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Ukrainian Member of Cybercrime Gang Sentenced in US

A Ukrainian hacker was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in a notorious cybercrime group that stole millions of credit and debit card details from across the United States, the Department of Justice said Thursday.Andrii Kolpakov, 33, was also ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, the department said in a press release.Kolpakov’s lawyer, Vadim Glozman, said his client was disappointed with the sentence but respected the judge’s decision.He said Kolpakov — who has already spent three years in custody after being apprehended by police in Spain in 2018 — planned to return to Ukraine after serving out the remainder of his sentence.Kolpakov was sentenced in the Western District of Washington. Glozman said that his client was currently in custody in Washington state.Kolpakov’s gang — dubbed “FIN7” — is among the most prolific cybercriminal enterprises in existence. A memo drawn up by U.S. prosecutors said that “no hacking group epitomizes the industrialization of cybercrime better,” alleging that the gang had over 70 people organized into discrete departments and teams, including a unit devoted to crafting malicious software and another unit composed of hackers who exploited victims’ machines.For cover, FIN7 masqueraded as a cybersecurity company called “Combi Security,” which claimed to be involved in penetration testing.Prosecutors say Kolpakov worked for FIN7 from at least April 2016 until his arrest in June 2018 and rose to become a midlevel manager directing “a small team of hackers” tasked with breaching victims’ computer systems and training new recruits to use FIN7’s malicious tools.

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Science & Health
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ESA Astronaut Recruitment Drive Nets 22,000 Applicants

The European Space Agency (ESA) reports that the first recruitment drive for astronauts since 2008 netted 22,000 applications, including an increase in female applicants and the first applications from people with disabilities.The agency put out a call for applicants in February, encouraging more women and people with disabilities to apply to boost diversity among crews. The agency launched the “parastronaut” program to examine what is needed to get disabled astronauts onto the International Space Station.The ESA said the preliminary number of applications this year far exceeded the 8,413 applications received in 2008. More than 200 people applied for the newly established vacancy for astronauts with a physical disability, and about 5,400 women — about 24% of all applicants — applied. The share of women was 15.5% in 2008, the ESA said.The space agency said applications would next be screened through a six-stage process, with finalists expected to be announced in October 2022.The Associated Press contributed to this report.  

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Northern Hemisphere Sees Its Longest Day of the Year

The Northern Hemisphere sees its longest day of the year; astronauts make power moves outside the International Space Station. Plus: do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?  Details in The Week in Space from VOA’s Arash Arabasadi.Produced by: Arash Arabasadi 

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2 US Coronavirus Vaccines May Be Linked to Rare Heart Condition, CDC Says  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday there is a likely association between two COVID-19 vaccines and a rare heart condition in boys and young men. The federal health agency said more than 1,200 people who had received either the PfizerBioNTech or Moderna vaccines developed myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. The condition was more prominent in men than women, and was detected more after the second dose than the first.   The CDC said the side effects, which include fatigue and chest pain, have been mild and that the vast majority of those diagnosed with myocarditis have fully recovered.  The agency concluded that despite the “likely association” between the two vaccines and myocarditis, the benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh the risks.   FILE – Health care workers prepare doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine before administering them to staffers of Japan’s supermarket group Aeon at the company’s shopping mall in Chiba, Japan, June 21, 2021.Both the Pfizer and Moderna two-shot vaccines were developed using messenger RNA, which is a single-stranded RNA molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene, according to the FILE – Health workers treat a COVID-19 patient at the emergency unit of a field hospital set up to treat COVID patients in Ribeirao Pires, greater Sao Paulo area, Brazil, April 13, 2021.A White House official said “scientific teams and legal and regulatory authorities” from both nations collaborated to secure the arrangement. Brazil has posted 507,109 COVID-19 deaths, second only behind the United States, which has 602,837, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.    

