NASA Completes Historic Rocket Launch in Outback Australia 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has successfully completed its first rocket launch from a commercial space facility outside of the United States. A 13-meter rocket blasted off Monday from a site in the Australian outback.

A 13-meter sub-orbital rocket took off from the newly built Arnhem Space Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory Monday. Lift-off was delayed by about two hours because of strong winds and heavy rain.

The launch was the first of its kind in Australia in more than 25 years and the first of three scheduled NASA missions from the site.

Researchers hope the information gathered from the flights will help them understand how light from a star could affect the habitability of nearby planets. They have said that this type of study can only be carried out in the Southern Hemisphere.

The unmanned flight briefly scanned the Milky Way, measuring X-Ray emissions and analyzing the structure of stars.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, told Australian television that the launch is part of a project to boost the domestic space industry.

“When you build a satellite you have to go overseas to do it and so the fact that we are now seeing this build-up of launching from Australia this is, kind of, that final piece of the puzzle to having, you know, a really massive industry in this sector of space and then we see that that, kind of, the first group that says, yes, we want to do it, we want to be a part of the story is Nasa, you know, it just, kind of, gives the street cred[ibility] so to speak that you are on the right track from what you are thinking,” he said.

The Arnhem Space Center is the world’s only commercially owned equatorial launch facility.

The center is built on Aboriginal land. Tribal elders hope the project will provide jobs and opportunities for young First Nations people.

Officials said the center combines one of the “oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.”

The next NASA rocket will be launched in the Northern Territory on July 4, and the third will take off on July 12.

About 75 NASA staff have travelled to northern Australia for all three launches.

Australia is working to increase its capabilities in space. This year, it announced a new defense agency that would work to counter China and Russia’s ambitions in space. Along with the United States, the two countries are reported to have tested weapons that could destroy a satellite.

The Australian Space Agency was created in July 2018 to “support the growth and transformation” of the nation’s space industry.”

Microsoft: Russian Cyber Spying Targets 42 Ukraine Allies

Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday.

“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting [of Ukraine’s allies] has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions.

“As a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said.

Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target and Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was No. 2. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting.

A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them.

Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are nongovernmental agencies, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.

Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “have proven stronger” overall than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyberattacks against 48 distinct Ukrainian agencies and enterprises.” Moscow’s military hackers have been cautious not to unleash destructive data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report noted.

“During the past month, as the Russian military moved to concentrate its attacks in the Donbas region, the number of destructive attacks has fallen,” according to the report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War.” The Redmond, Washington, company has unique insight in the domain due to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams.

Microsoft said Ukraine has also set an example in data safeguarding. Ukraine went from storing its data locally on servers in government buildings a week before the Russian invasion — making them vulnerable to aerial attack — to dispersing that data in the cloud, hosted in data centers across Europe.

The report also assessed Russian disinformation and propaganda aimed at “undermining Western unity and deflecting criticism of Russian military war crimes” and wooing people in nonaligned countries.

Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft said, it estimated “Russian cyber influence operations successfully increased the spread of Russian propaganda after the war began by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”

Elon Musk’s $44 Billion Twitter Deal Gets Board Endorsement

Twitter’s board has recommended unanimously that shareholders approve the proposed $44 billion sale of the company to billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday.

Musk reiterated his desire to move forward with the acquisition last week during a virtual meeting with Twitter employees, though shares of Twitter remain far below his offering price, signaling considerable doubt that it will happen.

Shares rose about 3% to $38.98 before the opening bell Tuesday, far short of the $54.20 per-share that Musk has offered for each share. The company’s stock last reached that level on April 5 when it offered Musk a seat on the board before he had offered to buy all of Twitter.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailing on Tuesday detailing a litter to investors, Twitter’s board of directors said that it “unanimously recommends that you vote (for) the adoption of the merger agreement.” If the deal were to close now, investors in the company would pocket a profit of $15.22 for each share they own.

Investors Coping With Cryptocurrency Plunge 

“I’m in a cryptocurrency chat group at work,” software engineer Adam Hickey of San Diego, California told VOA.

Over the last few days, Hickey said, members of the group have been writing things like, “Bloodbath” and, “Are we still good?”

“It shook me, honestly,” he admitted. “I just had to stop looking at my balance. At one point, months ago, my investment in crypto had tripled. Now I’m down 40%.”

Hickey is far from alone. Serious and casual investors across the United States have seen the value of their investments in the publicly available digital asset known as cryptocurrency shrink dramatically in recent months, with steep plunges recorded in just the last week.

The value of bitcoin, the most popular form of cryptocurrency, has dropped more than 70% since its peak in November of last year, erasing more than 18 months of growth and causing many investors to wonder if this is the bottom, or if the worst is still to come.

“I have to remind myself that when I got into bitcoin in 2017, it was more of something I just kind of hoped would be the next Amazon.com,” Hickey said. Like many others, Hickey dreamed cryptocurrency could be a way to get rich in the long-term, or at least would be a part of his retirement savings.

“I’ve always seen it as a long-term investment. Still, this is the most nervous I’ve been about it,” he said. “You hear people on social media saying this is all a Ponzi scheme. Now I’m having thoughts like maybe those warnings are right – that the people pushing bitcoin so hard are the ones who bought it at the earliest low prices. Of course they want people to buy and drive the value back up. It’s good for them, but is it good for me?” 

Getting in 

Those skeptical of cryptocurrency point to its lack of regulatory oversight from government as a major reason for concern, making it susceptible to scams and wild price fluctuations.

“I’ve always seen it as a highly speculative investment,” said Marigny deMauriac, a certified financial planner in New Orleans, Louisiana. “This isn’t something any individual should have the majority of their wealth in unless they’re looking to take a significant amount of unnecessary risk.”

“I tell my clients to stay clear of investing any significant portion of their wealth in cryptocurrency, or any other highly speculative investment type,” deMaruiac told VOA. Many of the most ardent cryptocurrency supporters, however, invest precisely because it isn’t tied to governments as traditional currencies are. Digital currency’s demonstrated capacity for meteoric rises is a big part of its appeal. 

