Posts Tagged ‘cyber’

National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

December 18, 2017

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In a speech Monday, Trump will present plan that follows his “America First views.
By  — December 18 at 5:00 AM
The Washington Post

A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.

President Trump will present the strategy, a kind of mission statement that guides policymaking, in a speech Monday. Its broad outlines follow his “America First” doctrine of national sovereignty and putting a priority on the economic implications of global engagement. Officials said its main tenets are already in practice.

For example, the congressionally mandated document says that under Trump, national security decision-making will take greater account of economic factors and homeland security, administration officials said. Three officials described the document to reporters on the condition of anonymity ahead of its release.

“This strategy advances what I would call a principled realism,” one official said. “In some ways, the global balance of power has shifted in unfavorable manners to American interests. This new strategy presents a plan of how America can regain momentum to reverse many of these trends.”

Both China and Russia have sought to “change the status quo” in ways that the United States opposes and that could challenge U.S. interests, another official said. She cited Chinese military expansion and island-building in the South China Sea and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The document does not expressly “overturn” the strategies of former president Barack Obama or his predecessors, but it frames Trump’s priorities differently, the third official said. Trump’s most significant foreign policy and national security decisions mostly have been cast as reversals of Obama policies, including on Iran and climate change, and a heavy focus on North Korea after what he calls the failed policies of the past.

Trump’s new strategy document has four main organizing principles, one official said: protecting the American homeland, protecting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing U.S. influence.

The focus on China’s changing role and ambition recognizes that the country is both a competitor and a sometime partner, the officials said. That is a familiar theme from past administrations, but the Trump officials said the new document focuses on the trade and economic consequences for the United States from Chinese cybertheft and other issues.

As a candidate, Trump accused China of “raping” the United States economically and stealing jobs. As president, he has developed and trumpeted a warm relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he credits with helping to apply pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Trump also has publicly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “very smart,” and has sought a better relationship with Russia after years of worsening ties under Obama. He has been openly skeptical of U.S. intelligence findings that Russia mounted a systematic effort to undermine the 2016 presidential election. But Trump has not reversed congressional sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, as Putin hoped he would.

Putin and Trump spoke by telephone Sunday, and, according to both sides, Putin thanked the U.S. leader for a tip from the CIA that thwarted a terrorist attack being planned in St. Petersburg. The call was unusual, as the sharing of intelligence is rarely discussed in public. It was also the leaders’ second call within four days.

“Based on the information the United States provided, Russian authorities were able to capture the terrorists just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people,” the White House said in its readout of the call. “Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/national-security-strategy-plan-paints-china-russia-as-us-competitors/2017/12/17/0229f95c-e366-11e7-a65d-1ac0fd7f097e_story.html?utm_term=.3390340f74c4

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Cyber Attacks “More Complex, Dangerous” Threaten Critical Infrastructure — Breached safety systems — Middle East nuclear, electrical, industrial infrastructure

December 17, 2017

REUTERS

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The FireEye logo is seen outside the company’s offices in Milpitas, California, in 2014. | REUTERS

Hackers likely working for a nation-state recently breached safety systems at a critical infrastructure facility, in a watershed attack that halted plant operations, according to cyberinvestigators and the firm whose software was targeted.

FireEye Inc. disclosed the incident on Thursday, saying it had targeted Triconex industrial safety technology from Schneider Electric SE.

Schneider confirmed that the incident had occurred, and that it had issued a security alert to users of Triconex — which cyberexperts said is widely used in the energy industry, including at nuclear facilities and oil and gas plants.

FireEye and Schneider declined to identify the victim, industry or location of the attack. Cybersecurity company Dragos said the hackers targeted an organization in the Middle East, while a second firm, CyberX, said it believed the victim was in Saudi Arabia.

It marks the first report of a safety system breach at an industrial plant by hackers, who have in recent years placed increasing focus on breaking into utilities, factories and other critical infrastructure, cyberexperts said.

Compromising a safety system could let hackers shut them down in advance of attacking other parts of an industrial plant, potentially preventing operators from identifying and halting destructive attacks, they said. Safety systems “could be fooled to indicate that everything is okay,” even as hackers damage a plant, said Galina Antova, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Claroty.

“This is a watershed,” said Sergio Caltagirone, head of threat intelligence with Dragos. “Others will eventually catch up and try to copy this kind of attack.”

