Channel Nine cyber attack disrupts live broadcasts in Australia

A cyber attack has disrupted live broadcasts on Australia’s Channel Nine TV network, prompting concerns about the country’s vulnerability to hackers.

The broadcaster said it was unable to air several shows on Sunday, including Weekend Today.

Nine said it was investigating whether the hack was “criminal sabotage or the work of a foreign nation”.

Australia’s Parliament was also investigating a possible cyber attack in Canberra on Sunday.

Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie said access to IT and emails at Parliament House had been cut as a precaution. He said this was done in response to issues affecting an “external provider”, without elaborating.

“This is a timely reminder that Australians cannot be complacent about their cyber security,” the minister told the News.com.au website on Sunday.

“The government acted quickly, and we have the best minds in the world working to ensure Australia remains the most secure place to operate online,” he said.

It’s not clear if the parliamentary outage and the cyber attack on Channel Nine were connected.

The Australian government and other institutions have fallen victim to a string of cyber attacks in recent years.

Last year Prime Minister Scott Morrison saidAustralian organisations were being targeted by a sophisticated foreign “state-based” hacker.

Broadcaster ABC News said Australian government sources believed China was behind the attacks. Relations between Australia and China have grown increasingly acrimonious amid disputes about trade and the coronavirus.

What did Channel Nine say about the cyber attack?

At first, Nine said it was “responding to technical issues” affecting its live broadcasting.

Weekend Today, which runs from 07:00 to 13:00 local time (21:00 to 03:00 GMT) from Sydney, did not air.

Its online news site, 9news.com.au, was also affected.

On Sunday night, Nine confirmed there had been a “cyber attack on our systems”.

“Our IT teams are working around the clock to fully restore our systems which have primarily affected our broadcast and corporate business units. Publishing and radio systems continue to be operational,” the company said in a statement.

A later report by Mark Burrows, a senior journalist for the network, said the company was “under attack by hackers”. He said emails and editing systems had gone down.

“I’m not surprised,” Mr Hastie, the assistant defence minister, told Nine. “Last year alone we had 60,000 reports to Australian cyber security of cyber crime. That’s one every 10 minutes.”

Nine has told all its staff to work at home until further notice. It hopes to air all shows as normal on Monday.

Andrew Laming: Australian MP apologises over comments to women

Another Australian government MP is under scrutiny for his actions towards women after he was accused of repeatedly harassing two women online.

Andrew Laming, 56, was ordered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to apologise in parliament for his “disgraceful” behaviour, local media reported.

Both women accused him of slandering them online, with one saying it had left her feeling suicidal.

Mr Laming said he “unreservedly” apologised to both women.

A series of rape, misconduct and sexism allegations have rocked Australian politics in the past month, dominating national debate.

Mr Morrison has faced mounting pressure over his response to the allegations and broader cultural problems within politics.

Last week, tens of thousands of people marched in protests against the mistreatment of women in Canberra and wider society.

What is Laming accused of?

A Channel Nine TV report aired on Thursday heard from two women who said they’d been repeatedly harassed by Mr Laming – who is their local MP – on Facebook.

Alix Russo said he had targeted her with verbal abuse, and falsely accused her of fraud and other business dealings.

The report included screenshots of Mr Laming’s comments, many of which attacked Ms Russo and ridiculed her business situation.

“Unfortunately for you, I make the rules and you follow them,” the MP wrote in response to one of her comments.

Another woman, Sheena Hewlett, said she and her husband – a local councillor – were also harassed by the MP. 

Mr Laming apologised on Thursday for his social media posts.

“I want to unreservedly apologise to both Ms Hewlett and Ms Russo and I express my regret and deep apologies for the hurt and distress that that communication may have caused,” he said. 

Mr Morrison said: “I called him into my office yesterday, and told him to apologise and deal with it – and he has.”

Labor called Mr Laming’s comments “shocking” and said he should resign.

What is the wider story?

Many Australians – particularly women – have long accused politicians and the political environment of being toxic towards women. They have called for sweeping cultural changes.

Focus on the issue was ignited in February, after a former political adviser said she had been raped in 2019 by a male colleague in a minister’s office.

Brittany Higgins, 26, reported the allegation to her boss – Defence Minister Linda Reynolds – but said she had felt pressure not to report it to police. 

Her story inspired other women to come forward, including four others with allegations against the same man.