Steve Ryan, a self-employed poker player living in Las Vegas, Nevada, began investing in digital currency nearly a decade ago. “I’ve been in it for so long, I understand this stuff much better than your average person who only read about it on the internet a year or two ago,” he said.

Ryan invested on the advice of entrepreneurial friends; back when a single bitcoin sold for only a couple of hundred dollars as opposed to the tens of thousands they sell for today.

“Most of my money is in crypto, and I wish I had kept more in there rather than selling some of it,” he told VOA. “Even after this downturn, I’d be a multimillionaire had I kept it all in.”

Losing value 

U.S. inflation at 40-year highs has caused the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, sending jitters throughout financial markets. At the same time, some Americans have lost their appetite for riskier investments.

Many have sold their cryptocurrency holdings and reinvested in safer, more stable assets. At the end of last week, the value of one share of bitcoin dropped below $18,000 from a high late last year of more than $64,000. The total crypto market value dropped from a peak of $3.2 trillion to below $1 trillion. 

“I’m definitely worried today,” Ryan said on Saturday as bitcoin reached its lowest point since December 2020. 

Still, Ryan maintained he still believes in bitcoin.

“I’m worried because we’ve got a war going on in Europe, huge amounts of inflation, we’re trying to recover from the impacts of a pandemic, and governments might try to regulate bitcoin,” he said. “But I’m not worried about bitcoin itself – I think it’s as solid as ever. That’s how cycles work and this could prove to be one of the best times in history to get into crypto.”

Casual cryptocurrency investors may not be so sure, but many seem willing to hold on to what they have in the hopes of a rebound. “Of course, when it rose to over $60,000, I had big dreams that I could earn enough money to go on a big trip or to make a down payment on a property,” said Joe Frisard, a semi-retired resident of Atlanta, Georgia.

The downturn has lowered Frisard’s ambitions, he acknowledged, but he still planned on hanging on to the cryptocurrency he hadn’t already sold when it was closer to its peak. “I’ve lost a good bit of money in the stock market, too,” he said, “but I’m not looking to dump my stocks. They’re a long-term investment and I see bitcoin in a similar way.”

Weathering the storm 

Gordon Henderson, a retired collegiate marching band director from Los Angeles, California, is also not panicking.

“I’m much more concerned about my stocks in my retirement fund than in my relatively small crypto holdings,” he said. Henderson remembers his father, at age 69 in 1987, converting his retirement fund to cash before a recession temporarily decimated the stock market.

“He was pretty proud of his timing,” Henderson recalled, “but in reality, he would have ended up with eight times more money if he had weathered the storm and kept his money in the stock market for another two decades. That’s how I look at cryptocurrency. I’ll hang onto it and maybe it will pay for college for my kids. If not, I was prepared for the loss.”

Colin Ash, an urban planner in New Orleans, Louisiana, has owned bitcoin for years, but said he thinks of it as “a fun gamble.”

“Of course, I wish I would have timed it perfectly and sold it all at the peak,” he said, “but it’s not realistic to think you can ever do that with any kind of investment. I think of it as something separate from the rest of my money. If something comes of it in the long run, then great. If not, at least I already sold some and paid off some debt.” 

For Hickey in San Diego, as well as many other investors, the key is to not invest more than you can afford to lose, particularly with an asset as speculative as cryptocurrency.

“Under the current circumstances, with everything falling so far down, I’ve decided to halt my weekly recurring purchase of bitcoin,” he said. “I think I’m done investing for now.”

He paused for a moment, and then said, “Now, that’s kind of hard, because if you want to make money you should buy low and sell high. Bitcoin prices are low, so I’ll probably be back in before you know it.”

Cartier and Amazon Target Knock-offs in US Lawsuits

Amazon and Cartier joined forces Wednesday in U.S. court to accuse a social media influencer of working with Chinese firms to sell knock-offs of the luxury brand’s jewelry on the e-commerce giant’s site. 

The online personality used sites like Instagram to pitch Cartier jewelry such as “Love bracelets” to followers and then provided links that led to counterfeit versions on Amazon, one of two lawsuits alleged. 

The influencer appeared to be a woman in Handan, China, and the merchants involved in the “counterfeiting scheme” were traced to other Chinese cities, according to court documents. 

“By using social media to promote counterfeit products, bad actors undermine trust and mislead customers,” Amazon associate general counsel Kebharu Smith said in a statement. 

“We don’t just want to chase them away from Amazon — we want to stop them for good,” Smith added. 

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has booted vendors targeted in the suit from its platform and teamed with Cartier to urge a federal court to make them pay damages and legal costs for hawking knock-off jewelry there from June 2020 through June 2021. 

The “sophisticated campaign” sought to avoid detection by having the social media influencer pitch jewelry as being Cartier, but the vendors made no mention of the luxury brand at their shops at Amazon, the lawsuit said. 

Buyers, however, were sent jewelry bearing Cartier trademarks, the companies alleged in court documents. 

A second lawsuit accuses an Amazon store operating under the name “YFXF” last year of selling counterfeit Cartier goods, disguising jewelry as unbranded at the website but sending buyers knock-offs bearing the company’s trademark. 

Those involved in the scheme “advertised their counterfeit products on third-party social media websites by using ‘hidden links’ to direct their followers to the counterfeit Cartier products, while disguising the products as non-branded in the listings in the Amazon Store,” the lawsuit said. 

The companies said that Instagram direct messages and shared links were used to instruct social media followers about how to buy knock-offs at Amazon. 

 

Study: Facebook Fails to Catch East Africa Extremist Content

A new study has found that Facebook has failed to catch Islamic State group and al-Shabab extremist content in posts aimed at East Africa as the region remains under threat from violent attacks and Kenya prepares to vote in a closely contested national election. 