In the incident, hackers used sophisticated malware to take remote control of a workstation running a Schneider Electric Triconex safety shutdown system, then sought to reprogram controllers used to identify safety issues. Some controllers entered a fail-safe mode, which caused related processes to shut down and caused the plant to identify the attack, FireEye said.

FireEye believes the attackers’ actions inadvertently caused the shutdown while probing the system to learn how it worked, said Dan Scali, who led FireEye’s investigation. The attackers were likely conducting reconnaissance to learn how they could modify safety systems so they would not operate in the event that the hackers launched an attack that disrupted or damaged the plant, he said.

The U.S. government and private cybersecurity firms have issued public warnings over the past few years about attempts by hackers from nations including Iran, North Korea and Russia and others to attack companies that run critical infrastructure plants, in what they say are primarily reconnaissance operations.

CyberX Vice President Phil Neray said his firm found evidence that the malware was deployed in Saudi Arabia, which could suggest that Iran may be behind the attack.

Security researchers widely believe that Iran was responsible for a series of attacks on Saudi Arabian networks in 2012 and 2017 using a virus known as Shamoon.

Schneider provided Reuters with a customer security alert, dated Wednesday, which said it was working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to investigate the attack.

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“While evidence suggests this was an isolated incident and not due to a vulnerability in the Triconex system or its program code, we continue to investigate whether there are additional attack vectors,” the alert said.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell said the agency was looking into the matter “to assess the potential impact on critical infrastructure.”

The malware, which FireEye has dubbed Triton, is only the third type of computer virus discovered to date that is capable of disrupting industrial processes.

The first, Stuxnet, was discovered in 2010 and is widely believed by security researchers to have been used by the United States and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

The second, known as Crash Override or Industroyer, was found last year by researchers who said it was likely used in a December 2016 attack that cut power in Ukraine.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/12/15/world/crime-legal-world/hackers-invade-safety-system-halt-mideast-plant-operations-watershed-cyberattack/#.WjY3tt-nGUk

U.S. says did everything possible to help Italy cyber investigation

December 16, 2017

Reuters

ROME (Reuters) – The United States has denied suggestions it undermined an investigation into a massive data breach at the Italian cybersecurity firm Hacking Team, saying it did everything it could to help in the case.

A Milan magistrate last week recommended shelving an investigation into six people who were suspected of orchestrating the 2015 data theft.

Image result for Hacking Team, italy, photos

A senior judicial source criticized U.S. officials for not handing over a computer belonging to a key suspect, saying it might have contained information vital to the probe.

But in a comment emailed to Reuters, the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington denied the United States was to blame for the case floundering.

“The United States assisted Italy to the greatest extent possible and the relevant Italian authorities know that,” a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson wrote.

Magistrates opened their investigation in July 2015 after hackers downloaded 400 gigabytes of data from the firm, which makes software that allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to tap into the phones and computers of suspects.

Much of the data later showed up on the WikiLeaks website.

The company said at the time it believed former employees had stolen vital code that gave them access to its systems. It also speculated that a foreign government might have been behind the hacking.

The Italian probe led magistrates to a suspect living in Nashville, Tennessee. U.S. authorities raided his house and took the man in for questioning, however a senior judicial source in Milan, with direct knowledge of the case, said his computer was never sent to Italy for technical assessment.

“We could not carry out the checks on the computer to see if it contained the evidence that we were looking for because the United States did not give it to us. We did not receive an explanation for this decision,” the source said.

Reporting by Manuela D’Alessandro and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Mark Potter

UK spy chiefs peel back secrecy – to fight cybercrime

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by James PHEBY | Britain’s cyber-spooks are reaching beyond the shroud of secrecy in a bid to harness the “exciting attitude of start-up land” to defend the country against hackers

LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s cyber-spooks are reaching out from behind their veil of secrecy with the aim of cultivating the nation’s next generation of high-tech sentries — a move not without security risks.

With recruiting initiatives levelled at tech-savvy hipsters, start-ups pitching ideas and even Christmas puzzles, the top-secret Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is letting the public in, ever so slightly.

The latest move was this month’s “Cyber Accelerator” event at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) — part of GCHQ — when investors, journalists and entrepreneurs were offered a rare glimpse behind the scenes.

