By Reuters | Updated: 22 January 2021
President Joe Biden is hiring a group of national security veterans with deep cyber expertise, drawing praise from former defense officials and investigators as the US government works to recover from one of the biggest hacks of its agencies attributed to Russian spies.
“It is great to see the priority that the new administration is giving to cyber,” said Suzanne Spaulding, director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Cyber-security was demoted as a policy field under the Trump administration. It discontinued the Cyber-security Coordinator position at the White House, shrunk the State Department’s cyber diplomacy wing, and fired federal cyber-security leader Chris Krebs in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s November 3 election defeat.
Disclosed in December, the hack struck eight federal agencies and numerous companies, including software provider SolarWinds US intelligence agencies publicly attributed it to Russian state actors. Moscow has denied involvement in the hack.
Under a recent law, Biden must open a cyber-focused office reporting to a new National Cyber Director, who will coordinate the federal government’s vast cyber capabilities, said Mark Montgomery, a former congressional staffer who helped design the role.
The leading candidate for Cyber Director is Jen Easterly, a former high ranking National Security Agency official, according to four people familiar with the selection process.
Now head of resilience at Morgan Stanley, Easterly held several senior intelligence posts in the Obama administration and helped create US Cyber Command, the country’s top cyber warfare unit.
Easterly did not respond to requests for comment.
The Biden administration “has appointed world-class cyber-security experts to leadership positions,” Microsoft corporate Vice President Tom Burt said in a statement.
Some observers worry, however, that the collective group’s experience is almost entirely in the public sector, said one former official and an industry analyst who requested anonymity. The distinction is important because the vast majority of US Internet infrastructure is owned and operated by American corporations.
“Finding a good balance with both government and commercial experience will be critical to success,” said former DHS Cybersecurity director Amit Yoran, now chief executive of security company Tenable Inc.
To replace Krebs at the Homeland Security Department, Biden plans to nominate Rob Silvers, who also worked in the Obama administration, to become director of the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, according to four people briefed on the matter. Silvers declined to comment for this article.
Biden’s National Security Council, an arm of the White House that guides an administration’s security priorities, includes five experienced cyber-security officials.
Leading the hires is National Security Agency senior official Anne Neuberger as Deputy National Security Adviser for cyber and emerging technology, a new position designed to elevate the subject internally.
“The United States remains woefully unprepared for 21st century security threats – the establishment and prioritization of a DNSA for Cyber and Emerging Tech on the NSC indicates the seriousness the Biden Administration will afford to addressing these challenges,” said Phil Reiner, chief executive of the Institute for Security and Technology.
Neuberger became one of the most visible figures at NSA in recent years after leading the spy agency’s cyber defense wing, drawing praise for quickly alerting companies to hacking techniques in use by other countries.
The other four hires are Michael Sulmeyer as senior director for cyber, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall as Homeland security adviser, Russ Travers as deputy homeland security adviser and Caitlin Durkovich as senior director for resilience and response at the NSC.
All four previously served in senior national security posts that dealt with cyber-security.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
McAfee Creator Charged in Cryptocurrency Scam, Allegedly Raked in Over $13 Million From Investors
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 6 March 2021
The creator of McAfee computer security software was facing charges Friday that he cashed in on a “pump-and-dump” scheme, by promoting cryptocurrencies on Twitter to drive up their value.
John McAfee, founder of the antivirus firm that bears his name, and Jimmy Watson face charges of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering in connection with schemes to trick cryptocurrency investors, according to an indictment unsealed by the US Department of Justice.
“McAfee and Watson exploited a widely used social media platform and enthusiasm among investors in the emerging cryptocurrency market to make millions through lies and deception,” US attorney Audrey Strauss said in a release.
McAfee, Watson, and other members of their “cryptocurrency team” allegedly “raked in more than $13 million (roughly Rs. 95.1 crores) from investors they victimized with their fraudulent schemes,” according to Strauss.
Pump-and-dump schemes typically involve over-hyping the value of stocks or, in this case cryptocurrency, by holders so that they can be sold at artificially high prices.
“McAfee and Watson used social media to perpetrate an age-old pump-and-dump scheme,” FBI assistant director William Sweeney said.
“When engaging in illegal activity, simply finding new ways to carry out old tricks won’t produce different results.”
McAfee and Watson also used Twitter to promote digital tokens on behalf of initial coin offerings without disclosing they were being paid for their efforts by the startups, according to the indictment.
McAfee, 75, is in custody in Spain pending a decision on his extradition to the United States where he is wanted for tax evasion.
He has been held at a prison near Barcelona since he was arrested in the Spanish city in October just as he was about to board a flight to Istanbul.