An Associated Press series last year, drawing on leaked documents shared by a Facebook whistleblower, showed how the platform repeatedly failed to act on sensitive content including hate speech in many places around the world. 

The new and unrelated two-year study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found Facebook posts that openly supported IS or the Somalia-based al-Shabab — even ones carrying al-Shabab branding and calling for violence in languages including Swahili, Somali and Arabic — were allowed to be widely shared. 

The report expresses particular concern with narratives linked to the extremist groups that accuse Kenyan government officials and politicians of being enemies of Muslims, who make up a significant part of the East African nation’s population. The report notes that “xenophobia toward Somali communities in Kenya has long been rife.” 

The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab has been described as the deadliest extremist group in Africa, and it has carried out high-profile attacks in recent years in Kenya far from its base in neighboring Somalia. The new study found no evidence of Facebook posts that planned specific attacks, but its authors and Kenyan experts warn that allowing even general calls to violence is a threat to the closely contested August presidential election. 

Already, concerns about hate speech around the vote, both online and off, are growing. 

“They chip away at that trust in democratic institutions,” report researcher Moustafa Ayad told the AP of the extremist posts. 

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found 445 public profiles, some with duplicate accounts, sharing content linked to the two extremist groups and tagging more than 17,000 other accounts. Among the narratives shared were accusations that Kenya and the United States are enemies of Islam, and among the posted content was praise by al-Shabab’s official media arm for the killing of Kenyan soldiers. 

Even when Facebook took down pages, they would quickly be reconstituted under different names, Ayad said, describing serious lapses by both artificial intelligence and human moderators. 

“Why are they not acting on rampant content put up by al-Shabab?” he asked. “You’d think that after 20 years of dealing with al-Qaida, they’d have a good understanding of the language they use, the symbolism.” 

He said the authors have discussed their findings with Facebook and some of the accounts have been taken down. He said the authors also plan to share the findings with Kenya’s government. 

Ayad said both civil society and government bodies such as Kenya’s national counterterrorism center should be aware of the problem and encourage Facebook to do more. 

Asked for comment, Facebook requested a copy of the report before its publication, which was refused. 

The company then responded with an emailed statement. 

“We’ve already removed a number of these pages and profiles and will continue to investigate once we have access to the full findings,” Facebook wrote Tuesday, not giving any name, citing security concerns. “We don’t allow terrorist groups to use Facebook, and we remove content praising or supporting these organizations when we become aware of it. We have specialized teams — which include native Arabic, Somali and Swahili speakers — dedicated to this effort.” 

Concerns about Facebook’s monitoring of content are global, say critics. 

“As we have seen in India, the United States, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the consequences of failing to moderate content posted by extremist groups and supporters can be deadly, and can push democracy past the brink,” the watchdog The Real Facebook Oversight Board said of the new report, adding that Kenya at the moment is a “microcosm of everything that’s wrong” with Facebook owner Meta. 

“The question is, who should ask Facebook to step up and do its work?” asked Leah Kimathi, a Kenyan consultant in governance, peace and security, who suggested that government bodies, civil society and consumers all can play a role. “Facebook is a business. The least they can do is ensure that something they’re selling to us is not going to kill us.”

SIPRI STUDY: World Headed for New Era of Nuclear Rearmament

After 35 years of decline, the number of nuclear weapons in the world is set to rise in the coming decade as global tensions flare amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, researchers said Monday.  

The nine nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, the United States and Russia — had 12,705 nuclear warheads in early 2022, or 375 fewer than in early 2021, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).   

The number has come down from a high of more than 70,000 in 1986, as the U.S. and Russia have gradually reduced their massive arsenals built up during the Cold War. 

But this era of disarmament appears to be coming to an end and the risk of a nuclear escalation is now at its highest point in the post-Cold War period, SIPRI researchers said. 

“Soon, we’re going to get to the point where, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the global number of nuclear weapons in the world could start increasing for the first time,” Matt Korda, one of the co-authors of the report, told AFP. 

“That is really kind of dangerous territory.” 

After a “marginal” decrease seen last year, “nuclear arsenals are expected to grow over the coming decade,” SIPRI said. 

During the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has on several occasions made reference to the use of nuclear weapons. 

Meanwhile several countries, including China and Britain, are either officially or unofficially modernizing or ramping up their arsenals, the research institute said. 

“It’s going to be very difficult to make progress on disarmament over the coming years because of this war, and because of how Putin is talking about his nuclear weapons,” Korda said. 

These worrying statements are pushing “a lot of other nuclear armed states to think about their own nuclear strategies,” he added. 

‘Nuclear war can’t be won’ 

Despite the entry into force in early 2021 of the U.N. nuclear weapon ban treaty and a five-year extension of the U.S.-Russian “New START” treaty, the situation has been deteriorating for some time, according to SIPRI. 

Iran’s nuclear program and the development of increasingly advanced hypersonic missiles have, among other things, raised concern. 

The drop in the overall number of weapons is due to the U.S. and Russia “dismantling retired warheads,” SIPRI noted, while the number of operational weapons remains “relatively stable.” 

Moscow and Washington alone account for 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal. 

Russia remains the biggest nuclear power, with 5,977 warheads in early 2022, down by 280 from a year ago, either deployed, in stock or waiting to be dismantled, according to the institute. 

More than 1,600 of its warheads are believed to be immediately operational, SIPRI said. 

The United States meanwhile has 5,428 warheads, 120 fewer than last year, but it has more deployed than Russia, at 1,750. 

In terms of overall numbers, China comes third with 350, followed by France with 290, Britain with 225, Pakistan with 165, India with 160, and Israel with 90. 

Israel is the only one of the nine that does not officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons. 

As for North Korea, SIPRI said for the first time that Kim Jong Un’s Communist regime now has 20 nuclear warheads. 

Pyongyang is believed to have enough material to produce around 50. 

In early 2022, the five nuclear-armed permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — issued a statement that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” 

Nonetheless, SIPRI noted, all five “continue to expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals and appear to be increasing the salience of nuclear weapons in their military strategies.” 

