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NATO and EU launch a cybersecurity alliance to confront Chinese cyberattacks

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WASHINGTON — A new alliance made up of NATO member states, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Japan is coming together to confront the global threat posed by Chinese state-sponsored cyberattacks.

The group will share intelligence on cyberthreats and collaborate on network defenses and security, said a senior Biden administration official who requested anonymity to discuss a national security effort.

In its first joint action on Monday, the alliance will publicly blame China’s Ministry of State Security for a massive cyberattack on Microsoft Exchange email servers earlier this year.

The attack was carried out by criminal contract hackers working for the MSS who also engage in cyber-enabled extortion, cryptojacking and ransomware, the official said.

Also on Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a new advisory listing 50 tactics, techniques and procedures that Chinese state-sponsored hackers employ.

The brazen Microsoft Exchange server attack first became public in March, and is believed to have hit at least 30,000 American organizations and hundreds of thousands more worldwide.

Microsoft quickly identified the group behind the hack as a relatively unknown Chinese espionage network dubbed Hafnium.

Until now, the United States has stopped short of publicly blaming Beijing for the attack.

The delay in naming China was partly to give investigators time to assemble the evidence to prove that the Hafnium hackers were on the Chinese state payroll, the official said.

It was also important for the United States to act in concert with its allies when it made the public attribution, said the official.

At a time when cyberwarfare is becoming the front line in a global power struggle between democracies and autocratic states, the new cybersecurity alliance could become a model for future efforts to confront transnational threats.

The joint announcements Monday build on President Joe Biden’s effort earlier this summer to rally support among NATO and EU allies for a more confrontational approach to China.

They also come amid a rising number of economic and diplomatic sanctions the Biden administration has imposed on Beijing this year, in response to alleged human rights abuses in Hong Kong and in Xinjiang province.

On Friday, the United States sanctioned seven Chinese officials in response to the ongoing crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic institutions.

The U.S. also issued a business advisory, warning U.S. firms of potential data and privacy breaches by the Chinese government if they continue to do business in Hong Kong.

In response, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson accused the United States of “meddling” in its “internal affairs.”

For now, the newly launched cybersecurity alliance is focused on cooperative security and threat alerts, and not on retaliation.

The White House has raised the Microsoft attacks with senior members of the Chinese government, however, “making clear that the [People’s Republic of China] actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” said the senior official.

But Beijing’s economic might around the world makes it exceedingly difficult for any group of countries to agree on concrete actions to take toward China.

“We’re not ruling out further actions to hold [China] accountable,” said the senior official, “but we’re also aware that no one action can change the PRC’s behavior, and neither can one country acting on its own. So we really focused initially in bringing other countries along with us.”

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Elon Musk pledges $50 million to Inspiration4 fundraiser for St. Jude

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk poses with the crew before launch on September 15, 2021.

John Kraus / Inspiration4

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk helped achieve the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital fundraising goal of the Inspiration4 spaceflight, just hours after his company returned the crew from orbit.

The main goal of the Inspiration4 mission, which launched on Wednesday and splashed down on Saturday, was to raise $200 million for St. Jude.

Inspiration4 commander Jared Isaacman, a billionaire entrepreneur who purchased the flight from SpaceX, donated $100 million personally to St. Jude. The Inspiration4 mission had raised another $60.2 million in donations, before Musk pledged to contribute $50 million himself – pushing the campaign’s total raised to more than $210 million.

“Count me in for $50M,” Musk said in a tweet on Saturday.

The historic Inspiration4 mission with a private crew spent three days in space, carrying Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembroski. The crew orbited the Earth at an altitude as high as 590 kilometers, which is above the International Space Station and the furthest humans have traveled above the surface in years.

The spaceflight achieved multiple milestones, including: The first private SpaceX spaceflight, the first entirely nonprofessional crew to become astronauts, the first Black female spacecraft pilot, the youngest American astronaut to date, and the first person to fly in space with a prosthesis.

The Inspiration4 passengers pose in the crew access arm of Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From left: Commander Jared Isaacman, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux, pilot Sian Proctor, and mission specialist Chris Sembroski.

SpaceX

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Crew cupola window view in orbit

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The first look at the crew in orbit, from left: Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor.

Inspiration4

Inspiration4, which launched with Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Wednesday evening, shared the first photos from day one in orbit and gave an up-close look at the expansive views of Earth from the spacecraft’s “cupola” window.

The crew spent its first day in orbit floating in zero gravity inside the capsule, taking photos from the Crew Dragon window and spoke to patients of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, answering questions from space.