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GCHQ

The Accelerator project connects tech entrepreneurs with GCHQ experts and information, aiming to help the budding companies turn their ideas into ready-for-market cyber-defence products.

The move is the latest in a series of initiatives by the security services to open their doors to young tech wizards — a subtle effort to recruit the best and brightest as Britain’s future cyber-sentries.

GCHQ has previously used stencil graffiti recruitment adverts in the fashionable east London tech hub, and also launched an online puzzle comprising 29 blocks of letters to be decoded by aspiring cyber spies.

During the visit to Accelerator, visitors were whisked up to the National Cyber Security Centre’s offices in central London in space-age lifts.

Once arrived, they got to see the latest weapons the entrepreneurs were pitching to private investors as part of the programme.

“Razor wire is there to keep people out, but it does quite a good job of keeping people in. It does create an internal community and we wanted to break out of that,” said Chris Ensor, NCSC’s deputy director for cyber-skills and growth.

“Accelerator is the natural next step, going out into the wider world.”

Nine businesses, who are working with GCHQ for nine months, pitched ideas including defences for crypto-currencies and domestic web-connected products as well as hardware that can wipe the contents of a laptop in case of theft.

Matt Hancock, a junior minister for digital and culture affairs, encouraged investors to dig deep, saying that GCHQ’s efforts to engage with the outside world were bearing fruit.

“The small acorn is now beginning to grow into an oak,” he said.

– Security risk –

Stressing the urgency of the challenge, NCSC technical director Ian Levy revealed that the agency has dealt with 600 major cyber incidents in its first year, 35 of which were classed as serious.

“They have taught us some things,” he said. “Our adversaries are infinitely inventive, they’re brilliant.”

Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey, praised Britain for harnessing individual inspiration with the power of government.

“Some of the best ideas have come from one man and his shed, it’s the modern version of that.

“They don’t always find a natural home in big business or government, this is about trying to give them a leg up,” he said.

The event’s Silicon Valley spirit and prospects of hard cash are both intended to lure sharp young minds towards working for the nation’s defence, he added.

“You can pay someone £30,000 ($40,000, 34,000 euros) a year to go and work at GCHQ and they can basically double that by going to industry. It’s hard to get them in and retain them.”

– ‘Keen to attract young talent’ –

“We also know GCHQ is very, very keen to attract young talent,” said Anthony Glees, director of the Buckingham University Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies.

“Some of the most succesful hackers have been 16 and 17-year old lads working out of their bedrooms.”

However, the necessity of information sharing with private citizens creates potential security “pitfalls”, he said, with the leaks by private contractor Edward Snowden while working for the NSA — GCHQ’s US equivalent — serving as a warning.

GCHQ conduct thorough background checks, but this is “an extremely expensive process”, said Glees.

The government must therefore walk a fine line in judging what information to share.

“Exchanging information is always hazardous… but it is necessary,” said Glees.

But some things will remain stamped “Top secret”, including the location where the entrepreneurs do their work with Britain’s cyber-spies.

“It’s a physical place, but you can’t tell anyone where it is,” said the NCSC’s Ensor.

by James PHEBY

McMaster Accuses Russia of Waging ‘Campaigns of Subversion’ Against the U.S.

December 13, 2017

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By KRISTINA WONG

WASHINGTON, D.C. – National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday described Russia as a top threat, and accused it of waging “campaigns of subversion” against the United States.

“We’re facing a threat from Russia that involves also so-called new generation warfare. And these are very sophisticated campaigns of subversion and disinformation and propaganda, using cyber tools, operating across multiple domains that attempt to divide our communities within our nation and pit them against each other and try to create a crisis of confidence,” he said at an event in Washington hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank.

They were unusual words of criticism coming from a member of an administration that wants to improve relations with Russia. They were also unusual given that the Trump administration has been plagued by accusations from critics that Russia meddled in the 2016 election in President Trump’s favor.

McMaster also called Russia a “revisionist” power that was undermining international order and stability and ignoring the sovereign rights of neighbors and the rule of law.

“They have of course used unconventional forces under the cover of conventional forces to advance their interest and have forcibly changed the borders of Europe for the first time since World War II of their invasions of Georgia and Ukraine,” he said.

He also said the administration’s upcoming National Security Strategy, which will outline the administration’s national security priorities, will be released on Monday.