The arrest followed his indictment in June in the United States for tax evasion and willful failure to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018, despite earning millions from consulting work, cryptocurrencies and selling the rights to his life story.
Since making a fortune with his eponymous antivirus software in the 1980s, McAfee has become a self-styled cryptocurrency guru.
He has one million followers on Twitter, where he describes himself as a “lover of women, adventure and mystery.”
McAfee made headlines after he moved to Belize and his neighbor in the Central American country was mysteriously murdered in 2012, a crime that remains unsolved.
Microsoft Email Flaw Said to Compromise Over 20,000 US Organisations
By Reuters | Updated: 6 March 2021
More than 20,000 US organisations have been compromised through a back door installed via recently patched flaws in Microsoft’s email software, a person familiar with the US government’s response said on Friday.
The hacking has already reached more places than all of the tainted code downloaded from SolarWinds, the company at the heart of another massive hacking spree uncovered in December.
The latest hack has left channels for remote access spread among credit unions, town governments and small businesses, according to records from the US investigation.
Tens of thousands of organisations in Asia and Europe are also affected, the records show.
The hacks are continuing despite emergency patches issued by Microsoft on Tuesday.
Microsoft, which had initially said the hacks consisted of “limited and targeted attacks,” declined to comment on the scale of the problem on Friday but said it was working with government agencies and security companies to provide help to customers.
It added, “impacted customers should contact our support teams for additional help and resources.”
One scan of connected devices showed only 10 percent of those vulnerable had installed the patches by Friday, though the number was rising.
Because installing the patch does not get rid of the back doors, US officials are racing to figure out how to notify all the victims and guide them in their hunt.
All of those affected appear to run Web versions of email client Outlook and host them on their own machines, instead of relying on cloud providers. That may have spared many of the biggest companies and federal government agencies, the records suggest.
The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the vulnerabilities found in Microsoft’s widely used Exchange servers were “significant,” and “could have far-reaching impacts.”
“We’re concerned that there are a large number of victims,” Psaki said.
Microsoft and the person working with the US response blamed the initial wave of attacks on a Chinese government-backed actor. A Chinese government spokesman said the country was not behind the intrusions.
What started as a controlled attack late last year against a few classic espionage targets grew last month to a widespread campaign. Security officials said that implied that unless China had changed tactics, a second group may have become involved.
More attacks are expected from other hackers as the code used to take control of the mail servers spreads.
The hackers have only used the back doors to re-enter and move around the infected networks in a small percentage of cases, probably less than 1 in 10, the person working with the government said.
“A couple hundred guys are exploiting them as fast as they can,” stealing data and installing other ways to return later, he said.
The initial avenue of attack was discovered by prominent Taiwanese cyber researcher Cheng-Da Tsai, who said he reported the flaw to Microsoft in January. He said in a blog post that he was investigating whether the information leaked.
He did not respond to requests for further comment.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
YouTube Removes Five Myanmar Military-Run TV Channels From Platform After Coup
By Reuters | Updated: 5 March 2021
Alphabet’s YouTube has removed five channels of Myanmar’s military-run television networks hosted on its platform in the wake of the coup in the Southeast Asian country.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement in response to a Reuters question.
The channels taken down include the state network, MRTV, (Myanma Radio and Television) as well as the military-owned Myawaddy Media, MWD Variety, and MWD Myanmar, YouTube said.
Their removal comes during the bloodiest week so far of anti-coup protests, with 38 people killed on Wednesday, according to the United Nations, as security forces tried to crush rallies and used live rounds in some areas.
The army seized power on February 1, alleging mass fraud in the November election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. The election commission said the vote was fair, but the military has used media to make its case and justify the takeover.
MRTV pages were banned by Facebook in February, while it had previously barred Myawaddy in 2018 when it banned army chief Min Aung Hlaing – now the military ruler – and more than a dozen other senior officers and organisations on the platform.
Facebook has now banned all pages linked to Myanmar’s army – and was itself banned by the junta in February.
Other social media platforms are also grappling with how to moderate military content and a proliferation of hate speech and misinformation in Myanmar.
Reuters reported on Thursday that Myanmar soldiers and police were using TikTok to deliver death threats to protesters.
Researchers have said that after the Facebook ban the military was trying to build its presence on other platforms.
YouTube had faced criticism from researchers and civil society groups for a comparatively hands-off approach during Myanmar’s November 8 vote.
A Reuters review found dozens of channels hosted on YouTube that had promoted election misinformation while posing either as news outlets or political programmes.
