Google enhances security for govt officials, political activists & journalists

The giant search engine has introduced a set of its “strongest defense” features, designed to protect the Google accounts of users most vulnerable to hacking attacks, such as journalists, business leaders and political campaign teams.

On Tuesday, Google Inc. announced the launch of the “Advanced Protection Program,” tailored specifically for users “at particularly high risk of targeted online attacks,” who are “willing to trade a bit of convenience for more protection.”

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© Pawel Kopczynski

These include political campaign staffers, journalists seeking anonymity for their sources, or people in abusive relationships seeking safety.

Those who opt for the advanced protection will have to use not only a password to sign in, but also a physical “security key.” Said to be “the best protection against phishing,” a small USB device for a computer or a Bluetooth dongle for a mobile device will replace SMS codes or the Google Authenticator app.

In addition, the new program limits third-party apps from accessing Google data on Gmail or Drive. Another tool sees additional verification steps, which will take days to recover access to a user’s account, to prevent hackers pretending they’ve been locked out.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post claimed that “Russian operatives” had exploited the tech giant’s platforms to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. The claim has not been confirmed by the tech firm, which has said it’s looking into the issue.

While the US probe into the Kremlin’s suspected meddling in the presidential election has dragged on for almost a year, Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations it hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party staff, including the Gmail account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again said on Tuesday that not a single piece of factual evidence has been leaked to the media during this period, and he described the claims as part of US political infighting.

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Astronomy group denies mysterious fireball was meteor as stargazers left baffled (VIDEOS)

A large fireball blazing across Dubai’s night sky left onlookers stunned, with many speculating it was a meteor.

Social media users took to Twitter to share images and videos of the blazing object, which puzzled many in the almost-80 seconds it set the sky alight.  

With stargazers perplexed at the sight, the Dubai Media Office was on hand to allay any fears that the end of the world was nigh, stating it was a meteor.

This was later refuted, however, by the Dubai Astronomy Group, which confirmed that it was “falling space debris of the [Russian] Progress module which is used to supply ISS [International Space Station] regularly.”

“Yesterday at around 19:30 UAE time, many people witnessed and captured images of falling space debris of the Progress module,” the group said.

“The space craft disintegrated in the upper atmosphere and broke up into smaller chunks and burned like fireworks,” it added.

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Russian performance artist who set fire to French bank placed in psychiatric facility – source

Controversial Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky was placed in a police psychiatric unit following his latest stunt, in which he set fire to the door of a bank in Paris, a judicial source told RT France.

READ MORE: Pyromaniac artist who nailed scrotum to Red Square sets Bank of France entrance ablaze

Pavlensky was arrested for causing damage by arson on Sunday night, alongside his wife Oksana Shalygina, who remains in custody, according to the source. In a statement posted through the social media account of fellow performance artist Inna Shevchenko of FEMEN after the event, Pavlensky said that the “the bankers have taken the place of the monarchs” and promised that the gesture would signal “the revival of revolutionary France, and fuel the fire of world revolution.”

Pavlensky, 33, fled Russia earlier this year, following sexual assault allegations, alongside his wife. His previous performances included nailing his scrotum to Red Square in 2013, in protest against political indifference, and setting fire to the door of the Lubyanka Building, which houses the Federal Security Service (FSB). He has been a frequent critic of the Kremlin and claimed that the legal case against him was politically motivated.

The couple was granted asylum in May this year, and told the media that they survive by squatting and shoplifting, “living the same life as most French people.”

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Iraq plans to build new refinery in seized Kirkuk – oil ministry

Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi has announced plans to construct a new refinery in the oil-producing region of Kirkuk, which has become the scene of open conflict between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

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Iraqi army members advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017 © Reuters

The Iraqi government also plans to increase oil production from the region to more than a million barrels per day with a foreign oil company to be contracted to implement the plan, according to the minister.

Al-Luaibi said all the oil fields in the province are back under government control.

