Which is a little bit of a shame because it has been a driving force behind gentrification, rising rents, and the housing crisis. Why can nothing useful also be moral?

Obviously Ive going there is unlikely to make the company change (which is a shame), but it will probably improve the service (which is good). So maybe it’s a net neutral for everyone.

Well, aside from Airbnb‘s current Chief Design Officer, Alex Schleifer, who is “stepping down” following this news. I’ll pour one out for you, pal.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 22, 2020 — 07:45 UTC


Continue Reading


Adobe’s new AI experiment syncs your dance moves perfectly to the beat



TikTok has made on-beat dances and movements mainstream. But what if you went offbeat or the video you recorded had some lag to your perfect dance moves. Adobe can fix that for you.

The company showed off an AI-powered experiment at its Adobe Max conference that syncs your off-beat movement to the beat of the music. Researchers used computer vision to follow the body movement of the person in the video. As shown below, the algorithm also analyzes dance moves through popping orange circles to determine the time of movements.

[Read: How Photoshop’s new Neural Filters harness AI to generate new pixels]

The researchers also mark beats of the music track with orange lines and plot them against the orange dots to determine if dance moves are in sync with the music.

[embedded content]

Adobe uses this analysis to match beats of the song with corresponding movements to make a perfectly synced video. The company said that the algorithm can take random videos of people dancing and sync them with a track, making it look like they’re dancing to the same song.

While this is just an experiment, it could be handy for creators to video editors. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see such functionality making it to TikTok or Instagram Reels in a few years.

Published October 22, 2020 — 07:04 UTC


Continue Reading