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Houseparty Denies Viral Hacking Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty for Proof of Smear Campaign

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  • Users of the group video chat service Houseparty have complained that their online accounts like Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and even bank accounts were hacked after downloading the app. 
  • Houseparty said it found no evidence to suggest a link between its app and the hacking of unrelated accounts. 
  • The app also believes the rumors are part of a “commercial smear campaign” against it and are offering a $1 million dollar bounty for evidence that proves this. 
  • Forbes enlisted a cybersecurity expert who found no obvious dangers with the app, but damage to Houseparty’s reputation may have already been done as people continue to urge others to delete it.

Hacking Accusations Surface 

Houseparty is now the latest group video-chatting app to come under fire over privacy concerns, but the app is fighting back, aggressively denying recent data breach rumors. 

People forced indoors all over the world during the coronavirus pandemic have been turning to video-chatting apps over the last few weeks, not only for school and business meetings but also for virtual gatherings with friends and family. 

With apps like Zoom facing increased criticism over data sharing policies, meeting crashers, and other issues, many have instead opted to download its “fun” competitor, Houseparty, which features in-app group games like Heads Up!, QuickDraw!, and Trivia. 

But over the last few days, Houseparty users have been complaining on social media that their non-related accounts were compromised, including Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and online-banking accounts, among others.

Many have suggested that the Epic Games owned app is in some way the reason for this.

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Houseparty Denies Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty

On Monday, an Epic Games spokesperson issued a statement saying, “We’ve found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts.” 

“As a general rule, we suggest all users choose strong passwords when creating online accounts on any platform,” it added. 

The company also took to Twitter to assure users that its “service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites.”

Later that same evening, the app launched more aggressive measures to shut down the hacking rumors, saying, “We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty.”

The company even said it was offering a $1 million dollar bounty “for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign.”  

Is Houseparty Safe? 

So is the app actually safe to use? Well, no app can be guaranteed 100% secure, but it seems like as of now, there are no dangerous flaws that have been found. Forbes released a report examining the app and enlisted cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko to take a look at the Android version of it. Stefanko ultimately determined that there was nothing of concern. 

“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko said. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”

From a privacy perspective, the Forbes report said there is one obvious issue that some might want to note before downloading. That is that the app’s games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing. 

So essentially if you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your game. However, the report noted that there is an easy fix for this issue: simply hitting the padlock button at the bottom of the screen.

As far as its privacy policy, the report again said there was nothing outrageous there as well. They did say that the most concerning language in the policy says that the app can collect “anonymized and aggregated information, such as de-identified demographic information” and “de-identified location information.” The issue here is that even when location data is “de-identified,” it’s still possible to find out who the person is by linking it with other information.  

And while the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises that it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”

Forbes noted that there is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising and if you’re concerned enough about that, they provided specific steps you can take to boost privacy and still use the app. 

Thomas Brewster, the Security, surveillance and privacy reporter who wrote the Forbes report, later tweeted that he had reached out to a few different researchers for their opinion. They too had not found any notable security issues with Houseparty.

So as of now, it seems like the app is fine to use, but some don’t seem too convinced. The damage to Houseparty’s reputation may already be done as social media users continue to urge one another to delete the app altogether. However, we’ll all have to wait and see if Houseparty’s interesting efforts to debunk the rumor pay off in the future. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Engadget) (BBC)

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Kim Kardashian’s Private Island Party Generates Backlash and Memes

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  • Kim Kardashian-West posted about her 40th birthday bash on Tuesday, saying, “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”
  • She noted that they “danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked,” and more, adding that she is “humbled” by how privileged her life is.
  • However, many found the party and her remarks tasteless, noting that they came at a time when over 1.1 million people have died from Covid-19. Millions more are without work and struggling to make ends meet, unable to run off to a private island to escape reality.
  • Eventually, part of her post became a copypasta, with people tacking on photos of the island from “Lost”, the Fyre Festival, and other nightmarish places.

The Now-Infamous Birthday Post

Kim Kardashian-West generated a wave of backlash Tuesday but also inspired a new internet meme after posting about her private island birthday bash online.

The reality star shared photos from her 40th birthday party, claiming that she feels “humbled and blessed” after celebrating with the people who helped shape her into who she is today. However, what followed was a series of statements that many found tasteless to make during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before COVID, I don’t think any of us truly appreciated what a simple luxury it was to be able to travel and be together with family and friends in a safe environment,” she said.

“After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”

Photos she shared showed her family and friends gathered closely together, hugging, posing for the camera.

We danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more,” she continued. ” I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these, I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is. #thisis40”

Internet Reactions

As you can imagine, that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way because most of the world can’t run off to a private island to escape reality.

Keep in mind, this post came at a time when over 1.1 million people around the world have died from coronavirus. Millions more are unemployed or struggling to make ends meet. Many people haven’t even seen their own loved ones in months. 