Later, Attorney General Christian Porter identified himself as the subject of a 1988 rape allegation – which he strongly denies. Police closed an investigation because his accuser is no longer alive. 

Both Mr Porter and Ms Reynolds are on sick leave, but retain Mr Morrison’s support.

Earlier this week, a government adviser was fired after a video showed him performing a sex act on a female lawmaker’s desk.

Network Ten reported that parliament’s prayer room had also been used by politicians and staff for sex.

Mr Morrison has condemned the reports and vowed to “get this house in order”, but he has faced persistent accusations of not listening to women’s concerns.

Ms Higgins has accused him of using “gaslighting” language and doubting victims. 

Earlier this week, she also demanded an investigation into claims that the prime minister’s office had sought to undermine her reputation.

Mr Morrison told Channel 9 on Thursday: “I may not have always got it as much as people would like me to, but I assure you, I am doing everything I can to understand it as best I can.”

News Corp reaches three-year deal with Facebook in Australia

News Corp said on Monday it had reached a three-year agreement to provide Facebook Inc users access to news in Australia.

Last month, Australia’s parliament passed a law that requires Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for content on their platforms, after robust negotiations in which Facebook blocked all news content in the 13th-largest economy.

The agreement announced on Monday involves News Corp’s The Australian national newspaper, and metropolitan papers such as The Daily Telegraph in New South Wales. Sky News Australia has also reached a new agreement with Facebook, News Corp said.

The three-year deal follows an agreement reached in October, 2019 in which News Corp publications in the United States receive payments in exchange for access to additional stories it would provide for Facebook News.

Covid: Italy ‘blocks’ AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia

The Italian government has blocked the export of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia, according to Italian media reports.

The decision affects 250,000 doses of the vaccine produced at an AstraZeneca facility in Italy.

The move has been backed by the European Commission, the reports say.

The news comes amid a row between EU officials and the company, which has provided only a fraction of the agreed supply to member states.

Under the EU vaccine scheme, which was established in June last year, the bloc has negotiated the purchase of vaccines on behalf of member states.

In January, the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described delays in vaccine supplies by both AstraZeneca and Pfizer as “unacceptable” and accused the companies of violating their contracts.

Source: BBC

Boeing to build pilotless fighter jets for U.S. and Australian Air Force

Boeing Plane-maker will use a pilotless, fighter-like jet developed in Australia as the basis for its U.S. Air Force Skyborg prototype, an executive at the plane maker said on Tuesday.

The “Loyal Wingman”, the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years, made its first flight on Saturday under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot monitoring it from a ground control station in South Australia.

Boeing’s Loyal Wingman is 38 feet long (11.6 metres), has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 km) range and a nose that can be outfitted with various payloads. The plane can also carry weapons and act as a shield to help protect more expensive manned fighter jets.

The U.S. Air Force in December awarded multi-million dollar contracts to Boeing, General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions to produce unmanned aerial prototypes that can team with crewed jets.

“The airpower teaming system is the basis for our Skyborg bid,” Boeing airpower teaming programme director Shane Arnott told reporters. “Obviously the U.S. market is a big market. That is a focus for us, achieving some sort of contract or programme of record in the United States.”

Defence contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for cheaper and safer ways to maximise their resources.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, is home to Boeing’s largest footprint outside the United States and has vast airspace with relatively low traffic for flight testing.

The Australian government said on Tuesday it would invest a further A$115 million ($89 million) to acquire three more Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to develop tactics for using the jets with crewed planes, on top of its initial investment of A$40 million.

“Our aim with Boeing is to understand how we can get these aircraft to team with our existing aircraft to be a force multiplier in the future,” RAAF Air-Vice Marshal and head of air force capability Cath Roberts said.

Britain in January signed a GBP 30 million ($42 million) contract with the Belfast unit of Spirit AeroSystems for a similar type of pilotless aircraft to have a trial flight in the next three years.

During the test flight in Australia, the Loyal Wingman took off under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify its functionality and demonstrate the performance of the design.

Arnott said that three Loyal Wingman aircraft would be used for teaming flights this year and that the Australian government’s order would take the number available to six.

Boeing has said up to 16 Loyal Wingman jets could be teamed with a crewed aircraft for missions.

($1 = 1.2900 Australian dollars)

($1 = 0.7200 pounds)

Analysis: Central banks will happily ignore inflation-mongers

After a decade of underestimating inflation, central bankers in the United States, Europe and Japan have every reason keep money taps open and policymakers are even rewriting their own rules so they can let price growth overshoot their targets.