The historic private mission — which includes commander Jared Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembroski — is orbiting the planet at an altitude of 585 kilometers (363.5 miles), which is above the International Space Station and the highest altitude humans have traveled in years.

Inspiration4, which is expected to return to Earth and splash down this weekend, was paid for by Isaacman for an undisclosed amount, with the main goal of the spaceflight to raise $200 million for St. Jude.

Hayley Arceneaux takes in the view of Earth from the Crew Dragon cupola window.

Inspiration4

SpaceX modified the top of Crew Dragon capsule Resilience to add a massive window for the astronauts, replacing the docking hatch that is under the spacecraft’s nose cone with the cupola.

Spacecraft commander Jared Isaacman speaks into a microphone as he peers out the cupola window.

Inspiration4

The cupola is the largest window by surface area ever put in space.

Mission specialist Chris Sembroski is seen taking a photo through the cupola, from an exterior camera on Crew Dragon.

Inspiration4

Isaacman is the third billionaire to fly to space this year, following Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in July. But the latter two — flying with their respective companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin — spent only a couple of minutes each in space, as those companies’ rockets fly on what are known as suborbital trips. In contrast, Inspiration4 is an orbital mission, with the crew spending multiple days in space and going around the Earth as many as 15 times in day.

Musk, among those who saw them off before launch, tweeted that he spoke to the Inspiration4 crew Thursday and that “all is well.”

“Missions like Inspiration4 help advance spaceflight to enable ultimately anyone to go to orbit & beyond,” Musk wrote in another tweet.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk poses with the crew before launch on September 15, 2021.

John Kraus / Inspiration4

The Inspiration4 crew is making history in ways beyond becoming the first group of nonprofessional astronauts in orbit: Proctor is the first Black female to pilot a spacecraft, and Arceneaux is the youngest American and first person with a prosthesis to fly in space.

Check out more photos from launch day at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida:

Medical officer Hayley Arceneaux points to the camera as she and pilot Sian Proctor board the Tesla Model X after suiting up before the launch on September 15, 2021.

John Kraus / Inspiration4

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off carrying Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience on September 15, 2021.

John Kraus / Inspiration4

The view inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft about 30 seconds after liftoff as the Falcon 9 rocket accelerated away from Earth on September 15, 2021.

SpaceX

The shimmering exhaust plume of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launching into the dusk sky above Florida on September 15, 2021.

John Kraus / Inspiration4

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Tesla to reverse solar price hike for some customers: legal filing

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Smith Collection/Gado | Archive Photos | Getty Images

Tesla is trying to placate some solar customers who say they faced sudden price hikes earlier this year, according to new filings with the U.S. district court in San Jose, California.

In a Thursday filing, customers’ attorneys wrote, “Tesla informed counsel for Plaintiffs that Tesla had recently launched a program for customers who signed Solar Roof contracts before the April 2021 price changes to return those customers to their original pricing (if they were subject to a price increase in April 2021).”

As of Friday afternoon, further details of this program were not apparent on Tesla’s solar websites nor the Engage website for customers and advocates of the company. CNBC reached out to plaintiffs’ attorneys and Tesla to get further details about the program. They did not immediately respond.

This spring, frustrated Tesla solar customers sued the company after experiencing surprise price increases.

Filings in three separate lawsuits alleged that Tesla solar customers had already signed contracts with Elon Musk’s electric vehicle and renewable energy venture, and even prepared to have solar photovoltaics installed at their homes, when they were surprised by sudden price hikes that required additional payments to move ahead with their installations.

The price hikes were not trivial. For example, plaintiff Matthew Amans’ solar roof price shot up from around $72,000 per his original contract to around $146,000, according to lawsuit filings.

Those lawsuits were later consolidated into Amans v Tesla, Inc.

Tesla hiked prices for its solar installations at least twice early this year, and made it a requirement for customers ordering solar panels or roof tiles to order the Powerwall home energy storage system as well. Later, CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company would not be able to make enough Powerwalls to keep up with demand this year because of the ongoing microchip shortage.

Overall, solar remains a fairly small part of Tesla’s business. Tesla reported energy generation and storage revenue of $801 million in the second quarter of 2021, with a cost of revenue of $781 million for that division. The company does not break out revenue from solar on its own — the unit includes revenue from its lithium-ion battery energy storage systems, which range from home backup batteries to giant, utility-scale systems.

By way of comparison, Tesla booked $10.2 billion in automotive sales during the quarter.

Here’s the legal filing.

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