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Indonesia Jails Cleric for 4 Years Over Spread of False COVID-19 Information

An Indonesian court jailed hardline Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab on Thursday for four years for spreading false information in a video saying he was healthy despite having tested positive for COVID-19.The verdict comes after an eight-month jail term handed last month to Rizieq, the spiritual leader of the outlawed Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), for breaching coronavirus curbs over several mass events, including his daughter’s wedding, which was attended by thousands.Prosecutors had called for a six-year sentence in the latest case after Rizieq was charged over the video, posted on the YouTube channel of the hospital where he was being treated for the coronavirus.In a streamed broadcast, Judge Khadwanto said Rizieq was guilty of “announcing false information and purposefully causing confusion for the public.”Indonesia passed the 2 million mark in coronavirus cases on Monday, as authorities announced a tightening of restrictions to contain the spread in the world’s fourth most populous country. Deaths from COVID-19 now total 55,594.Hundreds of Rizieq’s supporters had gathered outside the East Jakarta court amid heavy guard by police and video footage showed some scuffles.Shortly after being sentenced, Rizieq told the court he rejected its ruling and would contest it.Rizieq’s supporters and legal team have said the cases are politically motivated efforts to silence the cleric, who has a large and vocal following in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.He returned last year from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia, where he had fled while facing charges of pornography and insulting the state ideology, both later dropped.The FPI had become politically influential in recent years and was among several Islamic groups that staged rallies in 2016 to bring down Jakarta’s then governor, a Christian, on charges of blasphemy.The mass protests stirred deep anxiety within the government of President Joko Widodo about a perceived Islamist threat.  

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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US Lawmakers in Marathon Debate on Big Tech Regulation Bills

U.S. lawmakers debated into the night Wednesday over details of legislation aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech firms with a sweeping reform of antitrust laws.The House Judiciary Committee clashed over a series of bills with potentially massive implications for large online platforms and consumers who use them.The legislation could force an overhaul of the business practices of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, or potentially lead to a breakup of the dominant tech giants. But critics argue the measures could have unintended consequences that would hurt consumers and some of the most popular online services.Rep. David Cicilline, who headed a 16-month investigation that led to the legislation, said the bills are aimed at restoring competition in markets stymied by monopolies.”The digital marketplace suffers from a lack of competition. Many digital markets are defined by monopolies or duopoly control,” Cicilline said as the hearing opened.”Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are gatekeepers to the online economy. They bury or by rivals and abuse their monopoly power conduct that is harmful to consumers, competition, innovation and our democracy.”The bills would restrict how online platforms operate, notably whether tech giants operating them could favor their own products or services.The measures would also limit mergers or acquisitions by Big Tech firms aimed at limiting competition and make it easier for users to try new services by requiring data “portability” and “interoperability.”The fate of the bills remained unclear, with some Republicans and moderate Democrats expressing concerns despite bipartisan support.Clash points included whether it is right to target laws at four big tech companies and whether government agencies will hobble them instead of letting them adapt to competition.”The interoperability measure is a huge step backwards,” said Oregon Republican Cliff Bentz. “Big Tech is certainly not perfect. This bill is not the way to fix the problem.”Representative Zoe Lofgren said she hoped the bill would include more measures for data privacy and security but endorses the concept.“The big platforms have all your information. And if you can’t move it, then you’re really a prisoner of that platform,” she said. “Who wants to leave a platform if they’ve got all your baby pictures and all of your videos of your grandchildren, locked up?”As the session stretched into the night, some members of the body lobbied to adjourn and resume the work another day.’They make it worse’Republican Representative Ken Buck, a supporter of the overhaul, said the legislation “represents a scalpel, not a chainsaw, to deal with the most important aspects of antitrust reform,” in dealing with “these monopolists (who) routinely use their gatekeeper power to crush competitors, harm innovation and destroy the free market.”But Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, criticized the effort, renewing his argument that Big Tech firms suppress conservative voices.”These bills don’t fix that problem — they make it worse,” Jordan said. “They don’t break up Big Tech. They don’t stop censorship.”Steve Chabot, another Republican, called the initiative “an effort for big government to take over Big Tech.”The panel approved on a 29-12 vote a bill that was the least controversial, increasing merger filing fees to give more funding for antitrust enforcement.Tech firms and others warned of negative consequences for popular services people rely on, potentially forcing Apple to remove its messaging apps from the iPhone or Google to stop displaying results from YouTube or Maps.Apple released a report arguing that one likely impact — opening up the iPhone to apps from outside platforms — could create security and privacy risks for users.Forcing Apple to allow “sideloading” of apps would mean “malicious actors would take advantage of the opportunity by devoting more resources to develop sophisticated attacks targeting iOS users,” the report said.Amazon vice president Brian Huseman warned of “significant negative effects” both for sellers and consumers using the e-commerce platform, and reduced-price competition.”It will be much harder for these third-party sellers to create awareness for their business,” Huseman said.”Removing the selection of these sellers from Amazon’s store would also create less price competition for products, and likely end up increasing prices for consumers. The committee is moving unnecessarily fast in pushing these bills forward.”The measures may also impact other firms including Microsoft, which has not been the focus of the House antitrust investigation but which links services such as Teams messaging and Bing search to its Windows platform, and possibly other firms. 