If anything, central banks are more likely to nudge up stimulus, particularly in the euro zone, keeping borrowing costs depressed and ignoring the inflation hawks at least until growth is back to pre-pandemic levels — and not just fleetingly.

The Reserve Bank of Australia already launched a surprise bond buying operation while the European Central Bank has repeatedly warned investors not to push yields too high, unless they want to fight its 1 trillion euro war chest.

The argument behind the inflation warning is that once economies reopen, massive government stimulus will combine with pent up consumer demand, unleashing spending-fuelled price pressures unseen for decades.

Although top economists are weighing in on both sides of the debate, the voices that really count all seem to be downplaying the threat.

“Inflation dynamics do change over time but they don’t change on a dime,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said.

“We don’t really see how a burst of fiscal support or spending … that doesn’t last for many years, would actually change those inflation dynamics.”

Even if inflation accelerates, a big if given that big central banks are all undershooting their 2% goal, tightening policy too hastily is seen as a bigger evil than moving too slowly.

First off, much of the inflation rise is temporary, driven by the rebound in oil, one-off stimulus measures and the base effect of tanking prices a year ago. So this is not the sort of sustained inflation policymakers are looking for.

Tighter policy could also choke off growth – a costly blunder with tens of millions still out of work after the biggest peacetime economic crisis in a century. In the worst case, higher borrowing costs would even raise debt sustainability concerns, particularly in heavily indebted southern Europe and across emerging markets.

And lastly, the Fed and European Central Bank both tightened policy too quickly in the past decade, forcing them into the type of credibility-damaging reversal they are now keen to avoid.

JOBS

The message from the Fed has been uniform and emphatic: its $120 billion monthly bond purchases will not change until the economy has more fully recovered, and any actual interest rate increase is even further into the future.

The Bank of Japan and the ECB are making similar noises: there will be no reversal of stimulus for a long time, possibly years.

Their central concern is employment.

There is still a 10-million-job hole in the U.S. economy while the euro zone unemployment rate is kept artificially low by government subsidies, pointing to huge spare capacity.

The Fed is already putting greater emphasis on job creation, particularly for low income families, and made an explicit commitment last year to let inflation overshoot its target after periods of excessively low price growth.

While the ECB and the Bank of Japan do not have employment mandates, policy framework reviews now underway could raise the emphasis on social considerations, particularly jobs.

The ECB is already debating the merits of letting inflation overshoot, a hint that overheating in the jobs market will not on its own trigger policy action.

“Labour markets tend to lag real activity by as much as six months, and we may yet see a wave of mergers, bankruptcies, and layoffs,” said Tamara Basic Vasiljev of Oxford Economics.

BIG MOVE?

While the rise in yields has caused a ruckus in markets, the moves are not excessive and may simply be a reversal of excessively low yields.

U.S. 10-year Treasury yields are up 56 basis points this year – to roughly their pre-pandemic record low – while Japanese yields are just 14 basis points higher. A 10-year German bond still yields a negative 25 basis points.

“We see a return of bond yields from ultra-low to still low levels as a consequence of, rather than an obstacle to, a strong economic rebound and solid gains in corporate earnings in most of the world,” Berenberg economist Holger Schmieding said.

Policymakers have also played down the moves.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic argued that the increase in yields was of no concern and did not warrant any Fed response.

ECB policymakers have meanwhile said some rise in yields was a reflection of better fundamentals and they would not target any yield level.

“I don’t think the BOJ is too worried about the recent rise in yields,” Tomoyuki Shimoda, a former BOJ executive and Hitotsubashi University professor said. “The BOJ has plenty of scope to ramp up buying as needed. It can stem unwelcome yield rises 100%.”

By: Balazs Koranyi, Howard Schneider, Leika Kihara

Neoen to build world’s biggest battery – Australian government funding

The energy storage project, dubbed the Victorian Big Battery, will be able to produce 450 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity, more than double the capacity of Australia’s first utility scale battery, also run by Neoen.

Neoen has not disclosed the total cost of the project.

The government’s Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC) decided to provide debt for the project to help the country’s push toward cleaner, more reliable and cheaper electricity.

“This project is a world-class example of how utility scale batteries can help electricity networks support a higher penetration of renewable energy,” CEFC Chief Executive Ian Learmonth said in a statement.

As previously announced, Tesla Inc will be providing its Megapack technology for the project.