Singapore: Defence Minister to invite hackers to break into its Internet-connected systems to detect weaknesses

December 12, 2017

ST VIDEO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE – In a first for the Singapore Government, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) will be inviting about 300 international and local hackers to hunt for vulnerabilities in its Internet-connected systems next year, in a bid to guard against ever-evolving cyber threats.

From Jan 15 to Feb 4, these selected experts will try to penetrate eight of Mindef’s Internet-facing systems, such as the Mindef website, the NS Portal and LearNet 2 Portal, a learning resource portal for trainees.

These registered hackers can earn cash rewards – or bounties – between $150 and $20,000, based on how critical the flaws discovered are. Called the Mindef Bug Bounty Programme, it will be the Government’s first crowdsourced hacking programme.

This follows an incident earlier this year when Mindef discovered that hackers had stolen the NRIC numbers, telephone numbers and birth dates of 854 personnel through a breach of its I-Net system.

One of the systems being tested, Defence Mail, uses the I-Net system for Mindef and SAF personnel to connect to the Internet.

On Tuesday (Dec 12), defence cyber chief David Koh announced the new programme after a visit to the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre (CyTEC) – a cyber “live-firing range” where servicemen train against simulated cyber attacks – at Stagmont Camp in Choa Chu Kang.

On the significance of the “Hack Mindef” initiative, he told reporters: “The SAF is a highly networked force. How we conduct our military operations depends on networking across the army, navy, air force and the joint staff.

“Every day, we see new cyber attacks launched by malicious actors who are constantly seeking new ways to breach our systems… Clearly, this is a fast-evolving environment and increasingly, you see that it is one that is of relevance to the defence and security domain.”

The bigger picture is that cyberspace is emerging as the next battlefield, said Mr Koh, who is also deputy secretary for special projects at Mindef.

“Some countries have begun to recognise cyber as a domain similar to air, land and sea. Some have even gone so far as to say that the next major conflict will see cyber activity as the first activity of a major conflict,” he added.

Servicemen at the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre at Stagmont Camp on Dec 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

 

While there will be some risks in inviting hackers to test the systems, such as an increase in website traffic and the chance that these “white hat” hackers will turn over discovered vulnerabilities to the dark Web, measures will be put in place.

“(If) we can’t even manage the increase in traffic, that in itself would be a vulnerability that we would need to address,” said Mr Koh.

White-hat hackers are those who break into protected systems to improve security, while black-hat hackers are malicious ones who aim to exploit flaws.

The programme conducted by US-based bug bounty company HackerOne is expected to cost about $100,000, depending on the bugs found. But Mr Koh noted that this would be less than hiring a dedicated vulnerability assessment team, which might cost up to a million dollars.

Mr Teo Chin Hock, deputy chief executive for development at the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), said: “By embarking on a bug bounty programme, companies have the advantage of uncovering security vulnerabilities on their own by harnessing the collective intelligence and capabilities of these experts and addressing these vulnerabilities before the black hats do.”

In a statement, he added that the CSA is currently in discussions with some of Singapore’s 11 designated critical information infrastructure sectors which have expressed interest in exploring a similar programme for their public-facing systems.

Major Yiew Pie Ling (centre) taking Mr David Koh, deputy secretary (Special Projects), Mindef, and chief executive of the newly created Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of Singapore, through a demonstration of a mock cyber attack at the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre at Stagmont Camp on Dec 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Large organisations, such as Facebook and the United States Department of Defence, have embarked on similar initiatives with some success.

For instance, a similar Hack the Pentagon programme, also conducted by HackerOne, was launched by the US defence department in 2016. A total of 138 bugs were found by more than a thousand individuals within three weeks.

The initiative caps a year in which Singapore has been gearing up for the battlefront in cyberspace.

In March, it was announced that the Defence Cyber Organisation will be set up to bolster Singapore’s cyber defence, with a force of cyber defenders trained to help in this fight.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/defence-ministry-to-invite-300-hackers-to-hack-its-internet-connected-systems

ATM cyber heists hit Pakistan banks

December 11, 2017

This photo shows that HBL ATM software license is not genuine. (AN photo)

ISLAMABAD: An ATM scam affecting hundreds of debit card users in Pakistan has led to several arrests by the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which apprehended another four suspects on Sunday.