“China is in the middle of a substantial expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal, which satellite images indicate includes the construction of over 300 new missile silos,” it said.  

According to the Pentagon, Beijing could have 700 warheads by 2027. 

Britain last year said it would increase the ceiling on its total warhead stockpile and would no longer publicly disclose figures for the country’s operational nuclear weapons. 

Musk Threatens to Kill Twitter Deal Over Fake Account Data

Elon Musk accused Twitter of “actively resisting and thwarting his information rights,” as the Tesla founder attempts to get information about fake and spam accounts on the platform.

The accusation came in a letter Musk sent to Twitter Monday in which he warned he could walk away from the $44 billion deal to take over the company should Twitter not provide the information he seeks.

Musk further accused Twitter of a “clear material breach” of its obligation to provide the data.

“Musk believes Twitter is transparently refusing to comply with its obligations under the merger agreement, which is causing further suspicion that the company is withholding the requested data due to concern for what Musk’s own analysis of that data will uncover,” according to the letter.

“Twitter has, in fact, refused to provide the information that Mr. Musk has repeatedly requested since May 9, 2022, to facilitate his evaluation of spam and fake accounts on the company’s platform. Twitter’s latest offer to simply provide additional details regarding the company’s own testing methodologies, whether through written materials or verbal explanations, is tantamount to refusing Mr. Musk’s data requests,” the letter said.

The social media platform has not commented on Musk’s letter. Twitter stock tumbled over 5% in early trading Monday.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.  

Autonomous Mayflower Reaches American Shores — in Canada 

A crewless robotic boat that had tried to retrace the 1620 sea voyage of the Mayflower has finally reached the shores of North America — this time in Canada instead of the Massachusetts coast where its namesake landed more than 400 years ago. 

The sleek autonomous trimaran docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Sunday, after more than five weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean from England, according to tech company IBM, which helped build it. 

Piloted by artificial intelligence technology, the 50-foot (15-meter) Mayflower Autonomous Ship didn’t have a captain, navigator or human on board — though it might have helped to have a mechanic. 

“The technology that makes up the autonomous system worked perfectly, flawlessly,” said Rob High, an IBM computing executive involved in the project. “Mechanically, we did run into problems.” 

Trouble at sea

Its first attempt at the trans-Atlantic crossing to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in June 2021 was beset by technical glitches, forcing the boat to return to its home port of Plymouth, England. 

It set off again from England nearly a year later on April 27, bound for Virginia — but a generator problem diverted it to Portugal’s Azores islands, where a team member flew in to perform emergency repairs. More troubles on the open sea came in late May when the U.S.-bound boat developed a problem with the charging circuit for the generator’s starter batteries. 

AI software is getting better at helping self-driving machines understand their surroundings and pilot themselves, but most robots can’t heal themselves when the hardware goes awry. 

Nonprofit marine research organization ProMare, which worked with IBM to build the ship, switched to a back-up navigation computer on May 30 and charted a course to Halifax — which was closer than any U.S. destination. The boat’s webcam on Sunday morning showed it being towed by a larger boat as the Halifax skyline neared — a safety requirement under international maritime rules, IBM said. 

Companion Robot Responds to User’s Emotional Cues, Health Needs

The arrival of the pandemic intensified feelings of loneliness and social isolation for millions of older people, many of whom were already battling depression and other health issues. For those struggling, a robot companion might make a difference, and states like New York are starting to provide them to residents free of charge. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Camera: Adam Greenbaum

Sanctions Frustrating Russian Ransomware Actors

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to be having an unanticipated impact in cyberspace — a decrease in the number of ransomware attacks. 

“We have seen a recent decline since the Ukrainian invasion,” Rob Joyce, the U.S. National Security Agency’s director of cybersecurity, told a virtual forum Wednesday. 

Joyce said one reason for the decrease in ransomware attacks since the February 24 invasion is likely improved awareness and defensive measures by U.S. businesses. 

He also said some of it is tied to measures the United States and its Western allies have taken against Moscow in response to the war in Ukraine. 

“We’ve definitively seen the criminal actors in Russia complain that the functions of sanctions and the distance of their ability to use credit cards and other payment methods to get Western infrastructure to run these [ransomware] attacks have become much more difficult,” Joyce told The Cipher Brief’s Cyber Initiatives Group. 

“We’ve seen that have an impact on their [Russia’s] operations,” he added. “It’s driving the trend down a little bit.” 

Just days after Russian forces entered Ukraine, U.S. cybersecurity officials renewed their “Shields Up” awareness campaign, encouraging companies to take additional security precautions to protect against potential cyberattacks by Russia itself or by criminal hackers working on Moscow’s behalf. 

 

 

And those officials caution Russia still has the capability to inflict more damage in cyberspace. 

“Russia is continuing to explore options for potential cyberattacks,” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Matthew Hartman told a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week. 

“We are seeing glimpses into targeting and into access development,” Hartman said, noting Russia has for now held back from launching any major cyberattacks against the West. “We do not know at what point a calculus may change.” 

FBI cyber officials have likewise voiced concern that it could be a matter of time before the Kremlin authorizes cyberattacks targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including against the energy, finance and telecommunication sectors. 

 

 

U.S. and NATO officials on Wednesday also cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that just because there have been few signs of “catastrophic effects” that Russia has not tried to leverage its cyber capabilities to its advantage. 

“It has been happening and it’s still happening,” said Stefanie Metka, head of the Cyber Threat Analysis Branch at NATO. “There’s a lot of cyber activity that’s happening all the time and probably we won’t know the full extent of it until we turn the computers back on.”  

Said the NSA’s Joyce: “If you look at Ukraine, they have been heavily targeted. What we’ve seen are a number of wiper viruses, seven or eight different or unique wiper viruses that have been thrown into the ecosystem of Ukraine and its near abroad.” Wiper viruses are viruses that erase a computer’s memory.

