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FireEye details an apparent Chinese campaign that takes a page from Russia's playbook. Understanding cybercrime versus espionage from the Kremlin. And Howard University cancels classes amid a ransomware outbreak. This is CyberScoop for September 8, 2021.

Phony protest shines light on Chinese ops

Pro-China operatives spammed social media using fake accounts in order to spark a street demonstration in April, researchers at Mandiant revealed. While it ended up a flop, the effort is one of the first known instances of Beijing using its expansive online information operations to try to drum up physical conflict. Pro-China operatives have also ramped up their online presence, expanding to dozens of new social media platforms and websites. The research shows that China is investing money and time in improving its global image. Tonya Riley reports.

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The state of Russian hacking

A Russian cybercrime gang stood out over the past year even as the nation's government-backed hacking groups moved away from targeting commercial organizations, CrowdStrike said in a Wednesday report. Russia-sponsored hackers accounted for just 1% of state-backed activity the company's threat hunting service detected — compared to 69% for China — as the groups adjusted their focus to non-commercial targets like think tanks. And the Russian ransomware group that CrowdStrike has dubbed Wizard Spider accounted for double the number of attacks from any other cybercrime outfit. Tim Starks covers the news.

Howard U. cancels classes after ransomware incident

Howard University canceled classes on Tuesday after experiencing a ransomware attack ahead of the Labor Day holiday. The historically Black university in Washington, D.C. shut down its network on Friday after spotting “unusual activity” and is limiting physical access to campus while investigating the scope of the attack, according to the statement, which was signed by Howard’s chief operating and academic officers. The campus’ wireless network remains offline, and investigators have not found any evidence that attackers gained access to personal information. Emily Bamforth has more at EdScoop.

Spyware app designed to monitor Kurdish targets attracted more than 1,400 downloads

More than 1,400 people have downloaded a spyware app that, while appearing to deliver news, enables hackers to collect sensitive data about the Kurds, an ethnic community living throughout Iran, Iraq and northern Syria. The espionage campaign involves duping Android smartphone owners into downloading a program that spies use to record phone calls, extract files, take screenshots and gather other information from unwitting victims, according to details published Tuesday by the security vendor ESET. Jeff Stone looks closer.

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