The minister warned Kurdish authorities against blocking the Kirkuk oil export pipeline, saying they would face legal action.

On Monday, Iraqi troops forced their way into the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk with many locals fleeing the battle zone.

The economically important region drove a wedge between Baghdad and the KRG after an independence referendum held by Iraqi Kurds on September 25. Kirkuk was included in the vote, despite competing claims to the disputed area.

Rising tension in the region has kept global crude prices moving upward. West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery was up 0.06 percent to $ 51.93 per barrel at 1:00pm GMT on Tuesday. Brent crude for December gained 0.5 percent to $ 58.09.

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‘Girl, boy or ethnic?’ Carrefour faces backlash over baby doll ad

Carrefour, the world’s second-biggest retailer, became the target of a social-media onslaught in France after customers spotted an interactive baby doll in one of its catalogues, which was available in three options: ‘Girl, boy or ethnic.’

Internet users were enraged over the description of the €5.99 ‘Baby Born’ doll. A tirade of comments on social media branded the advert both sexist and racist, voicing outrage at not only the term “ethnic”, but also the fact that it was being used as an equivalent of gender.

Social media users commented that their “eyes hurt” and that they were “lost for words.”

Thanks to you I will stop living under a delusion. I’ve never been a boy but an ethnic,” another Twitter user said.

The catalogue’s description of the doll boasted an ability to cry, eat, sit, sleep and even go for a pee, among other activities.

READ MORE: Skincare brand Dove lambasted online for ‘racist’ Facebook ad

The ad promised that the doll, recommended for ages three and over, would help all those interested “become a real mommy.”

Carrefour later apologized, telling Franceinfo that it regretted what it described as a “wrong choice of words.” The French retail giant promised to do “all it takes to correct the online catalogue.”

It did not specify what exactly it intended to do with the catalogues already printed and distributed.

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France considers massive tax hike on hard liquor

The price of cognac and calvados could increase significantly in France as the government plans a tax increase on strong alcoholic drinks. The measure will be part of a crackdown on beverages that negatively affect health.

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Workers and wine growers light heaters early in the morning, to protect vineyards from frost damage outside Chablis, France © Christian Hartmann

The proposal is part of the government’s new social security budget, which is expected to be presented on Wednesday.

According to French daily Les Echos, the tax increase would affect brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskeys, as well as other spirits, containing more than 15 percent alcohol.

French wine and beer will be exempt from the tax rise as they contain less alcohol. However, some wines like Muscat may fall under the new regime.

If imposed, the measure will pay big dividends for the government. Some estimates suggest it could bring in €150 million.

The tax hike could also be applied to fizzy drinks to fight obesity and diabetes.

The measure was recommended by the UN to reduce the world’s consumption of sugar.

Some call the “soda tax” controversial, with the French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn saying increasing the price of sugary drinks would simply be a “tax on the poor.”

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‘Anne Frank’ Halloween costume branded tasteless in online backlash

Online retailers selling a ‘Halloween’ costume of iconic diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank have been accused of ‘trivializing her memory’ after images of the outfit sparked fury.

The costume contains a long sleeve blue dress, brown shoulder bag and green beret and was for sale on US and European websites for a brief period before the backlash gained momentum online.

The outfit was intended to be an inspirational costume which highlighted that “we can always learn from the struggles of history.” The costume was advertised elsewhere as a “World War II refugee” and did not directly reference Anne Frank, whose diary became an international bestseller, selling more 35 million copies worldwide, according to The New York Times.  

READ MORE: ‘Band-Aid on cancer of anti-Semitism’: Anne Frank Center slams Trump’s remarks

HalloweenCostumes.com removed the costume from its website Sunday, apologizing for the offense caused. Spokesperson Ross Walker Smith said sorry on Monday.

“We sell costumes not only for Halloween season, such as school projects and plays. We offer several types of historically accurate costumes – from prominent figures to political figures, to television characters,” Walker-Smith tweeted.

“We take feedback from customers very seriously. We have passed along the feedback regarding this costume, and it has been removed from the website at this time,” he wrote.