These included a cyberattack against a satellite communications company, which hampered the ability of Ukraine’s military to communicate and had spillover effects across Europe. 

 

But with help from the U.S. and other allies, Ukraine was able to mitigate the impact, Joyce said. 

“The Ukrainians have been under threat and under pressure for a number of years, and so they have continued to adapt and improve and develop their tradecraft to the point where they mount a good defense and, equally as important, they mount a great incident response,” he said.  

Some cybersecurity experts say that ability to respond might be one of the biggest take-aways, so far, from the invasion. 

“Resiliency matters,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, the founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator and the former chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, at Wednesday’s virtual forum. “The Ukrainians have gotten really, really good at rebuilding networks, quickly mitigating damage.” 

Another key lesson, he said, is the limitations of cyber. 

“If you’ve got kinetic options, if you can create a crater somewhere, take out a substation, take out a communication system, that’s what you’re going to prefer to use,” Alperovitch said. “That’s what’s easiest [to do] to get lasting damage.” 

 

Meta Returns with Africa Day Campaign

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, is hosting its second annual Africa Day campaign to promote Africans who are making a global impact.

The content producer for the film project, South African filmmaker Tarryn Crossman, said Meta identified eight innovators, creators and businesspeople on the continent whose stories the company wanted told for the “Made by Africa, Loved by the World” campaign.

Crossman’s company, Tia Productions, teamed up with Mashoba Media to find four fellow filmmakers in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their job was to make two- to three-minute documentaries about the subjects.

“So, for example we did Trevor Stuurman here in South Africa,” Crossman said. “He’s a visual artist and his line was, I just loved so much, he says: ‘Africa’s no longer the ghost writer.’ We’re telling our stories and owning our own narratives. That’s kind of the thread amongst all these characters. They all have that in common.”

Nairobi-based filmmaker Joan Kabangu made a movie about Black Rhino VR, a Kenyan virtual reality content producing company which has worked with international brands.

“They are the pioneers around creating VR content, 360 content, augmented mixed reality kind of content in Kenya, in the wider Africa. And it’s a company which is run by a young person and everybody who is working there is fairly young. And they are really getting into how tech is being used to elevate the way we are creating content in 2022, going forward,” Kabangu said.

Of Meta’s Africa Day campaign she said, “I feel it’s celebrating the good in Africa.”

In Ghana, Kofi Awuah’s movie making has been delayed by floods in the capital, Accra. But he is determined to finish. His innovator is designer Selina Beb, whose work can be seen on Instagram and is sold online, often to buyers in the U.S. and Britain.

“She’s very unique,” Awuah said. “Based on material she uses and even the processes she uses are kind of things that tell a Ghanian or African story. For instance, she uses a certain kind of stone that you can find only in the northern parts of Ghana.”

Awuah said being a part of the campaign is the chance of a lifetime.

“My manager called me to tell me that we gotten a contract from Meta and I almost, like I had a heart attack,” she said. “When that call came, I felt this is the moment for me to express myself to the millions or billions of people who are using Facebook, who are using social media.”

Meta will also be hosting free virtual training sessions throughout the week. These include training on monetization, cross-border business and branded content.

Facebook, Instagram to Reveal More on How Ads Target Users

 Facebook parent Meta said it will start publicly providing more details about how advertisers target people with political ads just months ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. 

The announcement follows years of criticism that the social media platforms withhold too much information about how campaigns, special interest groups and politicians use the platform to target small pockets of people with polarizing, divisive or misleading messages. 

Meta, which also owns Instagram, said it will start releasing details in July about the demographics and interests of audiences who are targeted with ads that run on its two primary social networks. The company will also share how much advertisers spent in an effort to target people in certain states. 

“By making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies,” Jeff King wrote in a statement posted to Meta’s website. 

The new details could shed more light on how politicians spread misleading or controversial political messages among certain groups of people. Advocacy groups and Democrats, for example, have argued for years that misleading political ads are overwhelming the Facebook feeds of Spanish-speaking populations. 

The information will be showcased in the Facebook ad library, a public database that already shows how much companies, politicians or campaigns spend on each ad they run across Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Currently, anyone can see how much a page has spent running an ad and a breakdown of the ages, gender and states or countries an ad is shown in. 

The information will be available across 242 countries when a social issue, political or election ad is run, Meta said in a statement. 

Meta collected $86 billion in revenue during 2020, the last major U.S. election year, thanks in part to its granular ad targeting system. Facebook’s ad system is so customizable that advertisers could target a single user out of billions on the platform, if they wanted. 

Meta said in its announcement Monday that it will provide researchers with new details that show the interest categories advertisers selected when they tried to target people on the platform. 

With Roe in Doubt, Some Fear Tech Surveillance of Pregnancy

When Chandler Jones realized she was pregnant during her junior year of college, she turned to a trusted source for information and advice.

Her cellphone.

“I couldn’t imagine before the internet, trying to navigate this,” said Jones, 26, who graduated Tuesday from the University of Baltimore School of Law. “I didn’t know if hospitals did abortions. I knew Planned Parenthood did abortions, but there were none near me. So I kind of just Googled.”

But with each search, Jones was being surreptitiously followed — by the phone apps and browsers that track us as we click away, capturing even our most sensitive health data.

Online searches. Period apps. Fitness trackers. Advice helplines. GPS. The often obscure companies collecting our health history and geolocation data may know more about us than we know ourselves.

For now, the information is mostly used to sell us things, like baby products targeted to pregnant women. But in a post-Roe world — if the Supreme Court upends the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, as a draft opinion suggests it may in the coming weeks — the data would become more valuable, and women more vulnerable.

Privacy experts fear that pregnancies could be surveilled and the data shared with police or sold to vigilantes.

“The value of these tools for law enforcement is for how they really get to peek into the soul,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a lawyer and technology fellow at the Ford Foundation. “It gives [them] the mental chatter inside our heads.”

HIPAA, hotlines, health histories

The digital trail only becomes clearer when we leave home, as location apps, security cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition software track our movements. The development of these tech tools has raced far ahead of the laws and regulations that might govern them.