In fact, to many, her post sounded like: “Hi Poors! I know you’re hurting right now and can’t figure out how you’re going to feed your family, but please enjoy these photos of my family’s expensive vacation! I know I’m lucky to be so fabulously wealthy so I’ll make mention of it to sound sympathetic (I’m really not tho).”

Some were angry, viewing this as insensitive bragging. Others instead laughed about how out of touch she seems to be. 

A lot of people also hit back at her with that infamous Kardashian meme: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”

Eventually, part of her post became a copypasta, with people tacking on photos of the island from “Lost”, the Fyre Festival, and other nightmarish places. 

Kardashian-West has not addressed the responses to her remarks as of now, but the memes have continued to pour in.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Mashable) (The Guardian)

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“Among Us” Developers Scramble to Fight Off Pro-Trump Hacks

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  • The video game “Among Us” has been struggling to fight off a hacker that spent the weekend blacking out lobbies, spamming chat boxes with pro-Trump messages, and causing other game disruptions.
  • InnerSloth, the developers behind the game, implemented anti-hacks to try and regain control, but some bugs and other issues persist.
  • The alleged hacker, who has since been doxed online, told Eurogamer they were trying to gain publicity for Trump and themselves since they design and sell in-game cheats. However, they also told Kotaku they were just curious to see what would happen and found the hack funny.
  • The disruptions began about two days after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez playing the game in front of more than 435,000 Twitch viewers in an effort to encourage youth voting.

Hacker Target’s ‘Among Us’

Developers of the game “Among Us” are actively working to combat a hacker that has flooded the app with pro-Donald Trump messages since Thursday.

The multiplayer murder mystery game has grown in popularity this year thanks to support from Twitch streamers and users who found it particularly good to play during this age of social distancing.

Just last Tuesday, the game received extra attention when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) hosted her first Twitch stream playing it with huge gamers like Pokimane, Valkyrae, Jacksepticeye, and others. The stream was part of a larger effort to encourage voting and ended up bringing in over 435,000 concurrent viewers.

However, by Thursday, users began reporting that the game was facing hacks. Players complained about their lobbies turning completely black, meanwhile, some were disconnected from games altogether.

Others reported spammed chat sections that told users to subscribe to Eris Loris on YouTube otherwise the hacker would “kill your device.”

The hacker also shared Twitter links, Discord links, and other pro-Trump messages, even writing “Hacked by Russians.” in some spam messages.

InnerSloth Rushes to Fight Back

Eventually, “Among Us” developer InnerSloth released a statement about the problem on Twitter.

We’re are super duper aware of the current hacking issue and we’re looking into it,” it said. “We will be pushing out an emergency server update so people who are in game will get kicked from games. Please play private games or with people that you trust!!! Bare with us!! 😰”

One of the developers later said he was rolling out server updates, but warned that players would be impacted for an unknown amount of time.

That’s likely what actually happened since complaints continued throughout the weekend. By Saturday evening, the developer said he had rolled out “wave 2” of anti-hacks, but noted that there are some bugs and issues he’s already aware of.

If you try to play the game right now, you’ll be hit with a warning message about the problems as the game undergoes emergency maintenance.

In it, the developers reminded players that they were stopping plans for Among Us 2 as they focused on Among Us 1, which we know has exploded in popularity recently. 

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Hacker Speaks Out

Many felt the hack was done in an effort to bring support for President Trump in front of the same audience that Ocasio-Cortez reached.

However, as far as the motive, all we know is that both Eurogamer and Kotaku claimed they made contact with the hacker, who has since been doxxed and threatened online.

They told Eurogamer they design and sell in-game cheats and consider this “a publicity stunt,” claiming to have affected 1.5 million matches. 

They also said “I’m a college student and I support Trump,” adding that they hoped this generated publicity for the president as well.  

But when speaking to Kotaku, they made it sound more like a trolling effort, saying, “I was curious to see what would happen, and personally I found it funny.”

“The anger and hatred is the part that makes it funny. If you care about a game and are willing to go and spam dislike some random dude on the internet because you cant play it for 3 minutes, it’s stupid.”

For now, it’s unclear if all the problems are close to being completely resolved, but this has put a harsh spotlight on InnerSloth’s small team. 

See what others are saying: (NME) (PC Gamer) (The Verge)

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“Borat” Sequel Reportedly Catches Rudy Giuliani in Compromising Situation, But Giuliani Says It’s “Doctored”

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  • President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was caught in a compromising situation after stills from a mock-interview in Sacha Baron Cohen‘s upcoming “Borat” sequel showed Giuliani laying down with his hands in his pants in front of a fake reporter.
  • That fake reporter, Maria Bakalova, was in character as Borat’s 15-year-old daughter. In real life, Bakalova is 24.
  • It has been reported that Giuliani did not know this context until just before he left the scene. Giuliani has also denied that he engaged in any appropriate sexual activity, saying he was tucking his shirt after having his mic removed. 

