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Before Parler was shut down, hacktivists downloaded an archive of the site

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Parler’s fall was faster than its rise. The site, founded in 2018, built a name as a conservative competitor to Twitter and Facebook. It was much smaller than the giants but growing steadily, and pitched itself as a privacy-focused, sophisticated social media site that put a premium on people’s right to free expression. For months it attracted big names and gained millions of users, many of whom had grown fed up with traditional social media platforms.

But Parler also quickly became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about the election and calls for violence in D.C. And one by one, technical services in the days following the riot dropped their support, culminating with Amazon’s decision. As its fate became clear, a group of hackers worked to archive the site so no posts — potentially incriminating or not — would be lost.

Users, who flocked to the site on the promise of free speech and expression without censorship, were dealt a parting blow from a researcher who said she is in the process of archiving nearly all public posts on Parler and will make them available to others online. That scraping, as it’s known, wouldn’t have been so easy for a bigger site with more security precautions in place, security experts said.

One of Parler’s selling points, extolled publicly by executives, was privacy — compared with the reams of data Twitter and Facebook collect on users.

“It’s one thing to have the intention of privacy, and it’s another to be able to deliver it in a meaningful way,” security researcher Troy Hunt said Monday. Hunt, who was not involved in the data leak, pointed out that although the data may have been legally obtained, Facebook and Twitter have controls in place to prevent such scraping.

It wasn’t just the big players — customer service company Zendesk and security firm Okta also dropped Parler as a customer, furthering its tumble off the Web.

Parler did not respond to a request for comment.

Before it went dark, chief executive John Matze posted on the site that “violence and coordinating riots, coordinating rebellions and coordinating insurrections has no place on social media.”

Matze posted that “the media tried to claim that ‘The Insurrection’ was organized on Parler.” He added that Parler has no way to organize anything and that “bad actors” turned the Capitol protest into a riot.

In its lawsuit against Amazon, Parler said Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing service, alleged that it had informed Parler of 98 posts that violated policies, and later in the suit Parler said it had “removed everything AWS had brought to its attention and more.”

Parler pointed out in its suit that violent hashtags and posts also surface on Twitter and said that Amazon breached its contract with the company by not giving it 30 days’ notice.

(Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Parler has long prided itself on relaxed moderation policies that rely on a group of volunteer jurors to vote on potentially illegal posts and decide if they should be removed or left up. Parler has said it doesn’t rely on artificial-intelligence technology to find and flag violative posts, and it noted several months ago that it had only about 200 volunteer jury members.

“If somebody does something illegal, we’re relying on the reporting system,” Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Wernick told The Post in December.

But in the days leading up to and following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, Parler was filled with posts supporting the rioters and calling for future attacks.

“Sleep well tonight patriots. … You are going to love how this movie ends,” wrote StormIsUponUs, a QAnon-espousing account with more than 450,000 followers on Parler. “‘Nothing can stop what’s coming’ wasn’t just a catch-phrase.”

The Post has not been able to independently verify the archive of scraped Parler posts, although Internet sleuths have said they’ve started using the information. A Twitter user who posts under the handle @donk_enby, who has posted that she’s working on the archive and whom The Post hasn’t been able to identify, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Archive Team, which was documenting the effort, and Internet Archive, which is supposed to host the scraped data, did not respond to requests for comment.

Parler surged in popularity over the past eight months, riding the backlash against big tech companies pushed by President Trump and conservative politicians and pundits.

The company was launched by an investment from billionaire Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer, who with her father has helped bankroll Trump, the far-right site Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica. Parler was founded in Henderson, Nev., in 2018 as a free-speech alternative to mainstream social media sites, promising fewer rules.

In May, Twitter for the first time flagged Trump’s account with a fact check label. Facebook said shortly after that it would also begin labeling his posts, and Trump lashed out at the social media companies for censoring him.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted in June that he was joining Parler, calling it “a platform [that] gets what free speech is all about.” In just one week, the site gained 1 million users, bringing it to nearly 3 million users by early July.

The site steadily gained users as Trump and prominent conservative voices continued to rail against big tech companies and as some Republicans tried to push changes to a critical social media law. Still, Trump himself didn’t join.

After the election, Parler saw an even bigger bump. Many voices, including Fox News personality Sean Hannity, encouraged a jump to the site. Parler said its users doubled that month to more than 10 million. In its lawsuit filed Monday, it said more than 12 million people used the site.

Parler reached the top spot for downloads on the Apple App Store in the United States on Nov. 8, five days after the election. It reached it again Jan. 9, the day after Twitter banned Trump. It was downloaded 296,000 times in the country that day, according to data from Sensor Tower.