And it’s not just women who should be concerned. The same tactics used to surveil pregnancies can be used by life insurance companies to set premiums, banks to approve loans and employers to weigh hiring decisions, experts said.

Or it could — and sometimes does — send women who experience miscarriages cheery ads on their would-be child’s birthday.

It’s all possible because HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protects medical files at your doctor’s office but not the information that third-party apps and tech companies collect about you. Nor does HIPAA cover the health histories collected by non-medical “crisis pregnancy centers, ” which are run by anti-abortion groups. That means the information can be shared with, or sold to, almost anyone.

Jones contacted one such facility early in her Google search, before figuring out they did not offer abortions.

“The dangers of unfettered access to Americans’ personal data have never been more clear. Researching birth control online, updating a period-tracking app or bringing a phone to the doctor’s office could be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S.,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said last week.

For myriad reasons, both political and philosophical, data privacy laws in the U.S. have lagged far behind those adopted in Europe in 2018.

Until this month, anyone could buy a weekly trove of data on clients at more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites around the country for as little as $160, according to a recent Vice investigation that led one data broker to remove family planning centers from the customer “pattern” data it sells. The files included approximate patient addresses (down to the census block, derived from where their cellphones “sleep” at night), income brackets, time spent at the clinic, and the top places people stopped before and after their visits.

While the data did not identify patients by name, experts say that can often be pieced together, or de-anonymized, with a little sleuthing.

In Arkansas, a new law will require women seeking an abortion to first call a state hotline and hear about abortion alternatives. The hotline, set to debut next year, will cost the state nearly $5 million a year to operate. Critics fear it will be another way to track pregnant women, either by name or through an identifier number. Other states are considering similar legislation.

The widespread surveillance capabilities alarm privacy experts who fear what’s to come if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its opinion by early July.

“A lot of people, where abortion is criminalized — because they have nowhere to go — are going to go online, and every step that they take (could) … be surveilled,” Conti-Cook said.

Punish women, doctors or friends?

Women of color like Jones, along with poor women and immigrants, could face the most dire consequences if Roe falls since they typically have less power and money to cover their tracks. They also tend to have more abortions, proportionally, perhaps because they have less access to health care, birth control and, in conservative states, schools with good sex education programs.

The leaked draft suggests the Supreme Court could be ready to let states ban or severely restrict abortion through civil or criminal penalties. More than half are poised to do so. Abortion foes have largely promised not to punish women themselves, but instead target their providers or people who help them access services.

“The penalties are for the doctor, not for the woman,” Republican state Rep. Jim Olsen of Oklahoma said last month of a new law that makes performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

But abortion advocates say that remains to be seen.

“When abortion is criminalized, pregnancy outcomes are investigated,” said Tara Murtha, the communications director at the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, who recently co-authored a report on digital surveillance in the abortion sphere.

She wonders where the scrutiny would end. Prosecutors have already taken aim at women who use drugs during pregnancy, an issue Justice Clarence Thomas raised during the Supreme Court arguments in the case in December.

“Any adverse pregnancy outcome can turn the person who was pregnant into a suspect,” Murtha said.

State limits, tech steps, personal tips

A few states are starting to push back, setting limits on tech tools as the fight over consumer privacy intensifies.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, through a legal settlement, stopped a Boston-based ad company from steering anti-abortion smartphone ads to women inside clinics there that offer abortion services, deeming it harassment. The firm had even proposed using the same “geofencing” tactics to send anti-abortion messages to high school students.

In Michigan, voters amended the state Constitution to prohibit police from searching someone’s data without a warrant. And in California, home to Silicon Valley, voters passed a sweeping digital privacy law that lets people see their data profiles and ask to have them deleted. The law took effect in 2020.

The concerns are mounting, and have forced Apple, Google and other tech giants to begin taking steps to rein in the sale of consumer data. That includes Apple’s launch last year of its App Tracking Transparency feature, which lets iPhone and iPad users block apps from tracking them.

Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, suggest women in conservative states leave their cellphones, smartwatches and other wearable devices at home when they seek reproductive health care, or at least turn off the location services. They should also closely examine the privacy policies of menstrual trackers and other health apps they use.

“There are things that people can do that can help mitigate their risk. Most people will not do them because they don’t know about it or it’s inconvenient,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “There are very, very few people who have the savvy to do everything.”

Digital privacy was the last thing on Jones’s mind when she found herself pregnant. She was in crisis. She and her partner had ambitious career goals. After several days of searching, she found an appointment for an abortion in nearby Delaware. Fortunately, he had a car.

“When I was going through this, it was just survival mode,” said Jones, who took part in a march Saturday in downtown Baltimore to support abortion rights.

Besides, she said, she’s grown up in the Internet age, a world in which “all of my information is being sold constantly.”

But news of the leaked Supreme Court draft sparked discussions at her law school this month about privacy, including digital privacy in the era of Big Data.

“Literally, because I have my cell phone in my pocket, if I go to a CVS, they know I went to a CVS,” the soon-to-be lawyer said. “I think the privacy right is such a deeper issue in America [and one] that is being violated all the time.”

China’s COVID Lockdowns May Affect iPhone Shipments

The Apple Store at Union Square, the heart of San Francisco’s upscale tourist district, had drawn more than 30 customers within a few minutes of opening Friday morning. Visitors, couples and even a preschool-age boy browsed the atrium packed with iPhone 13s and watches to try out. A sign urged people to trade in old phones to save money on the 13s. 

But a staff member could not say when the iPhone 14 would come out — presumably sometime this year — or what it would cost. Some shoppers wondered whether it would be delayed or cost more than expected given the months of supply chain disruptions in China, where the phones are made. 

“This stuff has got to hit hard at some point,” said Bill Kimberlin, an Apple Store shopper from San Francisco. 

Apple, based in the Silicon Valley, just 50 miles south of San Francisco, outsources iPhone parts from around East Asia, and its handsets are assembled in China.  

