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UN Reports Sharp Increase in Cybercrime During Pandemic

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By Associated Press | Updated: 7 August 2020

A 350 percent increase in phishing websites was reported in the first quarter of the year, many targeting hospitals and health care systems and hindering their work responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN counterterrorism chief said Thursday.

Vladimir Voronkov told the UN Security Council that the upsurge in phishing sites was part of “a significant rise in cybercrime in recent months” reported by speakers at last month’s first Virtual Counterterrorism Week at the United Nations.

He said the UN and global experts don’t yet fully understand “the impact and consequences of the pandemic on global peace and security, and more specifically on organised crime and terrorism.”

“We know that terrorists are exploiting the significant disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to spread fear, hate, and division and radicalise and recruit new followers,” Voronkov said. “The increase in Internet usage and cyber-crime during the pandemic further compounds the problem.”

The weeklong meeting was attended by representatives from 134 countries, 88 civil society and private sector organisations, 47 international and regional organisations and 40 United Nations bodies, he said.

Undersecretary-General Voronkov said the discussions showed a shared understanding and concern that “terrorists are generating funds from illicit trafficking in drugs, goods, natural resources, and antiquities, as well as kidnapping for ransom, extorting and committing other heinous crimes.”

He said UN member nations “are rightly focused on tackling the health emergency and human crisis caused by COVID-19,” but he urged them not to forget the threat of terrorism.

In many parts of the world, Voronkov said, “terrorists are exploiting local grievances and poor governance to regroup and assert their control.”

“The pandemic has the potential to act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism by exacerbating inequalities, undermining social cohesion and fueling local conflicts,” Voronkov said. “We must continue our fight against terrorist groups and criminal networks to deny them the opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.”

Ghada Waly, executive director of the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told the council meeting on the linkage between counterterrorism and transnational organised crime that the links are “complex and multifaceted,” and “the COVID-19 crisis poses a host of new challenges to national authorities.”

“Organised criminal groups and terrorists may seek to capitalise on and exploit new vulnerabilities,” she said, “and transit patterns are shifting in view of travel restrictions and lockdown measures, adding further challenges for border security.”

Waly said: “Comprehensive and cooperative responses are needed more than ever.”

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Reliance Retail to Receive Rs. 3,675 Crores Investment From General Atlantic

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 September 2020

India’s Reliance Industries said on Wednesday private equity firm General Atlantic will invest Rs. 3,675 crores for a 0.84 percent stake in its retail arm, Reliance Retail, sending shares of the country’s most valuable company up as much as 1 percent.

The deal underscores growing investor interest in the Mukesh Ambani-led company’s expansion plans as it diversifies from its mainstay oil-and-gas business. Reliance is being seen as a formidable rival to Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart as they battle for market dominance in India.

Wednesday’s investment gives Reliance Retail a pre-money valuation of Rs. 4,28,500 crores, the company said.

Reliance, which in May launched an online grocery service, also operates around 12,000 brick and mortar stores.

Chairman Mukesh Ambani said Reliance would leverage General Atlantic’s “extensive expertise at the intersection of technology and consumer businesses” to expand its new commerce venture, tying neighbourhood stores for online deliveries of groceries, apparel and electronics.

With the latest investment from General Atlantic, which has also invested in Airbnb, Slack and Uber, Reliance has now raised around $2.3 billion (roughly Rs. 16,947 crores) for its retail arm.

General Atlantic is also an investor in Reliance’s digital business Jio platforms, and sources told Reuters this week Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala is in advanced talks to invest up to $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,373 crores) in the company’s retail unit.

In India, competition for market share has prompted e-commerce players to look for new partnerships. Financial daily Mint reported on Tuesday US retailer Walmart was in talks to invest up to $25 billion (roughly Rs. 1,84,338 crores) in Tata Group’s planned “super-app”, which will tie in all of the conglomerate’s consumer businesses.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Amazon Defends Warehouse Safety Following Report on Injuries

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2020

Amazon on Tuesday defended its warehouse safety record after a news investigation pointed to a higher-than-average injury rate in the company’s massive logistics operations.

