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How the Apple Watch changed the world

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In 2015 Switzerland was fucked. This blunt belief, grunted out by Apple’s Jony Ive and repeated by the media as a death knell for the watch industry, seemed to define a sad truth: that the Swiss watch was dead and Apple pulled the trigger.

Now, three years and four Apple Watches later, was Ive right? Did Apple change the world? And, most importantly, did Switzerland survive?

Yes, but…

As you might have noticed, the Swiss watch industry is still standing. The major Swiss houses — LVMH, Richemont and Swatch Group — are seeing a major uptick in sales, especially in the U.S. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, sales are up 5.5 percent year-over-year, a bit of news that was, amusingly, almost buried by the onslaught of Apple Watch Series 4 reviews.

This increase of U.S. sales bucked a major trend this year, and one market insider, who preferred to remained anonymous, noted that all of his sales contacts are seeing increased sales in the $3,000 and above watch category. While the low-cost fashion watches were, as he said, “decimated,” the luxury market is growing. But why?

According to Swatch Group, Swiss watch exports rose 4.8 percent compared with last year and, according to a Reuters report, “first-quarter watch exports rose 10.1 percent, the highest quarterly growth rate since mid-2012, according to figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.”

“You know we saw an end of the year that was very strong — double-digit growth — and now it continues, so every month is a record month for us,” Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek told CNBC. In short, the industry is back from an all-time low after the recession.

Watch analysts believe that Apple created a halo effect. Of the millions of people who bought and wore an Apple Watch, a majority had never worn or thought about wearing a watch. Once they tried the Apple Watch, however, and outfitted it with leather bands, fancy Milanese loops and outfit-matching colors, the attitude changed. If wearing watches is so fun and expressive, why not try other, more storied pieces? The numbers are hard to find (watchmakers are notoriously secretive), but I’ve found that my own watch-obsessives site, WristWatchReview, saw a solid uptick in traffic in 2015, one that continued, for the most part, into 2018. One year, 2017, was considerably lower because my server was failing almost constantly.

What does this mean for the watch? First, it means that, like vinyl, a new group of obsessives are taking up the collector’s mantle after discovering the implicit value of more modern forms of the same thing. An Apple Watch is a gateway drug to a Tissot which is a gateway drug to a classic tropical Rolex Submariner on a signed band, just as your first Radiohead MP3 leads to buying a turntable, an amp, a Grado cartridge and a pressing of Moon Shaped Pool.

“In high school I wore a pebble for a while,” said Brady, a 20-year-old college sophomore I spoke to. “As an easily distracted high school student, even though this wearable was very primitive tech, it consumed a lot of my attention when it wasn’t appropriate to be on my phone — which meant also not appropriate to be on my watch. I then shifted to Nixon quartz ‘fashion watches’ and I was happy knowing they kept good reliable time. Then I got a Seiko SNK805 automatic. I don’t have a single non-mechanical watch due to my respect for the craftsmanship!”

Wearables are changing, as well, pushing regular watches back into the spotlight. As Jon Speer, VP at Greenlight.Guru, said, most wearables won’t look like watches in the next few years.

“I predict the next generation of wearables to blur the lines between tech accessory and medical device. These ‘devices’ will include capabilities such as measuring blood pressure, blood sugar, body temperature and more,” he said. “The FDA is working closely with industry partners to identify common roadblocks to innovation. The De Novo Program, the classification Apple pursued for the Apple Watch, is the category for medical devices that don’t fall within an existing classification. As we blend medical technology with consumer technology, I foresee the De Novo program being utilized by companies such as Fitbit and Garmin. As a consumer, I’m very excited for the potential and advancements.”

Thus the habit of wearing a watch might stick even as the originators of that habit — a little square of steel and glass strapped to your wrist — disappears.

Could it all be a mirage?

The new Apple Watch is very positively reviewed and Android Wear — as evidenced by companies like Montblanc selling very capable and fashion-forward smartwatches — is still a force to be reckoned with. Further, not everyone falls back into watch wearing after trying out the thing Jony Ive said would fuck Switzerland.

Watches are an acquired taste like craft beers, artisanal teas and other Pinterest -ready pursuits. Sometimes simply strapping one to your wrist isn’t enough.