Matze has said the app welcomes all voices from across the political spectrum. But the company has attracted a right-wing base fed up with what they consider censorship on traditional social media sites.

Some posts on Parler echoed common social media themes — sharing cooking tips or updating friends on life events. But the site largely seemed to focus on sharing news from conservative publications and discussing the state of politics, particularly following Trump’s election loss.

In the days before the attack last week, Parler users with red badges — indicating that the company had verified they were real people — advocated for a violent uprising against law enforcement, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and antifascists, according to screenshots posted on Twitter.

“Time to burn down dc police precinct. [Expletive] those treasonous pig bastards,” one user wrote under the handle JuarezTX, in response to the arrest of a member of the Proud Boys. “And you choose to beat antifa and blms asses; remove their helmets and kick in their teeth,” wrote user Harleyquinn.

The Twitter user @donk_enby said she started making a record of every public Parler post made during the Capitol riot to preserve them. When it seemed that Amazon would pull its hosting support, she said she and others started archiving as many public posts as they could.

“I’d describe the current Parler archival situation as ‘a bunch of people running into a burning building trying to grab as many things as we can,’” @donk_enby tweeted Sunday.

She also said she made a record of all videos uploaded to Parler and cautioned they could include deleted posts. In the end, she told Gizmodo, she estimates that 99 percent of Parler posts were saved and will eventually be hosted by the Internet Archive.

Internet sleuths have said they’ve already used information from the archived data, including GPS coordinates of videos, to create interactive maps and identify counties and other locations where videos were allegedly uploaded.

The data pulled by researchers after the Capitol attack could be used to aid law enforcement in their investigation.

“All the data would be fair game for law enforcement,” said Kiel Brennan-Marquez, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law who specializes in surveillance and data collection. A principle established under the Fourth Amendment, called the private search doctrine, allows the government to use data that was a result of surveillance or intrusion by a third party — so long as law enforcement didn’t coordinate with the individual.

A similar grass-roots effort to archive planning documents followed the white-nationalist march in Charlottesville in 2017. In that case, the documents were obtained from private groups operated by far-right figureheads and hosted on Discord, an app popular with gamers. Months of chat transcripts and audio recordings, published by the left-wing nonprofit media collective Unicorn Riot, revealed participants discussing potential weapons and concealing firearms.

Tonya Riley contributed to this report.



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Tony Hsieh’s Fatal Night: An Argument, Drugs, a Locked Door and Sudden Fire

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Tony Hsieh, who developed Zappos into a billion-dollar internet shoe store and formulated an influential theory about corporate happiness, deliberately locked himself in a shed moments before it was consumed by the fire that would kill him.

Last November, Mr. Hsieh was visiting his girlfriend, Rachael Brown, in her new $1.3 million riverfront house in New London, Conn. After the couple had an argument about the messiness of the house, Mr. Hsieh set up camp in the attached pool storage shed, which was full of foam pool noodles and beach chairs.

Those details appeared in reports released Tuesday by New London fire and police investigators, the first law enforcement accounts of the incident. They said Mr. Hsieh could be seen on a security video from Nov. 18 looking out the shed door about 3 a.m., even though no one was about. Light smoke rose behind him.

When Mr. Hsieh closed the door, there was the sound of the door lock latching and a deadbolt being drawn.

The entrepreneur, 46, was traveling with a nurse. He planned to leave before dawn for Hawaii with Ms. Brown, his brother Andrew, and several friends and employees, according to the police report. While in the shed, he asked to be checked on every 10 minutes. His nurse, who was staying in a hotel, said this was standard procedure with Mr. Hsieh.

Investigators said they didn’t know exactly what had started the fire, partly because there were too many possibilities. Mr. Hsieh had partly disassembled a portable propane heater. Discarded cigarettes were found. Or maybe the blaze erupted from candles. Investigators said his friends had told them that Mr. Hsieh liked candles because they “reminded him of a simpler time” in his life.

A fourth possibility is that Mr. Hsieh did it on purpose.

“It is possible that carelessness or even an intentional act by Hsieh could have started this fire,” the fire report said. The report added that Mr. Hsieh may also have been intoxicated, noting the presence of several Whip-It brand nitrous oxide chargers, a marijuana pipe and Fernet-Branca liqueur bottles.

The exact role of drugs or alcohol that night is likely to remain unclear. Dr. James Gill, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, said in an email that “autopsy toxicology testing is not useful” if the victim survives for an extended period. A final report is pending.

Firefighters who broke down the door found Mr. Hsieh lying on a blanket. He was taken to a nearby hospital and then airlifted to the Connecticut Burn Center, where he died on Nov. 27 of complications from smoke inhalation.