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Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
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Britney Spears Tells Judge: ‘I Want My Life Back’

After 13 years of near silence in the conservatorship that controls her life and money, Britney Spears passionately told a judge Wednesday that she wants to end the “abusive” case that has made her feel demoralized and enslaved.Speaking in open court for the first time in the case, Spears condemned her father and others who control the conservatorship, which she said has compelled her to take birth control and other medications against her will and has prevented her from getting married or having another child.”This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” the 39-year-old Spears said. “I deserve to have a life.”She spoke rapidly and sprinkled profanity into the written speech that lasted more than 20 minutes as her parents, fans and journalists listed to an audio livestream. Many of the details Spears revealed have been carefully guarded by the court for years.Spears told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny that “I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated.”Penny thanked the pop star for her “courageous” words but made no rulings. A long legal process is likely before any decision is made on terminating the conservatorship.Spears said she wants to marry her boyfriend Sam Asghari and have a baby with him, but she is not allowed to even drive with him.”All I want is to own my money and for this to end and for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his (expletive) car,” Spears said.”I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive,” Spears said, adding at another point, “I want my life back.”‘Exploiting my life’When an attorney representing her co-conservator said the hearing and transcript should be kept sealed if private medical information was to be revealed, Spears shouted her down, saying her words should be public.”They’ve done a good job at exploiting my life,” Spears said, “so I feel like it should be an open court hearing and they should listen and hear what I have to say.”She went on to say she was forced to take lithium — which made her feel “drunk” — after rehearsals broke down for a Vegas residency in 2019, which was subsequently canceled.She said all she had done was disagree with one part of the show’s choreography.”I’m not here to be anyone’s slave,” she said. “I can say no to a dance move.””Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it,” Spears said.She accused her father of relishing his power over her, as he showed when she failed a series of psychological tests in 2019 and forced her to go into a mental hospital.”I cried on the phone for an hour, and he loved every minute of it,” Spears said. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me, as he loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%.”Spears said she felt forced to do the Las Vegas residency on the heels of a tour, and felt like a great weight was lifted when it was canceled. She has not performed or recorded since.Spears also said several nurses often watch her every move, not even letting her change her clothes in private.’I am traumatized’Vivian Thoreen, attorney for Spears’ father James Spears, gave a brief statement on his behalf after conferring with him during a recess.”He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain,” Thoreen said. “Mr. Spears loves his daughter and misses her very much.”James Spears serves as co-conservator of his daughter’s finances, and also had control of her life decisions for most of the conservatorship. He currently serves as co-conservator of her finances.Britney Spears said her years-long public silence has falsely created the impression that she approved of her circumstances.”I’ve lied and told the whole world, ‘I’m OK, I’m happy,'” she said. “I’ve been in denial, I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized.”More than 100 fans from the so called #FreeBritney movement gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing, holding signs that read “Free Britney now!” and “Get out of Britney’s life!”Fan Marissa Cooper was inside the courtroom and cried and occasionally clapped during the remarks.”It was insane,” Cooper said outside court. “Everyone that’s been following this has been called crazy since the beginning, and conspiracy theorists, so it just feels really, really good to actually hear it from her.”Spears said she has not felt heard in any of her previous appearances before the court, all of which were sealed from the public.Her court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham III, said he made no attempt to “control, or filter, or edit” his client’s words. He said Spears has not officially asked him to file a petition to end the conservatorship.Spears said she had done research that showed her conservatorship could be ended without further evaluation of her. But under California law, the burden would be on her to prove she is competent to manage her own affairs, and an intensive investigation and evaluation is probably inevitable before it can come to an end.The conservatorship was put in place as she underwent a mental health crisis in 2008. She has credited its initial establishment with saving her from financial ruin and keeping her a top-flight pop star.Her father and his attorneys have emphasized that she and her fortune, which court records put at more than $50 million, remain vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. Under the law, the burden would be on Spears to prove she is competent before the case could end. 