A report released by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal project found Amazon fulfillment centers recorded 14,000 serious injuries in 2019 requiring days off or job restrictions.

The report, citing internal documents, concluded that the overall rate of 7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees was 33 percent higher than in 2016 and nearly double the industry standard.

The Reveal report, based on data from 2016 through 2019 from more than 150 US-based Amazon warehouses, suggested that Amazon’s claims on workplace safety belied the statistics.

The report comes amid a wave of complaints over working conditions at Amazon warehouses, even as the company has touted its hefty investments in workplace safety, stepped up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to the report, Amazon strongly denied misleading the public and claimed Reveal’s interpretation of the data was wrong.

“We strongly refute the claims that we’ve misled anyone. At Amazon, we are known for obsessing over customers–but we also obsess about our employees and their safety,” the company said in an email to AFP.

Amazon said Reveal was “misinformed” regarding a safety metric of the government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The company said there is no industry standard on “serious incident rate,” and that using that metric distorts Amazon’s policy which “encourages someone with any type of injury, for example a small strain or sprain, to stay away from work until they’re better.”

Amazon, which has some 900,000 employees worldwide, in 2020 alone has committed some $1 billion to workplace safety to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

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Apple Grants CEO Tim Cook First Major Stock Package Since 2011

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 September 2020

Apple on Tuesday granted CEO Tim Cook 333,987 restricted stock units, with a possibility to earn as many as 667,974 more if he hits performance targets, in the executive’s first stock grant since 2011.

“Tim has brought unparalleled innovation and focus to his role as CEO and demonstrated what it means to lead with values and integrity,” Apple’s board of directors said in a statement.

“For the first time in nearly a decade, we are awarding Tim a new stock grant that will vest over time in recognition of his outstanding leadership and with great optimism for Apple’s future as he carries these efforts forward.”

Cook is in the ninth year of his 10-year grant from 2011. Each restricted stock unit conveys the right to one common share when it vests.

Apple’s stock closed at $114.09 (roughly Rs. 8,400) on Tuesday, which puts the value of the units at $38.1 million (roughly Rs. 281 crores) at Tuesday’s price. But they will be more valuable if Apple’s stock price rises by the time they vest. One-third of the units will vest on April 1, 2023 with another third vesting in 2024 and the final third in 2025.

In October 2023, Cook will also be eligible to receive additional units based on performance. The target amount is 333,987 units, but the total could vary between none and double that amount based on Apple’s relative total shareholder return from fiscal years 2021 through 2023, according to a regulatory filing.

Apple’s move brings Cook’s compensation timeline into line with other executives at the company. Apple on Tuesday also awarded a similar grant to Chief Operating Office Jeff Williams, who will receive 89,064 restricted stock units on the same terms as Cook, including the possibility of performance-based units.

Cook told Fortune magazine in 2015 that he plans to donate his wealth to charity.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Amazon Prime Day Global Mega-Sale to Be Held on October 13-14

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 29 September 2020

Amazon on Monday announced the new date for its annual global mega-sale, which it said aims to promote small and medium-sized businesses despite accusations by numerous lawmakers and trade associations that the retail giant is trying to crush competition.

“Prime Day,” named for the Amazon subscription service that offers users free delivery and other perks, will be held on October 13-14, the company said.

Launched in 2015, the wildly popular sale is normally held in July but had to be pushed back this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of lockdowns, Amazon has faced a huge surge in demand for online shopping and delivery of household goods, forcing its warehouses and supply teams into overdrive.

In its statement, the group said it would spend more than $100 million (roughly Rs. 737 crores) in new promotions to benefit small and medium-sized businesses and help them win new clients.

The company has played a crucial role during lockdowns around the world, enabling people to stay at home by providing them with food deliveries, cloud services and entertainment on their screens.