“I got the first-gen Apple Watch,” said entrepreneur David Berkowitz. “I loved it, and then I stopped wearing it a bit. As I did, I lost the charger and never bothered replacing it. I haven’t worn it since and haven’t seriously considered getting a new one.”

“I’m just not that customer,” he said.

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A white supremacist website got hacked, airing all its dirty laundry

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Enlarge / Patriot Front members spray painting in Springfield, IL.

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Chat messages, images, and videos leaked from the server of a white supremicist group called the Patriot Front purport to show its leader and rank-and-file members conspiring in hate crimes, despite their claims that they were a legitimate political organization.

Patriot Front, or PF, formed in the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in one death and 35 injuries when a rally attendee rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. PF founder Thomas Rousseau, started the group after an image posted online showed the now-convicted killer, James Alex Fields, Jr., posing with members of Vanguard America shortly before the attack. Vanguard America soon dissolved, and Rousseau rebranded it as PF with the goal of hiding any involvement in violent acts.

Since then, PF has strived to present itself as a group of patriots who are aligned with the ideals and values of the founders who defeated the tyranny of British colonists in the 18th century and paved the way for the United States to be born. In announcing the the formation of PF in 2017, Rousseau wrote:

The new name was carefully chosen, as it serves several purposes. It can help inspire sympathy among those more inclined to fence-sitting, and can be easily justified to our ideology [sic] and worldview. The original American patriots were nothing short of revolutionaries. The word patriot itself comes from the same root as paternal and patriarch. It means loyalty to something intrinsically based in blood.

Turbo cans and rubber roofing cement

But a published report and leaked data the report is based on present a starkly different picture. The chat messages, images, and videos purport to show Rousseau and other PF members discussing the defacing of numerous murals and monuments promoting Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ groups, and other social justice causes.

This chat, for instance, appears to show a PF member discussing the targeting of a civil rights mural in Detroit. When a member asks what the best way is to fully cover up a mural with paint, Rousseau is shown replying “It’s in the stencil guide. Turbo cans.” The stencil guide refers to these instructions provided to PF members showing how to effectively use spray paint and not get caught. The PF member also sent Rousseau pictures taken while scouting the mural.

When a different member discussed whether rubber roofing cement was suitable to covering a George Floyd memorial that had been treated with anti-graffiti clear coating, Rousseau allegedly responded: “Keep me posted as to your research and practice with this substance. Orders will be given out at the event.”

The data dump also appears to document the defacing of a monument in Olympia, Washington.

What it looked like before.
Enlarge / What it looked like before.

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What it looked like after.
Enlarge / What it looked like after.

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The leaked data purports to show a range of other illegal activities the group discussed. They include Rousseau informing members planning a rally in Washington DC that one participant will call 911 from a burner phone and make a false report to authorities.

“He will cite that there is a protest, he sees shields BUT NO WEAPONS, and everyone involved appears to be behaving peacefully, waving and handing out flyers, nonetheless he is a concerned citizen and suggests the police take a look into it to ensure everyone’s civil rights are safe,” Rousseau appeared to write. “He will add that it looks like we just arrived from the metro. This will soften the police up before our big visual contact on the bridge, and provide a little confusion and misinfo that’s within the realm of honest dialogue.”

Attempts to reach Rousseau or other PF members didn’t succeed.

Friday’s published report said that the leak comprised about 400 gigabytes of data and came from a self-hosted instance of RocketChat, an open source chat server that’s similar to Slack and Discord. It’s only the latest example of a hate group being hacked and its private discussions being dumped online. In 2019, the breach of the Iron March website revealed, among other things, that many of its members were members of the US Marines, Navy, Army, and military reserves.

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Supply chain attack used legitimate WordPress add-ons to backdoor sites

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Dozens of legitimate WordPress add-ons downloaded from their original sources have been found backdoored through a supply chain attack, researchers said. The backdoor has been found on “quite a few” sites running the open source content management system.

The backdoor gave the attackers full administrative control of websites that used at least 93 WordPress plugins and themes downloaded from AccessPress Themes. The backdoor was discovered by security researchers from JetPack, the maker of security software owned by Automatic, provider of the WordPress.com hosting service and a major contributor to the development of WordPress. In all, Jetpack found that 40 AccessPress themes and 53 plugins were affected.