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NASA Head Seeks New Funding for Annual Moon Landings ‘Over a Dozen Years’

The U.S. space agency NASA aspires to land humans on the moon every year for 12 consecutive years, Administrator Bill Nelson testified to a congressional committee Wednesday in support of a request to boost the agency’s fiscal 2022 budget.Nelson acknowledged to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that the agency’s budget for fiscal 2021 included $850 million toward the development of a lunar lander as part of an ambitious, roughly $3 billion Human Landing System program.“But there needs to be a landing each year for a dozen years, so there are many more awards to come if you all decide that it’s in the interest of the United States to appropriate that money,” Nelson said.The Biden administration has proposed a 6.6% increase to NASA’s current budget for 2022, amounting to a $24.8 billion request from Congress. The funding would support sending additional rovers to Mars, continuing International Space Station operations, initiating probes to Venus and sending manned flights to the moon by 2024.Former astronautNelson spent 18 years as a U.S. senator before President Joe Biden appointed him as NASA’s 14th administrator.Members of the Science, Space and Technology Committee asked Nelson how NASA would use the new funding to preserve America’s title as the world’s preeminent space agency through programs focused on space exploration, space technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).FILE – A worker monitors screens showing the interior of the Tianhe space station module after Chinese astronauts docked with and entered it, at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, June 17, 2021.Many of the questions were explicitly tied to concern about China’s advancements in space technology and exploration.”China clearly is in space for the long term, and we need to recognize that and respond accordingly,” committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said early in the hearing.Nelson repeatedly emphasized that congressional approval of NASA’s proposed 2022 budget would better position the U.S. to compete with China by first returning humans to the moon and eventually landing them on Mars.China’s roverChina led the world in orbital space launches in 2018 and 2019, but it was overtaken by the U.S. in 2020 through partnerships with private aerospace companies such as SpaceX. China also was the second country ever to successfully land a rover on Mars, which it did in May.In response to China-oriented questions from Representative Michael Waltz, Nelson indicated he supported making the Wolf Amendment permanent. The 2011 law prohibits NASA from directly cooperating with the Chinese government and Chinese companies on any government-funded activities without the approval of Congress.“That doesn’t mean that we can’t find areas of cooperation, and those areas are deconfliction of space assets running into each other [and] trying to get them to participate in getting rid of all of that space junk,” Nelson said.Several members pressed Nelson for a concrete plan about how NASA would return to the moon, and he committed to releasing it soon after an August ruling is released by the Government Accountability Office regarding the agency’s Human Landing System.FILE – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Israel’s first spacecraft designed to land on the moon lifts off on the first privately funded lunar mission at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Feb. 21, 2019.The GAO is reviewing protests filed by aerospace company Blue Origin and information technology company Dynetics in response to a $2.9 billion contract assigned to SpaceX for assembly of the next lunar lander, which is part of NASA’s Artemis program. NASA has delayed the HLS contract with SpaceX until the GAO announces its decision.Project Artemis is a plan to return humans, specifically the first woman and first person of color, to the moon, which was initiated by the Trump administration.Nelson announced during the hearing that the first unmanned test flight for Project Artemis is set to launch in November, adding that the propulsion system to be used will be the “most powerful rocket ever.”Crunching numbersLawmakers noted that the Biden administration had asked for only $1.2 billion in its 2022 budget request for the HLS — roughly a third smaller than the Trump administration’s 2021 proposal.Nelson countered by pointing out that Congress only appropriated $850 million of the $3.3 billion NASA originally requested for fiscal 2021 to start developing a lunar lander.”The Congress appropriated $850 million, and so, you can only get so many pounds of potatoes out of a five-pound sack,” Nelson said. “If you all are generous, whatever vehicle you use … then we’re going to try to rev it up.”The 2022 budget request includes plans for five space launches under the Artemis program and the construction of a lunar satellite and a small space station that orbits the moon.The budget also proposes a $300 million increase in Earth science programs, an area of NASA funding cut by the Trump administration.The deadline to approve the budget, including allocations for NASA, is September 30.

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