“With the help and hard work of our partners, Tesla and AusNet Services, we are on track to deliver this project before the next Australian summer,” Neoen Australia Managing Director Louis de Sambucy said in a statement.

Neoen secured financing for the project just three months after winning a Victorian state tender to supply up to 250 MW of capacity. The battery will help prevent blackouts in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, during summer months.

($1 = 1.2544 Australian dollars)

Australia passes law to make Google and Facebook pay for news

Australia has passed a world-first law aimed at making Google and Facebook pay for news content on their platforms.

The news code legislation had been fiercely opposed by the US tech giants. 

Last week Facebook blocked all news content to Australians over the row, but reversed its decision this week after negotiations with the government.

Following those talks, the law passed with new amendments which make it possible for Facebook and Google not to be subject to the code.

However, both companies have now committed to paying lucrative sums to some big Australian publishers outside of the code. These deals have been widely viewed as a compromise by the tech giants.

Australia’s law has been seen as a possible test case for similar regulation in other countries to get payment from digital platforms for news.

The amended legislation was passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday, after earlier going through the Senate.

Facebook and Google argued it “fundamentally” misunderstands how the internet works.

What does the law do?

The law incentivises tech giants and news organisations to negotiate payment deals between themselves. If such talks fail, digital platforms could be dragged into independent arbitrations.

The government argues this prescribes a “fairer” negotiation process between the parties, as it gives news organisations more leverage.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – a market regulator – says publishers have had little negotiating power until now because they are so reliant on tech monopolies like Google and Facebook.

Scott Morrison speaking in parliament
image captionPrime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was not intimidated by the tech firms’ threats

Any dispute over the value of news content would be settled by the arbitrator – something analysts say benefits the news groups.

The code also forces tech platforms to give notice to news publishers of changes to their algorithms.

However, the amended law now requires the government to consider a platform’s existing contributions to journalism – such as commercial deals with publishers – before applying the code to them. 

This means Facebook and Google could escape the arbitration process entirely.

The government also has to give the platform a month’s notice if it is considering applying the code to them.

What do Google and Facebook say?

The tech firms argue they already help news publishers by driving traffic back to news sites from their platforms.

Facebook and Google simply help people find news content in the first place, the platforms say.

Both tech companies lobbied the Australian government to amend the law, while also pursuing contracts with local news companies. 

Google had threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, but the company recently agreed deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media worth an estimated A$60m ($47m; £34m) in total. 

It has also signed a deal for an undisclosed sum with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Facebook promised to reverse its ban on news content, though Australian news pages remain unavailable.

It has since signed at least one deal – with Seven West Media – and is in talks other Australian news groups.

What happens now?

Facebook’s black-out of Australian news content in past week has triggered harsh criticism, both in Australia and globally. 

The company has admitted it overstepped in also removing over 100 non-news pages, including key health and emergency agencies.

But its powerful action has been interpreted as a warning shot to lawmakers elsewhere – such as in Canada, the UK and the EU – who have expressed interest in Australia’s law. 

As more news readership has shifted online, tech giants have faced calls internationally to pay more for news stories hosted on their platforms.

They have also faced increased scrutiny over their power, including calls for them to do more to combat misinformation and abuse.

Facebook reverses ban on news pages in Australia

Facebook has announced it will restore news content to its users in Australia.

The tech giant has blocked news to Australians on its platform since last Thursday amid a dispute over a proposed law which would force it and Google to pay news publishers for content.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end “in the coming days”, after the pair had talks.

Mr Frydenberg said amendments would be made to the law.

“Facebook has re-friended Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday. 

The government has been debating the law – seen as a possible test case for regulation globally – in the Senate, after it was passed in the lower house last week.

Why did Facebook block news content?

Last Thursday, Australians woke up to find they could not access or share any news stories on their accounts. 

Facebook argued it had been forced to block Australian news in response to the proposed legislation.

The government’s news code aims to set up a “fairer” negotiation process between the tech giants and news companies over the value of news content.

But it has been strongly opposed by Facebook and Google – both argue the code misunderstands how the internet works. Facebook has also said it gets little commercial gain from news content.

But the Australian government says the code is needed to “level the playing field” for news publishers, which have seen profits slump in the internet age.

Why has it changed its mind?

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had been reassured by recent discussions with the government.

“Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to forced negotiation,” said Campbell Brown, vice president of global news partnerships at Facebook.