Unknowingly providing access to the attacker

In a post published Thursday, Jetpack researcher Harald Eilertsen said timestamps and other evidence suggested the backdoors were introduced intentionally in a coordinated action after the themes and plugins were released. The affected software was available by download directly from the AccessPress Themes site. The same themes and plugins mirrored on WordPress.org, the official developer site for the WordPress project, remained clean.

“Users who used software obtained directly from the AccessPress website unknowingly provided attackers with backdoor access, resulting in an unknown number of compromised websites,” Ben Martin, a researcher with Web security firm Sucuri, wrote in a separate analysis of the backdoor.

He said the tainted software contained a script named initial.php that was added to the main theme directory and then included in the main functions.php file. Initial.php, the analysis shows, acted as a dropper that used base64 encoding to camouflage code that downloaded a payload from wp-theme-connect[.]com and used it to install the backdoor as wp-includes/vars.php. Once it was installed, the dropper self-destructed in an attempt to keep the attack stealthy.

The Jetpack post said evidence indicates that the supply chain attack on AccessPress Themes was performed in September. Martin, however, said evidence suggests the backdoor itself is much older than that. Some of the infected websites had spam payloads dating back nearly three years. He said his best guess is that the people behind the backdoor were selling access to infected sites to people pushing web spam and malware.

He wrote, “With such a large opportunity at their fingertips, you’d think that the attackers would have prepared some exciting new payload or malware, but alas, it seems that the malware that we’ve found associated with this backdoor is more of the same: spam, and redirects to malware and scam sites.”

The Jetpack post provides full names and versions of the infected AccessPress software. Anyone running a WordPress site with this company’s offerings should carefully inspect their systems to ensure they’re not running a backdoored instance. Site owners may also want to consider installing a website firewall, many of which would have prevented the backdoor from working.

The attack is the latest example of a supply chain attack, which compromises the source of a legitimate piece of software rather than trying to infect individual users. The technique allows miscreants to infect large numbers of users, and it has the benefit of stealth, since the compromised malware originates from a trusted provider.

Attempts to contact AccessPress Themes for comment were unsuccessful.

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Red Cross implores hackers not to leak data for 515k “highly vulnerable people”

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The Red Cross on Wednesday pleaded with the threat actors behind a cyberattack that stole the personal data of about 515,000 people who used a program that works to reunite family members separated by conflict, disaster or migration.

“While we don’t know who is responsible for this attack, or why they carried it out, we do have this appeal to make to them,” Robert Mardini, the director-general of the International Committee for the Red Cross, said in a release. “Your actions could potentially cause yet more harm and pain to those who have already endured untold suffering. The real people, the real families behind the information you now have are among the world’s least powerful. Please do the right thing. Do not share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data.”

Wednesday’s release said the personal data was obtained through the hack of a Switzerland-based subcontractor that stores data for the Red Cross. The data was compiled by at least 60 different Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies worldwide. The ICRC said it has no “immediate indications as to who carried out this cyber-attack” and is so far unaware of any of the compromised information being leaked or shared publicly.

Those affected had used Restore Family Links, a service the Red Cross operates in cooperation with the Red Crescent to reunite families. On Wednesday, the site was down. The Internet Archive last updated it on December 27, raising the possibility of the breach occurring a few weeks ago.

The release provided few details about the attack. It’s not clear if it was done by profit-motivated ransomware criminals, nation-state hackers, or others. Over the past few years, a rash of ransomware breaches has hit healthcare providers, forcing them in many cases to reroute ambulances and cancel elective surgeries. In 2020, the ICRC helped lead a coalition that called on nations around the world to crack down on cyberattacks involving hospitals and healthcare providers.

Last September, the ICRC confirmed it was on the receiving end of a hack the previous April that compromised login credentials and other data that could be used to target agencies within the intergovernmental organization. The earliest known date the hackers obtained access to the UN’s systems, Bloomberg News reported, was April 5, and the hackers remained active through at least August. The breach came to light when private researchers noticed login credentials for sale on the dark web.

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