In the second quarter, Amazon pulled in $5.2 billion (roughly Rs. 38,350 crores) in net profit, double the previous year, and in spite of the $4 billion (roughly Rs. 29,500 crores) it invested in managing the crisis.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, we hired an additional 175,000 employees, including many laid off from other jobs during the economic shutdown,” Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said in July.

“Third-party sales now account for approximately 60 percent of physical product sales on Amazon, and those sales are growing faster than Amazon’s own retail sales,” he said.

“Selling in Amazon’s stores has enabled hundreds of thousands of smaller companies to sustain and even grow their sales despite the COVID-19 crisis,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon’s dominance has been questioned by some lawmakers.

During a hearing in July on big tech companies including Amazon, Democratic congressman David Cicilline argued that Amazon’s dual role as both platform operator and a seller on the very same platform was essentially anti-competitive.

“These companies as they exist today have monopoly power,” Cicilline said.

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Google Says Will Block US Election Ads After November 3

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2020

Alphabet’s Google will block election ads on its platform after the US election on November 3, a company spokeswoman said on Friday.

Axios, which first reported the news, said Google mailed advertisers saying they will not be able to run ads “referencing candidates, the election, or its outcome, given that an unprecedented amount of votes will be counted after election day this year.”

Social media companies have been facing growing pressure to stop carrying ads that spread false information and could steer election results.

Facebook also said it would stop accepting new political ads in the week before the election and would reject ads that seek to claim victory before the results of the election are declared.

Twitter banned political ads last year, while Google has previously limited the ways election advertisers could micro-target voters.

Google’s new policy will target ads that are explicitly election-related as well as any other types of ads that reference federal or state elections, or ads that run based on targeting election-related search queries, the Axios report said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google Parent Alphabet Settles Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 September 2020

Alphabet on Friday announced moves to address sexual misconduct at Google and its other operating divisions, putting in place changes worked out to settle a lawsuit filed by shareholders.

Under terms of the settlement, the internet giant will spend $310 million (roughly Rs. 2,284 crores) on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and let employees use courts instead of private arbitration to resolve disputes over treatment.

“Over the past several years, we have been taking a harder line on inappropriate conduct, and have worked to provide better support to the people who report it,” Alphabet vice president Eileen Naughton said in an email to workers.

“Protecting our workplace and culture means getting both of these things right, and in recent years we’ve worked hard to set and uphold higher standards for the whole company.”

Shareholders filed a lawsuit against Alphabet early last year, not long after thousands of Google employees joined a coordinated worldwide walkout to protest the US tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment.

The company has since implemented policy changes and other steps to address concerns.

A practice instituted after the protests of not giving severance packages to executives fired for misconduct will be expanded to include those being looked at in pending investigations of sexual misconduct or retaliation claims, according to the settlement.

The shareholder lawsuit argued that Alphabet’s board and senior executives improperly awarded multi-million-dollar severance packages to several male executives accused of sexually harassing female employees, even after internal investigations found accusations to be credible.

The suit cited a $90 million (roughly Rs. 663 crores) severance package given to Andy Rubin, considered the “father of Android” for his role in the creation of the widely used mobile operating system backed by Google.

The suit said that an internal investigation confirmed sexual harassment allegations against Rubin, who has consistently denied doing anything inappropriate.

Some demonstrators who streamed across the Mountain View campus during the walkout in late 2018 waved signs bearing messages such as “Happy to quit for $90 million — no sexual harassment required.”

The protest took shape after Google said that it had fired 48 employees in the previous two years — including 13 senior executives — as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The concerns at Google were part of a chorus of voices denouncing the existence of a sexist culture in male-dominated Silicon Valley.

In the email to employees, Naughton said Alphabet is setting up a diversity, equality and inclusion advisory council that will include members from outside the company, and outlined guiding principles being instituted.

Changes included refining Alphabet’s policy about excessive drinking of alcohol at work-related events to curb chances of inappropriate behaviour.

The settlement includes Google and Alphabet’s “Other Bets” divisions which include the Waymo autonomous car unit and Verily life sciences initiative, among others.

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