Apple had to delay product rollouts first in 2020, when new gear was held up for a month because of China’s first COVID-19 wave, said Rachel Liao, senior industry analyst with the Taipei-based Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute. 

In the first quarter this year, she said, lockdowns in China suspended assembly plants, including at least one operated by Pegatron. Pegatron is the No. 2 iPhone assembler, with 25% of orders, after Foxconn. Both companies are based in Taiwan but manufacture in China.  

Since 2020, the costs of making the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series have increased “slightly” because of a materials shortage in the semiconductor supply chain, Liao said.  

“Sharp and protracted lockdowns are causing a lot of short-term havoc on logistics, and it’s obviously affecting delivery times significantly,” said Ivan Lam, senior research analyst with market analysis firm Counterpoint Research. 

Apple declined to answer a query from VOA about its China supply chain.   

Not just phones  

Supply chain upsets set off by China’s lockdowns in the major commercial hubs Shenzhen and Shanghai are slowing exports of products ranging from phones to building materials to motor vehicles. Western nations are experiencing shortages and higher prices imported goods.  

Chinese authorities ordered Shenzhen shuttered in March, and Shanghai, with a population of about 26 million, closed weeks later. Those closures have kept workers away from factories, delivery jobs and seaports.

Cities are locking down as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “zero-COVID” policy, aimed at controlling deaths from the coronavirus.

“The impact of the COVID-19-related restrictions and lockdown there in Shanghai is going to be severe on businesses, not just in China but globally,” said Ker Gibbs, executive in residence at the University of San Francisco and former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. 

“Shanghai is so important as a port and as a logistics hub, as a supply chain, so that any business that is touching China is going to be impacted by the lockdown,” Gibbs said. 

COVID-19 cases in China, the world’s largest consumer market, “exacerbated” a drop in global mobile phone production in the first three months of 2022, Taipei-based market analysis firm TrendForce said in an emailed statement May 10. It says production volume worldwide was 310 million phones in the same period. 

Jayant Menon, a visiting senior fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute Regional Economic Studies Program in Singapore, calls demand for China-made goods “uneven” — another cause for supply chain upsets. He anticipates the disruptions will last for two more quarters. 

“The quantities involved, I think, will clearly reflect the kind of disruptions still ongoing in China because of their zero-COVID strategy,” he said.  

Strategies for smartphones 

Smartphone supplies are holding up better than those of many other China-made goods, analysts say. 

Phone parts such as chips and screens are sourced from outside China; for example, camera lenses are made in Taiwan, and flash memory is produced in South Korea.  

“These things are counted as exports from China, as if 100% of it were made there, and in fact, a much smaller percentage is actually created in China,” said Douglas Barry, vice president of communications at the U.S.-China Business Council, an advocacy group in Washington with over 260 members. 

Apple now requires suppliers to increase inventories as it plans further in advance for product launches, Liao said. That’s a hedge against more supply chain problems. 

The Silicon Valley icon is now asking its assemblers over the longer term to cut reliance on China and raise orders for factories in India, she added. Its chief assemblers — Foxconn, Pegatron and Wistron — will continue to increase production capacity in India, she predicted. Wistron is also based in Taiwan. 

Apple is diversifying further with assembly orders to China-based Luxshare Precision Industry. Liao says that firm handles 3% of iPhone orders, with the prospect of more this year. 

Apple was the world’s No. 2-selling brand of smartphone after Samsung in the first three months of this year, with an 18% market share and 56.5 million units shipped, according to market research firm IDC, up slightly from the same period in 2021.

Some smartphone factories are using “closed-loop operations” to keep production going in China, Lam said. Companies such as Foxconn have long housed workers in factory compounds so large that some have compared them to cities.

“At the end of the day, companies will assess their vulnerabilities and adjust their supply chains accordingly,” Barry said. “It won’t be easy, and consumers will feel their pain by having to wait and paying more for products they want.” 

Canada to Ban Huawei and ZTE From 5G Networks

Canada will ban Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE from its 5G wireless networks because of national security concerns, officials said Thursday. 

The long-awaited move follows those of the United States and other key allies and comes on the heels of a diplomatic row between Ottawa and Beijing over the detention of a senior Huawei executive on a U.S. warrant, which has now been resolved. 

The United States has warned of the security implications of giving Chinese tech companies access to telecommunications infrastructure that could be used for state espionage. 

Both Huawei and Beijing have rejected the allegations, while Beijing warned of repercussions for nations placing restrictions on the telecom equipment provider. 

The company did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on Canada’s ban. 

Canadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino made the announcement at a news conference. 

“Today, we’re announcing our intention to prohibit the inclusion of Huawei and ZTE products and services in Canada’s telecommunication systems,” Champagne said. 

“This follows a full review by our security agencies and in consultation with our closest allies.” 

Canada had been reviewing the 5G technology and network access for several years, repeatedly delaying a decision that was first expected in 2019. 

It remained silent on the telecoms issue after China jailed two Canadians — diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — in what observers believed was in retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of the United States. 

All three were released in September 2021 after Meng reached a deal with U.S. prosecutors on the fraud charges, ending her extradition fight. 

Champagne said Canadian telecommunications companies “will not be permitted to include in their networks products or services that put our national security at risk.” 

“Providers who already have this equipment installed will be required to cease its use and remove it,” he said. 

‘Hostile actors’ 

Huawei already supplies some Canadian telecommunications firms with 4G equipment. 

Most, if not all, had held off using Huawei in their fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks that deliver speedier online connections with greater data capacity, or looked to other suppliers while Ottawa hemmed and hawed. 

Mendicino said 5G innovation “represents a major opportunity for competition and growth” but also comes with risks. 

“There are many hostile actors who are ready to exploit vulnerabilities” in telecom networks, he said. 

The U.S., Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Japan and Sweden have already blocked or restricted the use of Huawei technology in their 5G networks. 