Carlos Galindo-Elvira, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Arizona, condemned the costume for trivializing Frank’s memory.

The costume was removed from Walmart’s website Monday, reports Time, but it remains available on Amazon.

However, not everyone believed the costume was out of line, with some lamenting what they perceive as political correctness gone mad.

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Bitcoin worse than casino gambling – Russian economy minister

As an investment bitcoin is less predictable than playing roulette in a casino, and unqualified investors shouldn’t have access to instruments with such a high volatility, according to Russian Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin.

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© Manuel Romano / Global Look Press

“As for bitcoin, if you look at how the value of this asset fluctuates, it’s dozens of percent up, then dozens of a percent down. An asset that can be available for an unqualified investor should not have such characteristics because it’s worse than casinos. First, you earn, then you will lose everything and be left with nothing,” Oreshkin said on Tuesday during the session of the World Festival of Youth and Students in Russia’s Sochi.

“Those who do not know how to manage risks in instruments with such volatility, should not be able to invest because in 99.9 percent of cases it results in losses for such people and then they will find themselves in a difficult life situation, which is not good,” Oreshkin added.

The Russian Finance Minister has proposed granting the right to trade bitcoins only to qualified investors. To get the status, you need to have at least six million rubles in your account ($ 100,000), make at least 40 transactions a year with a turnover of six million rubles, or have worked for at least two years in a financial institution that traded securities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed the creation of a national cryptocurrency. The so-called CryptoRuble will be controlled by the government.

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Against Trump's will, Europe will protect companies doing business with Iran – Max Blumenthal

European trade with Iran has increased 93 percent since the ratification of the Iran deal – that it is an economic boon for Europe, Max Blumenthal, author and journalist, told RT. The six other signatories say they will honor the deal, he added.

US President Donald Trump said that the termination of the Iran Nuclear deal is a “very real possibility,” adding that Teheran is violating the agreement.

Last week, the US leader refused to certify the 2015 nuclear deal, which does not formally terminate the agreement agreed upon by the previous administration of Barack Obama and world powers, including Russia, France, Germany, the UK and China.

Trump’s announcement gives Congress 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions, lifted in exchange for halting Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Prime Minister May issued a joint statement on Friday together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in support of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal signed by six world powers plus Iran.

RT:   Trump hinted that the termination of the Iran Nuclear deal is a “very real possibility.” He went further though, saying that all can turn out very positive. Why such a discrepancy? What did the president actually mean?

MB: What Trump says he wants to do is to renegotiate certain aspects of the deal, which are core aspects of Iran’s strategic deterrence policy. In order to weaken Iran regionally, they specifically relate to Iran’s production and testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are conventional and which are not forbidden by the deal. Iran’s relationship with allies, like Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, like the Shia militias and the Iraqi government, along with its civilian nuclear program – these are all core aspects of Iran’s strategic deterrence policy, and the way that it projects itself throughout the region.

Iran has abided by the deal in every aspect. That has been affirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA.) It’s been confirmed by the UN Security Council. Iran will not renegotiate the deal. So if Trump attempts to sanction Iran over any of these three aspects of its strategic deterrence policy that I mentioned, we could see Iran double down on ICBM testing. We could see something flare up in Yemen, or in the Persian Gulf. We’ve already seen the US military attack Iran’s allies on the Syrian–Iraqi border. This could quickly spiral out of control. So Trump promising more positive results seems absurd. What he is setting the stage for is more danger and an extremely negative result that could result in a regional conflagration.

RT:  If indeed the US terminates the deal, what would that actually mean for the agreement itself, as it has six more signatories? Can these countries go forward with the deal without the US?

MB: Absolutely, the deal can go forward without the US, and that is the precise language we’ve been hearing from Emmanuel Macron in France, who said he warned Trump not to shred the Iran deal from Angela Merkel in Germany. The six other signatories of the Iran deal are adamant that they will continue. We have to consider that European trade with Iran has increased 93 percent since the ratification of the Iran deal – that it is an economic boon for Europe, and the governments of Europe will protect companies that are doing business against Trump’s will.