Mr. Hsieh’s death shocked the tech and entrepreneurial worlds because of his relative youth and his writing on corporate happiness. Zappos was a star of the early consumer internet, helping convince the cautious that buying online held few perils. Mr. Hsieh became chief executive in 2001, promoting to all who would listen the notion that companies should try to make their customers as well as their employees happy. He relocated Zappos from the Bay Area to Las Vegas.

Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009. The next year, Mr. Hsieh published “Delivering Happiness,” a best seller. “Our goal at Zappos is for our employees to think of their work not as a job or career, but as a calling,” he wrote.

Mr. Hsieh remained at Zappos but turned his attention to a civic project to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. Many investments and many years later, the project was at best an incomplete success. In the last year or so, Mr. Hsieh concentrated on Park City, Utah, where he spent tens of millions of dollars buying properties and became so manic that friends said they had discussed an intervention. Few outsiders knew that he had quietly left Zappos.

On the night of the fire, according to police interviews, Mr. Hsieh was despondent over the death of his dog the previous week during a trip to Puerto Rico. He and Ms. Brown had a disagreement that escalated, at which point Mr. Hsieh retired to the shed. An assistant checked with him frequently, logging the visits with Post-it notes on the door. Mr. Hsieh would generally signal that he was OK.

As the group prepared to depart in the middle of the night for the airport, Mr. Hsieh asked for the check-ins to be every five minutes. But four minutes were all it took for the fire to become deadly. Attempts by those in the house to break down the locked door were unsuccessful. Three Mercedes-Benz passenger vans arrived to take the party to the airport about the same time that firefighters arrived.

Ms. Brown, an early Zappos employee, did not return calls for comment. A family spokesman also did not respond to a message for comment.

Firefighters were regular visitors to the house in mid-November. On Nov. 16, they were summoned at 1 a.m. by a smoke detector that was wired into a security company. A man who answered the door said the alarm had been set off by cooking, according to department records.

The firefighters left but returned minutes later, prompted by another smoke detector. “On arrival found nothing showing and a male stating again that there was no problem,” Lt. Timothy O’Reilly wrote in a summary of the call. Firefighters said they had entered to take a look around.

Lieutenant O’Reilly and his colleagues found smoke in the finished basement, along with “melted plastic items on the stovetop along with cardboard that was hot to the touch,” which were apparently plastic utensils and plates. They also found a candle burning in “an unsafe location” and extinguished it. While the smoke in the basement dissipated, the firefighters offered fire safety tips.

The investigators’ report also recounted an episode early in the evening of Nov. 18. Mr. Hsieh’s assistant checked on him in the shed and noticed a candle had fallen over and was burning a blanket. The assistant asked Mr. Hsieh to put out the flame, and the entrepreneur did.

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Insurers defend covering ransomware payments

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Insurers reject claims that by covering ransomware bills they are funding organised crime.

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Apple says iOS 14.4 fixes three security bugs ‘actively exploited’ by hackers

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Apple has released iOS 14.4 with security fixes for three vulnerabilities, said to be under active attack by hackers.

The technology giant said in its security update pages for iOS and iPadOS 14.4 that the three bugs affecting iPhones and iPads “may have been actively exploited.” Details of the vulnerabilities are scarce, and an Apple spokesperson declined to comment beyond what’s in the advisory.

It’s not known who is actively exploiting the vulnerabilities, or who might have fallen victim. Apple did not say if the attack was targeted against a small subset of users or if it was a wider attack. Apple granted anonymity to the individual who submitted the bug, the advisory said.

Two of the bugs were found in WebKit, the browser engine that powers the Safari browser, and the Kernel, the core of the operating system. Some successful exploits use sets of vulnerabilities chained together, rather than a single flaw. It’s not uncommon for attackers to first target vulnerabilities in a device’s browsers as a way to get access to the underlying operating system.

Apple said additional details would be available soon, but did not say when.

It’s a rare admission by Apple, which prides itself on its security image, that its customers might be under active attack by hackers.

In 2019, Google security researchers found a number of malicious websites laced with code that quietly hacked into victims’ iPhones. TechCrunch revealed that the attack was part of an operation, likely by the Chinese government, to spy on Uyghur Muslims. In response, Apple disputed some of Google’s findings in an equally rare public statement, for which Apple faced more criticism for underplaying the severity of the attack.

Last month, internet watchdog Citizen Lab found dozens of journalists had their iPhones hacked with a previously unknown vulnerability to install spyware developed by Israel-based NSO Group.

In the absence of details, iPhone and iPad users should update to iOS 14.4 as soon as possible.

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