Google said in December it had terminated 34 YouTube channels following investigation into coordinated influence operations linked to Myanmar.
© Thomson Reuters 2021
Amazon Opens Checkout-Free UK Grocery Store – Its First Outside US
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 March 2021
Amazon on Thursday launched its first “just walk out shopping” outlet outside the United States, as the online retail giant steps up its competition with traditional supermarkets and other retailers.
Customers at Amazon Fresh in Ealing Broadway shopping centre in west London queued outside the black and green storefront under social distancing measures to be first to use the convenience store which has no checkouts.
The outlet, according to Amazon, is the “first convenience grocery store to offer just walk out shopping in the UK” and its “first physical shop and grocery store outside of the US”.
To use the new outlet, customers have to download an app and then scan a QR code before an electronic gate swings open and allows them to browse a range of Amazon-brand products.
On its opening day, a team of assistants, dressed in vibrant green jackets – the same colour as the grocery shop’s colourful branding – were on hand to explain how the system worked.
Once they have bagged their items, customers don’t have to show a card or let anyone know, they simply walk out.
“It was really strange, it felt like I was a criminal, because I was just taking things and putting them straight in my bag,” 71-year-old Ealing resident Philippa Dolphin told AFP.
‘You just walk right out’
“But apparently there are cameras watching me. And then you just walk out! It didn’t seem right but I was assured it was okay!” she added.
Amazon has said the store, which is similar to 20 Amazon Go outlets in the United States, uses “deep learning” algorithms – technology which allows machines to learn by themselves – with cameras and sensors to tell what customers have picked up.
“It automatically knows what you’ve got in your basket and when you leave the shop it charges you and bills you automatically into the account you have set up,” said Erica Ely, a 57-year-old local resident, holding her purchases on the street outside the shop.
Benjamin Rogers, 31, a sales manager who lives in the area, stopped in to buy ingredients for a cake and said the speed of shopping at the Amazon store made it appealing.
“I think the major advantage is the fact that sometimes when you go to the supermarket you can do your shopping and then it can be a five-, 10-, 15-minute wait to pay for your goods at the end” he said.
“This is just a simple way to cut through and walk out and finish your job.”
Matt Birch, a former Sainsbury’s executive who now leads Amazon Fresh Stores UK, said the brand which is also used for online groceries in the UK has looked to make the experience “as convenient as possible”.
‘Reversing the trend’
“We recognise that UK customers want to shop in a convenient way so we really think they will appreciate being able to walk in and walk out with the shopping they need,” he added.
Amazon, which was already growing in Britain before the pandemic and competing with a struggling retail sector, has seen its position strengthen since the outbreak and months of closure for shops deemed non-essential.
Shopper Mark Lloyd said it was “interesting” that Amazon was moving from online into “bricks and mortar retail business”.
“It is kind of reversing the trend for e-commerce and digital shelves, so it is quite unusual in that respect,” the 58-year-old creative director said.
Despite the ease of her shopping experience, Dolphin said she was somewhat troubled what about the arrival of the Amazon shop would mean in the long term.
“I am a bit worried that it is going to put other businesses that I use out of business. So yes, I am a little bit concerned because they are such a giant,” she said.
Wipro to Buy Capco Consultancy Firm for $1.45 Billion in Biggest Buyout to Become ‘Bolder’ Company
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 March 2021
Set to be its biggest ever buyout, Wipro will acquire London-headquartered Capco in a USD 1.45 billion (roughly Rs. 10,5700 crores) deal as the Indian IT major seeks to become a “bolder and ambitious” company as well as rake in higher revenues from banking and financial services space.
Announcing the deal on Thursday, Wipro said the acquisition will provide it access to 30 new large banking and financial clients and strengthen its position in the Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) sector.
“… important announcement of a transformational acquisition, the largest in our history as Wipro. We will be acquiring Capco for a value of USD 1.45 billion (roughly Rs. 10,570 crores). Capco will bring to us over USD 700 million (roughly Rs. 5,100 crores) in revenue, and over 5,000 consulting and domain specialists based across the globe,” Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji said during an analysts’ call.
He also noted that with this acquisition, Wipro will join a select league of service providers that bring an integrated and end-to-end consultative digital, cloud, and IoT transformation solution at scale to customers.
“The banking and financial services industry is our largest sector globally, and a high priority and growth segment for us…Capco will bring significant scale in our BFSI business, a highly complementary set of service offerings, creating a unique combination of consulting and domain led expertise with scale, digital technology and operations. This, we believe, will drive accelerated growth,” he said.
The BFSI segment accounted for over 30 per cent of Wipro’s IT services revenue in the December 2020 quarter that stood at USD 2,071 million (roughly Rs. 15,090 crores).