We also have to take into consideration that Trump’s own secretary of state and his key national security advisors and its defense secretary are taking the European position against the President of the US. So that gives cover to figures like Macron and Merkel. If there is any issue on the ICBM, for example, the Europeans will likely negotiate directly with Iran, while Trump protests, heckles and trolls with his Twitter account in Washington.

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U.S. President Donald Trump departs after speaking about the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 13, 2017 © Kevin Lamarque

RT:  What can be done to offset the damage if Trump goes ahead and walks away from the deal?

MB: It is unclear what anyone can do with Donald Trump. It does seem apparent that the adamant posture from Europe in support of the Iran deal, along with the fact that Iran has abided by the deal in every aspect faithfully, there’s simply no evidence of its violation – means that the only thing that can really sabotage the deal, which is a very real possibility, is Trump’s strategy, which is to send the deal back to Congress for another vote.

The US Congress is under the influence not of any American interests when it comes to Iran necessarily. There is heavy influence in the American Congress from the pro-Israeli lobbies and the neo-conservative elements, including pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, who contributed something like $ 40 million to Trump’s election campaign. So Congress is the X-factor here. It could sabotage the deal irrespective of what the Europeans want. This would set the stage for a dangerous scenario in the region around Iran.

RT:  The agreement has been worked on for nine years. How about the effort? Can all this work be erased simply like that?

MB: You see the work has borne out real results economically in Europe and in Iran; it has also borne out political results. It helped accelerate the internal process of reform inside Iran, where reformist elements are consolidating their power – most notably Hassan Rouhani. What it seems like to me and to many other observers of Trump’s strategy, which is heavily influenced by Israel, by Saudi Arabia, by the United Arab Emirates UAE, by the enemies of Iran in the region – is that Trump is attempting to kill the deal through death by a thousand cuts; by seeking to renegotiate; by undermining Iran’s geostrategic deterrence policy.

It looks like Trump is embracing a stealth attack on the deal that is aimed at forcing Iran itself to withdraw from the deal in frustration. The question is: will Iran fall for the trap that Trump has set. It doesn’t appear that they are foolish or self-destructive enough to do that. It seems like they much prefer to wait out this administration.

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Nobel-winning economist Robert Shiller calls bitcoin ‘a fad’

The enthusiasm people are showing toward bitcoin is strange, according to American economist Robert Shiller who has called the cryptocurrency a fad comparing it to the bimetallism phenomena.

“I’ll take bitcoin, too, because I know I can sell it and get out of it. There seems to be some strange enthusiasm for it,” Shiller told CNBC.

“People get excited about things like new monetary standards. Remember bimetallism? It went into a fad, everyone was talking about it for a while. And then it faded,” he said.

Bimetallism was a late 19th-century trend when people began to favor the use of precious metals like gold as legal tender.

The 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Shiller has been coming down on bitcoin, claiming the tremendous jump in the value of the virtual currency was a 100 percent bonified “bubble.”

This week bitcoin hit another all-time high, smashing the $ 5,800 mark. It was trading at $ 5,609 on Tuesday as of 11:35am GMT.

“I think gold is a bubble, but it’s always been a bubble,” said Shiller, adding “it has some industrial uses, but basically it’s like a fad that’s lasted thousands of years.”

The economist also talked about the markets and some worrying signs he sees in his data around the anniversary of the fateful 1987 stock crash.

“Confidence in the valuation of the market is indeed the lowest it’s been since 2000,” he warned. “And when it got low in 2000, the market fell about 40 percent. So it was bad.”

According to Shiller,“there’s a danger, but I’m not saying to sell everything. I’m still in the market myself.”

Yale Professor of Economics, Shiller along with two other professors from the University of Chicago – Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen – won the Nobel Prize in 2013 for their research into market prices and asset bubbles.

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