The U.S. government considers Huawei a potential security threat because of the background of its founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, a former Chinese army engineer who is Meng’s father.

The concern escalated as Huawei rose to become the world leader in telecom networking equipment and one of the top smartphone manufacturers following Beijing’s passage of a 2017 law obliging Chinese companies to assist the government in matters of national security. 

Canada’s two spy agencies had reportedly been divided initially over whether to ban Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks. One favored a ban, while the other argued risks could be mitigated. 

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment had been tasked with conducting a cybersecurity review to evaluate the risks, as well as the economic costs to Canadian telecoms and consumers, of blacklisting the equipment supplier. 

Huawei was already prohibited from bidding on Canadian government contracts and core network equipment such as routers and switches. 

Twitter Policy Aims to Clear Fog of War Misinformation

Twitter is stepping up its fight against misinformation with a new policy cracking down on posts that spread potentially dangerous false stories. The change is part of a broader effort to promote accurate information during times of conflict or crisis. 

Starting Thursday, the platform will no longer automatically recommend or emphasize posts that make misleading claims about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including material that mischaracterizes conditions in conflict zones or makes false allegations of war crimes or atrocities against civilians. 

Under its new “crisis misinformation policy,” Twitter will also add warning labels to debunked claims about ongoing humanitarian crises, the San Francisco-based company said. Users won’t be able to like, forward or respond to posts that violate the new rules. 

The changes make Twitter the latest social platform to grapple with the misinformation, propaganda and rumors that have proliferated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. That misinformation ranges from rumors spread by well-intentioned users to Kremlin propaganda amplified by Russian diplomats or fake accounts and networks linked to Russian intelligence. 

“We have seen both sides share information that may be misleading and/or deceptive,” said Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, who detailed the new policy for reporters. “Our policy doesn’t draw a distinction between the different combatants. Instead, we’re focusing on misinformation that could be dangerous, regardless of where it comes from.” 

The new policy will complement existing Twitter rules that prohibit digitally manipulated media, false claims about elections and voting, and health misinformation, including debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines. 

But it could also clash with the views of Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who has agreed to pay $44 billion to acquire Twitter with the aim of making it a haven for free speech. Musk hasn’t addressed many instances of what that would mean in practice, although he has said that Twitter should only take down posts that violate the law, which taken literally would prevent action against most misinformation, personal attacks and harassment. He has also criticized the algorithms used by Twitter and other social platforms to recommend particular posts to individuals. 

The policy was written broadly to cover misinformation during other conflicts, natural disasters, humanitarian crises or “any situation where there’s a widespread threat to health and safety,” Roth said. 

Twitter said it will rely on a variety of credible sources to determine when a post is misleading. Those sources will include humanitarian groups, conflict monitors and journalists. 

A senior Ukrainian cybersecurity official, Victor Zhora, welcomed Twitter’s new screening policy and said that it’s up to the global community to “find proper approaches to prevent the sowing of misinformation across social networks.” 

While the results have been mixed, Twitter’s efforts to address misinformation about the Ukraine conflict exceed those of other platforms that have chosen a more hands-off approach, like Telegram, which is popular in Eastern Europe. 

Asked specifically about the Telegram platform, where Russian government disinformation is rampant but Ukraine’s leaders also reach a wide audience, Zhora said the question was “tricky but very important.” That’s because the kind of misinformation disseminated without constraint on Telegram “to some extent led to this war.” 

Since the Russian invasion began in February, social media platforms like Twitter and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, have tried to address a rise in war-related misinformation by labeling posts from Russian state-controlled media and diplomats. They’ve also de-emphasized some material so it no longer turns up in searches or automatic recommendations. 

Emerson Brooking, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and expert on social media and disinformation, said that the conflict in Ukraine shows how easily misinformation can spread online during a conflict and the need for platforms to respond. 

“This is a conflict that has played out on the internet, and one that has driven extraordinarily rapid changes in tech policy,” he said. 

 

Nigeria Becoming Destination for Africa’s Promising Tech Startups

In February, the Nigerian technology startup CrowdForce announced a big break: It had received $3.6 million from investors to expand its financial services operations to many more underserved communities.  

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Tomi Ayorinde said new funding will boost its mobile agent network from 7,000 to 21,000 this year.

“We were looking to scale faster and really gain market share,” Ayorinde said. “And what we’re doing is also very impact-related because we’re creating jobs, avenues for people to make extra income in their communities. So, it was also very interesting for impact investors to be part of what we’re trying to do.” 

When Ayorinde helped launch CrowdForce seven years ago, he intended it to be a data collection company. But after about two years, the company overhauled its business model when Ayorinde realized it could fill a need for bank accounts.   

“When we collected data of 4.5 million traders what we saw was, a lot of them didn’t have bank accounts and the ones that have bank accounts had a very tough time accessing the cash that was sent to them,” said Ayorinde.”That’s when we kind of realized that there’s a bigger problem to solve here.”

Experts say about 60% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people lack access to banks or financial services. Technology startups in Africa are trying to fix that, said the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association known as AVCA.   

In a recent report, the industry group said African startups attracted $5.2 billion in venture capital last year, and that West Africa – led by Nigeria – accounted for the largest share of investments.    

AVCA research manager Alexia Alexandropoulou said investors are looking to tap into Africa’s huge population of young people.    

“Africa is the world’s most youthful population, so as the proportion of skilled labor increases, then the result will be more human capital in order to power African businesses and also the industrial development within the continent,” said Alexandropoulou.

AVCA’s report also cites increased internet penetration in Africa and more favorable government policies as contributing to increased investments in financial technology services knwoFintech.  

But Fintech Digital Marketing Expert Louis Dike said there are obstacles to overcome, such as weak currencies and policies.  

“Africa is not a perfect place because it’s still made up of virgin markets,” said Dike. “The standard of living is quite low, our regulations are not consistent, today the government will say this and tomorrow they will change the law and restrict some startup activities.”  

But with new talents emerging in technology, more startups with big dreams are emerging in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.