Alleged Details About the Rudy Giuliani Interview in “Borat”

Drinking, agreeing to eat a bat, and sticking his hand in his pants — that’s all part of a strange fake interview between Rudy Giuliani and Borat” actress Maria Bakalova.

The interview was filmed against Giuliani’s knowledge for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which will be released on Amazon Prime Friday. In it, Giuliani can be seen entering a hotel suite with Bakalova, who is in character as Borat’s 15-year-old daughter.

The film, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, includes other notable pranks, such as one that involves crashing the Conservative Political Action Conference to catch Vice President Mike Pence off guard; however, that might not come as much of a surprise to many considering how Cohen is known to have pulled similar antics in the past.

During the interview with Giuliani, Bakalova — who is 24-years-old in real-life — poses as a reporter for a conservative news show. 

Near the beginning of the interview, hidden cameras reportedly capture Giuliani taking off a mask he was wearing. Throughout the interview, reports also indicate that he coughs and repeatedly touches Bakalova.

At one point, Bakalova, in character, says she’s nervous. Giuliani grabs her hands and reportedly tells her, “You’re going to do great.”

Bakalova’s character then brings up the coronavirus pandemic, asking what needs to be done so a similar pandemic doesn’t happen in the future. Giuliani reportedly responds by shifting blame to China, alleging (without evidence) that the country  “manufactured” the virus and deliberately spread it around the world.

“I don’t think anyone was eating bats,” he reportedly said. 

Bakalova’s character then responded, “If you eat a bat with me, I would.”

“OK, I’ll eat a bat with you,” Giuliani said. 

Because the footage of the interview has yet to be released publicly, it is unclear whether Giuliani is possibly joking. 

From there, the interview continues.  According to INSIDER, in one shot, the two sip what appears to be scotch.

After a subsequent interruption from a disguised Borat, Bakalova asks if they can move the interview into the bedroom. Giuliani agrees, reportedly telling her at one point, “You can give me your phone number and your address,” before appearing to tap her on the small of her back a few times.

Giuliani proceeds to sit on a bed, and Bakalova’s character appears to remove his mic.

The film then cuts to Giuliani laying on the bed, where he can be seen putting his hand in his pants. 

At that point, Cohen — still playing Borat — jumps into the room in pink lingerie and tells Giuliani that “Bakalova” is 15-years-old before pleading for Giuliani to take him instead of her. 

Giuliani then reportedly tells him, “I don’t want you,” and leaves the suite. 

Giuliani Denies Allegations of Inappropriate Behavior 

With the release of the stills, Giuliani’s moment on the bed has drawn widespread condemnation and scrutiny. Many online have asked why Giuliani seemed to be putting his hands down his pants when he was in the same room as a person he could have believed was 15. 

However, according to NBC News, in the context of the film, Giuliani had no reason to believe that Bakalova was 15 — at least not until Cohen jumped in and shouted it at the end. 

By Wednesday afternoon, Giuliani attempted to dispel the rumors that he possibly engaged in some sort of inappropriate sexual situation with a minor.

“The Borat video is a complete fabrication,” he said in a Twitter thread. “I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment. At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise, he is a stone-cold liar.”

Giuliani then referred back to a Hollywood Reporter article from July 8 that confirmed he’d called the police after being pranked on camera by Cohen. 

In fact, it does seem to be the case that this interview was recorded in July because around the same time, Giuliani told PageSix, “This guy comes running in, wearing a crazy, what I would say was a pink transgender outfit. 

“It was a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top, it looked absurd. He had the beard, bare legs, and wasn’t what I would call distractingly attractive.”

In his Twitter thread, Giuliani went on to call the release of the images a deflection against the recent leak involving Hunter Biden’s supposed emails.  

“This is an effort to blunt my relentless exposure of the criminality and depravity of Joe Biden and his entire family,” Giuliani said. “We are preparing much bigger dumps off of the hard drive from hell, of which Joe Biden will be unable to defend or hide from. I have the receipts.”

Along with Giuliani, a number of other conservatives have jumped to his defense, with many also accusing Amazon, Twitter, and the news media of deflecting against the Hunter Biden story.

Celebs Question Giuliani’s Motives During Interview

Nonetheless, many — including a number of celebrities — have continued to question Giuliani’s motives with Bakalova during the fake interview. 

“So you normally drink with reporters, follow them to the bedroom and then lie on the bed and let her take off your mic for you?” singer Demi Lovato said. “I guess I’ve been doin my interviews all wrong…”

On “The Late Show,” host Stephen Colbert said, “I watched the footage. Why did you go into a bedroom at the suggestion of a young woman to have cocktails to take off a mic? I take off a mic every night. Never once have I reclined on a kingsize bed and then launched a fact-finding mission to my own groin.”

See what others are saying: (INSIDER) (The New York Times) (The Guardian)

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