Wipro has followed an aggressive acquisition strategy over the years to bolster its business. During the financial year 2020-2021, Wipro has bought/ acquired stake in Eximus for USD 80 million (roughly Rs. 580 crores), 4C for EUR 68 million (roughly Rs. 590 crores), and IVIA for USD 22.4 million (roughly Rs. 160 crores), and Chennai-based Encore Theme Technologies for 83.4 percent equity stake for up to Rs 95 crore.
The deal will expand Wipro’s presence into a set of large strategic customers that are uniquely complementary to the company’s existing customer base as well as provide a platform to leverage the deep relationships that Capco has built over the years with CXOs and business leaders of several large customers, Premji explained.
The deal also comes at a time when businesses globally are betting on technology and increasing their spends on digital to support growth during the pandemic.
“I had shared with you that you will see a bold Wipro, a more ambitious approach, one that will be more risk taking, one that will not be afraid to shake up the applecart to make tough calls to invest in deep tech. And to think big. This acquisition fits well into that strategy and will pave the path of building a bold tomorrow for Wipro,” he said.
Wipro CEO Thierry Delaporte said the transaction is being financed through internal cash and debt, and that the acquisition is subject to regulatory approvals. It is expected to close in the quarter ending June, 2021, subject to requisite regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions.
After completion of the transaction, it will be EPS (Earnings Per Share) accretive from the third year onwards.
Delaporte pointed out that there are five reasons as to why Capco is a great fit for the company.
“Acquiring Capco helps us grow our global financial services business, which is our largest segments from USD 2.5 billion (roughly Rs. 18,200 crores) to USD 3.2 billion (roughly Rs. 23,300 crores), with a strong consulting footprint. Scale matters and reinforces our market relevance,” he said.
Delaporte added that the transaction will also help in growth acceleration on account of the complementary customer profile between Capco and Wipro’s BFSI business, and synergy in the solutions offered by the two firms.
Besides, Wipro will be able to leverage the relationships that Capco has with key decision makers at the board level (CEOs etc) as well as access to the “exceptional” talent of the London-based company.
Capco CEO Lance Levy said the companies will together offer bespoke transformational end-to-end solutions, now powered by innovative technology at scale, to create a new leading partner to the financial services industry.
“We look forward to leveraging the complementary capabilities and similar cultures of both companies to drive industry change and offer exciting opportunities for both our clients, and our people,” Levy said.
Capco will continue to operate as a separate entity under the leadership of Levy, who will report to Delaporte.
“To ensure that we leverage relationships, expertise and capabilities, we will have an integrated strategy and execution approach for common clients. While we work in the model, we will learn together,” Delaporte said.
He added that the acquisition will affect Wipro’s IT services margin by 2 per cent in FY22, a large component of which is a non-cash charge.
Wipro, in a regulatory filing, said clients will benefit from a combination of its capabilities in strategic design, domain and consulting, digital transformation, cloud, cybersecurity, data, and IT services with Capco’s deep domain and consulting capabilities across banking, payments, capital markets, insurance, risk, and regulatory offerings.
Founded in 1998, Capco works with more than 100 clients and has many long-standing relationships with the world’s leading financial institutions. It has over 5,000 consultants based in more than 30 global locations across 16 countries. The company’s consolidated revenues for the year ended December 2020 was USD 720 million (roughly Rs. 5,250 crores).
The deal will require anti-trust approvals under the competition laws of the US, Germany, Canada, Brazil, and Austria along with other regulatory approvals, the filing said.
Apple Said to Face EU Antitrust Charge on Spotify Complaint
By Reuters | Updated: 5 March 2021
iPhone maker Apple could face an EU antitrust charge sheet in the coming weeks following a 2019 complaint by music streaming service Spotify, two people familiar with the matter said.
The charge could force changes to Apple’s lucrative business model, they said.
The European Commission could send the statement of objections setting out suspected violations of the bloc’s antitrust rules to Apple before the summer, one of the people said.
The case is one of four opened by the EU competition enforcer into Apple in June last year. The EU charge sheet usually indicates whether a fine is merited and what companies have to do to halt anti-competitive practices.
The Commission declined to comment.
Apple was not immediately available to comment. It has said its App Store helped Spotify to benefit from hundreds of millions of app downloads to become Europe’s largest music streaming service.
Spotify in its 2019 complaint to the Commission said Apple unfairly restricts rivals to its own music steaming service Apple Music and also protested against the 30 percent fee levied on app developers to use Apple’s in-app purchase system (IAP).
© Thomson Reuters 2021
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