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Kremlin says there’s no significant evidence of Russian meddling in US election

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd L), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L), Director of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov (2nd R), and Director of Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 19, 2016.

Sputnik/Kremlin | Alexei Druzhinin | Reuters

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd L), Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L), Director of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov (2nd R), and Director of Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 19, 2016.

The Kremlin reacted to the indictment of Russian nationals for illegal interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday that the U.S. charges did not contain any proof that the Russian state had been involved in such activity, according to Reuters.

On Friday, the Department of Justice indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for interference in the 2016 presidential election. The indictment said that a Russian propaganda arm had overseen a conspiracy to favor President Donald Trump over his campaign rival Hillary Clinton. A separate investigation is examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians, which Trump denies.

The Kremlin said allegations of Russian state involvement were “unfair and baseless.”

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North Korean hackers targeting security researchers Twitter, LinkedIn

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Google believes that hackers in North Korea are pretending to be cybersecurity bloggers and targeting researchers in the field on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.

The search giant announced that its Threat Analysis Group has “identified an ongoing campaign targeting security researchers working on vulnerability research and development at different companies and organizations.”

It attributed the campaign to a government-backed entity based in North Korea. The nation’s cooperation office with South Korea did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment..

Google said the actors have targeted specific security researchers with a “novel social engineering” technique, although it didn’t specify which researchers have been targeted.

Google’s Adam Weidemann said in a blog on Monday that the hackers set up a research blog and created multiple Twitter profiles to engage with security researchers.

The hackers used these accounts to post links to the blog and share videos of software exploits that they claimed to have found, Google said. 

They also used LinkedIn, Telegram, Discord, Keybase and email to engage with security researchers, Google said.

“After establishing initial communications, the actors would ask the targeted researcher if they wanted to collaborate on vulnerability research together,” wrote Weidemann.

The actors then shared a group of files with the researchers that contained malware — software that is intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server, client, or computer network.

Google listed several accounts and websites that it believes are controlled by the hackers. The list includes 10 Twitter profiles and five LinkedIn profiles.

Google said it also observed instances of security researchers being compromised after visiting the actors’ blog.

“In each of these cases, the researchers have followed a link on Twitter to a write-up hosted on blog.br0vvnn[.]io, and shortly thereafter, a malicious service was installed on the researcher’s system and an in-memory backdoor would begin beaconing to an actor-owned command and control server,” wrote Weidemann.

Google said the victims were running fully patched and up-to-date versions of Windows 10 and its own Chrome browser.

“At this time we’re unable to confirm the mechanism of compromise, but we welcome any information others might have,” Weidemann wrote.

“Chrome vulnerabilities, including those being exploited in the wild, are eligible for reward payout under Chrome’s Vulnerability Reward Program. We encourage anyone who discovers a Chrome vulnerability to report that activity.”

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covid variants are a risk

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Gita Gopinath, the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund.

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — The International Monetary Fund has become more upbeat about the global economy, as coronavirus vaccinations are administered across the world. It is, however, worried about the risk new Covid variants pose to the post-pandemic recovery.

According to its latest World Economic Outlook, published Tuesday, the institution now expects the global economy to grow 5.5% this year — a 0.3 percentage point increase from October’s forecasts. It sees global GDP (gross domestic product) expanding by 4.2% in 2022.

“Much now depends on the outcome of this race between a mutating virus and vaccines to end the pandemic, and on the ability of policies to provide effective support until that happens,” the IMF’s Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said in a blog post.

“There remains tremendous uncertainty and prospects vary greatly across countries.”

The world has seen surging numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths over the past few months, as new variants of the coronavirus have spread rapidly. These have been described as more infectious and are potentially deadlier than the original strain.

As a result, many countries have stepped up their social restrictions, which has inflicted further economic pain.

In fact, the IMF cut its GDP forecasts for the euro zone this year by 1 percentage point. The 19-member region, which has been severely hit by the pandemic, is now expected to grow by 4.2% this year.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain — the four largest economies in the euro zone — also saw their growth expectations cut for 2021.

Economic activity in the region slowed in the final quarter of 2020 and this is expected to continue into the first part of 2021. The IMF does not expect the euro area economy to return to end-of-2019 levels before the end of 2022.

U.S. growth revised up

On the other hand, the United States is set to grow more than expected this year, according to the IMF.

The Fund revised its GDP forecast upward by 2 percentage points on the back of a strong momentum in the second part of 2020 and additional fiscal support. GDP is now seen at 5.1% this year.

The U.S. Congress approved almost $900 billion in a stimulus package in December and President Joe Biden has suggested that more relief packages could come soon.

Looking at emerging markets, China is set to grow above 8% this year, the IMF said.

“China returned to its pre-pandemic projected level in the fourth quarter of 2020, ahead of all large economies. The United States is projected to surpass its pre-Covid levels this year, well ahead of the euro area,” Gopinath said on Tuesday.

The IMF reiterated that governments will need to keep supporting their economies via fiscal stimulus in order to bolster economic recovery.

“Policy actions should ensure effective support until the recovery is firmly underway, with an emphasis on advancing key imperatives of raising potential output, ensuring participatory growth that benefits all, and accelerating the transition to lower carbon dependence,” Gopinath added.

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South African leader Ramaphosa urges rich countries to stop ‘hoarding’ vaccines

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the crowd gathered at the Miki Yili Stadium, ahead of the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Freedom Day, in Makhanda, Eastern Cape Province on April 27, 2019.

MICHELE SPATARI | AFP | Getty Images

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday urged the world’s wealthiest countries to stop “hoarding” vaccines and called for an end to “vaccine nationalism.”

In remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda event, Ramaphosa cautioned that some countries had ordered more supplies of vaccines than they needed, and that this was counterproductive to the global recovery effort.

“Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the rollout of vaccines, ensuring that no country is left behind in this effort,” he said.

“The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines from the developers and manufacturers of these vaccines, and some countries have even gone beyond and acquired up to four times what their populations need,” he said.

“That was aimed at hoarding these vaccines and now this is being done to the exclusion of other countries in the world that most need this,” he added, urging major economies to release their excess stockpiles for distribution to developing nations.

South Africa is the country worst hit by Covid-19 on the continent, which has largely managed to stave off the kind of uncontrolled spread which brought the U.S. and much of Europe to a standstill. As of Tuesday morning, the country had recorded more than 1.4 million cases with 41,117 deaths.

In a panel discussion as part of the Davos Agenda event on Tuesday morning, Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said the continent is facing a “very aggressive second wave” of the pandemic, with mortality increasing on average 18% across the 55 African member states last week.

“We as a continent must recognize that vaccines will not be here when we want them, but as such we need to really focus on the public health measures that we know work,” he added.

Ramaphosa, who is also chairman of the African Union, lauded the continent’s collaborations on Covid-19 responses, including the African Medical Supplies Platform, which has offered assistance to national health systems, established regional collaboration hubs and deployed community healthcare workers to support testing and treatment efforts.

He also praised the progress of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, which he said was created when AU nations realized “how the world’s richest countries are behaving.”

The AVATT has secured a provisional 270 million doses for AU member states directly, in addition to the 600 million expected from the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative.

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