The Download April 13, 2022: Russian hackers, and house-flipping algorithms

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Russian hackers tried to bring down Ukraine’s power grid to help the invasion

Targeted attack: Russian hackers targeted the Ukrainian power grid and attempted to cause a blackout that would have hit 2 million people, according to Ukrainian government officials and the Slovakian cybersecurity firm ESET. The hackers tried to destroy computers at a Ukrainian energy company using malware specifically designed to demolish systems by erasing data and rendering them useless.

Russian support: The impact remains unclear. Ukrainian officials say they thwarted the attack, which they claim was intended to support Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. If successful, the hack would have caused the biggest cyber-induced blackout ever.

Successful infiltration: According to a Ukrainian government document that was shared with international partners in recent weeks, Russian hackers did recently break into a Ukrainian power company and temporarily shut down nine electric substations. The document, which has not been made public, was shared with MIT Technology Review. Read the full story.

Patrick Howell O’Neill

House-flipping algorithms are coming to your neighborhood

When Michael Maxson found his dream home in Clark County, Nevada, it was not owned by a person but by a tech company. Zillow, the US’s largest real estate listings site, started buying up homes in 2018, predicting it could create a “one-click nirvana” for purchasing real estate. The big idea was to use data to price houses and investor cash to buy them before fixing them up and selling them.

When he went to take a look at the property, however, he discovered a huge water leak had eroded walls and flooded the neighbors’ yard. Despite offering to handle the costly repairs himself, Maxson discovered that the house had already been sold to another family, at the same price he had offered.

During this time, Zillow lost more than $420 million in three months of erratic house buying and unprofitable sales, leading analysts to question whether the entire tech-driven model is really viable. For the rest of us, a bigger question remains: Does the arrival of Silicon Valley tech point to a better future for housing or an industry disruption to fear? Read the full story.

Matthew Ponsford

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The world has clocked up more than half a billion known covid cases
The true number is likely to be far higher. (NYT $)
+ Cases are rising again across the US. (NYT $)
+ Experts are split over whether the US should ditch tests for travelers entering the country. (WP $)

2 Some Ukrainians are fighting Russia by fact-checking for Facebook
But there’s still enormous pressure to go into physical battle. (WP $)
+ The country is experiencing a relentless campaign of cyberattacks. (WSJ $)+ Cybersecurity experts are lobbying for standards to ward off hacking threats. (Bloomberg $)+ Drones are being used to gather evidence of war crimes. (WSJ $)
+ Russia’s tech workers are fleeing the country to seek employment elsewhere. (NYT $)

3 Jack Dorsey is finding an adoring audience among the crypto faithful

And potentially rewriting his legacy in the process. (Bloomberg $)
+ There’s no getting around it—Block’s prototype wallets look like rocks. (The Verge)

4 It looks like SpaceX is winning the 21st century space race
Its next wave of success hinges on its Starship reusable rocket. (Fast Company $)
+ Starlink briefly went down over the weekend. (The Register)

5 Tax sites are getting greedy with your data
And they’re being secretive and shifty about it in the process. . (WP $)
+ This tax season is going to be particularly unpleasant for NFT investors. (The Atlantic $)

6 Twitch viewers are going wild for chess ♟
Spearheaded by the game’s premier bad boy, Hikaru Nakamura. (New Yorker $)
+ Online chess fans are raising money for Ukraine. (CBC)

7 Shanghai’s lockdown is bad news for global supply chains
Gadgets’ circuit borders are expected to be the biggest casualty. (FT $)

8 Tech firms are pulling out the stops to tempt their employees back into the office
To be honest, a private show from Lizzo would be hard to turn down. (NYT $)
+ But plenty of tech workers will work from home for the foreseeable. (The Information $)
+ Some handy tips for the hybrid-working haters. (WP $)

9 The malware detection industry is getting tied up in lawsuits
Cybersecurity’s biggest names are not happy about what they see as patent trolling. (The Verge)

10 Tiny electric cars could challenge Bolivia’s muscle trucks 🚗
They’re affordable—but face an uphill battle to break into the mainstream. (Rest of World)

Quote of the day

“What’s happening globally and in the US is that people basically gave up. They just want to go back to normal life.”

—Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, says the general public is exhausted with covid restrictions, reports the New York Times.

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ When they’re not building a crypto empire, it looks like El Salvador’s locals aren’t afraid of a good time.
+ This list does a good job of whittling down Silicon Valley’s Jared (Donald) Dunn’s best lines
+ This tale of art forgers making millions from fraudulent paintings is the stuff of Hollywood.
+ A timely reminder from Usain Bolt on the importance of kindness.
+ Take inspiration from this uplifting piece and send a compliment to your favorite colleague today.
+ An ode to the woman with the greatest voice of all—Kathleen Turner.
+ These cats with careers are putting us all to shame.

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