“We have come to an agreement that will allow us to support the publishers we choose to, including small and local publishers.”

Facebook already has its own “showcase” product through which it pays media organisations a fee to display their stories on its platform.

Google had also threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, but the company has recently agreed deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

What does the government say now?

The government said it had encouraged Facebook to negotiate in good faith with local media companies, citing Google’s recent deals as an example.

Mr Frydenberg again criticised Facebook’s news ban last week, saying it was a “regrettable” action that came with no warning.

The blanket ban had also initially included more than 100 non-news sites including government health and emergency pages. Facebook later asserted that these had been “inadvertently impacted”.

The tech giant drew a wide backlash from Australian users.

Facebook’s Australia news blackout: a shock four years in the making

(Reuters) – Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was as shocked as anyone when he learned that Facebook Inc had blocked news content from its website in his country at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday.

He had been in direct contact with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and, he thought, was making progress toward an accommodation over proposed rules that would force the tech titan to pay publishers to link to their news.

Yet this was a shock four years in the making – a potential global turning point for regulation of big social media companies that began with Australia’s complex, provincial politics in 2017.

The fight between the world’s largest social media company and the 13th-largest economy is the result of a bill, scheduled for debate next week in Australia’s Senate, that was foisted on Frydenberg and his boss at the time.

Then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull wanted to relax media merger-and-acquisition laws to let Australian news outlets like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp scale up and survive a revenue crash as advertisers took their business to internet heavyweights like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Turnbull’s conservative government needed support from outspoken independent Nick Xenophon, who held the balance of power in the Senate. He made the government promise an inquiry into “internet giants such as Google and Facebook”.

This week’s blowup “is something I’d be very happy to take responsibility for,” said Xenophon, now a private sector lawyer.

“If there is a viable rival to Facebook in years to come, its genesis will be the event that occurred in Australia on the 18th of February,” he told Reuters. “Facebook has exposed the level of its market power. It’s behaving like a monopoly.”

Turnbull’s treasurer, Scott Morrison, honoured the Xenophon deal by tasking the antitrust regulator with examining Google and Facebook to “fully understand their influence in Australia”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) inquiry ground on, Morrison became prime minister and Frydenberg became his treasurer. Meanwhile, Facebook’s image in Australia as a harmless online gathering spot was marred by revelations it sold third-party marketers the personal data of millions of people to target in the 2016 U.S. election.

CONCILIATION VS BOMBSHELL

When the ACCC delivered its report in mid-2019, Frydenberg called out Facebook’s $5 billion fine for the election-related privacy breaches, saying it and Google “need to be held to account and their activities need to be more transparent”.

He left it to Australian media and Big Tech to thrash out a framework to negotiate the price of links that draw clicks – and advertising dollars – to their platforms. When that failed the ACCC stepped in, saying it would appoint an arbitrator to set fees in the event of stalemate, a model suggested by News Corp.

The tech titans responded last September with threats to cancel their services in the country if the bargaining code took effect. They repeated the threats in January.

With parliamentary votes looming, Prime Minister Morrison revealed that Microsoft Corp CEO Satya Nadella had offered its search engine Bing if Google’s disappeared. Frydenberg said he was talking with Zuckerberg.

As the bill moved through and passed the lower house, Google struck deals with free-to-air network Seven West Media Ltd and rival Nine Entertainment Co Holdings, which also owns the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers.

“None of these deals would be happening if we didn’t have the legislation before the parliament,” Frydenberg said on Wednesday. Then, in the early hours of Thursday morning Canberra time, News Corp announced a global deal with Google.

News Corp and Seven thanked Morrison, Frydenberg and ACCC commissioner Rod Sims for forcing the issue. Murdoch’s company said Xenophon was “instrumental in having Australia adopt a world first, highly innovative policy approach”.

As Google turned conciliatory and the bill looked set to become law next week, it was Facebook’s turn.

Frydenberg was dressed for tennis on Thursday morning when he learned Facebook had taken a dramatically different approach – pulling the plug on Australia’s news sites and, inadvertently, on many government disaster-information pages and other public-service outlets.

Facebook said on Thursday that because the bill “does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”

Frydenberg cancelled his tennis game and arranged another call with Zuckerberg, and another the next day.

“We certainly weren’t given any notice by Facebook,” the treasurer told reporters. But he said his half-hour call was “constructive”.

“We’ll hear from them in the coming days and we’ll see if we can find a pathway forward.”