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FIA official Abdul Ghaffar Mirani told Arab News that investigators have unearthed a scam of about $105,000 and expected the number to rise after digital forensic experts searched confiscated equipment and cloned debit cards used by the scammers.
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Mirani withheld the exact number of people arrested but said that mostly Chinese nationals had been taken into custody. “Our team is probing further as more complaints are pouring in and data is being compiled from other cities,” he said.
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The cyber heist is being dealt with by the FIA’s National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), the country’s only technology-based crime division, which was set up 10 years ago and assists other law enforcement agencies in Pakistan.
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On Friday, FIA Director Shakeel Durrani said at a press briefing that the investigation had revealed the involvement of Canadian, Nigerian and Italian hackers, as well as an Indian scammer identified as Sorev.
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The information was divulged by Saqibullah, a Rawalpindi resident running a racketeering business, who as their front man sold stolen financial information to the hackers. He is also involved in identity theft, credit debit card cloning and extortion. His arrest has expanded into a FIA investigation searching for his collaborators.
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Durrani said, “The prime suspect (Saqibullah) would take photos of ATM machines to match suitable skimming machines that were ordered from other countries.”
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The cash withdrawals from the hacked accounts were in China, Canada, Italy, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, US, but were not limited to those countries, he said.
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Revelations of the ATM-skimming scam were revealed last week by the country’s largest financial institution, Habib Bank Limited (HBL), which confirmed more than $105,000 had been stolen from 559 hacked HBL customers, mostly in the cities of Karachi and Lahore.
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“We have more than 10 million customers, which means that the size of the amount missing is not very significant for the HBL, while the number of customers affected is also low, said HBL’s corporate and marketing executive Naveed Asghar, who was reported in a local English daily. “It is a fraud and we must check it and find the culprits … it happens in all the countries that use ATMs,” he said.
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Banks using outdated technology fitted with aging security protocols attracted a “organized foreign group” to hack the ATM booths, suggests the FIA, which is approaching the State Bank of Pakistan, the country’s banking regulator, to introduce biometric policy and enforce it across the banking spectrum.
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An HBL official in Islamabad told Arab News: “The practice of skimming is not new,” but the bank’s new biometric security measures, currently being introduced in its ATMs, “will prevent and curb future hacks.” Though HBL seems to be the main target, Standard Chartered Bank, Faysal Bank Limited, Bank Al Habib Limited and other banks have also fallen victim to cybercrime, he said.
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“Officially the bank hasn’t sent out warning notifications to customers of this continuing fraud but we are compensating the affected account holders. An internal memo has been circulated for each bank branch to check and monitor the ATMs,” the banking officer said.
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Millions May Be Missing in Bitcoin Heist — Will bitcoin’s furious rally be impacted?

December 7, 2017

Theft prompts shutdown of NiceHash, which markets itself as the largest cryptomining marketplace

A major bitcoin theft from a cryptocurrency-mining service called NiceHash has prompted it to shut down for at least 24 hours.

The hack was disclosed on NiceHash’s Facebook page.

“We are working to verify the precise number of [bitcoin] taken,” NiceHash said.

The hack and other trading bottlenecks haven’t stopped bitcoin’s furious rally, which surged through $14,000 Thursday morning in Asia for the first time, according to research site CoinDesk. Bitcoin, which has surged about 40% in the past week, has now risen more than 14-fold so far this year, attracting a slew of new mainstream investors who have piled in as the digital currency has surged.

A wallet address, which stores bitcoin, showed that about 4,736.42 of the digital currency had been stolen, according to CoinDesk. At $14,000 apiece, they would be worth about $66 million. A company executive wasn’t immediately available to comment and confirm that amount.

NiceHash, which markets itself as the largest crypto-mining marketplace, said it is investigating the breach and co-operating with authorities as it seeks to restore the service “with the highest security measures at the earliest opportunity.”

Bitcoin, once a curiosity for techies, is now attracting small-time investors eager to get in on one of the year’s best-performing assets. Three exchanges are set to offer futures contracts on bitcoin, another step toward building a traditional market around the stateless digital currency.

The WSJ’s Thomas Di Fonzo visits New York City’s bitcoin ATMs to demonstrate just how volatile the virtual currency can be in just a day. Photo: Alexander Hotz / The Wall Street Journal

The price of the digital currency has soared, but experts say you should be wary.

The price of bitcoin crossed $13,000 on Wednesday, mere hours after breaching $12,000 for the first time and just a week after it first broke above $11,000.

NiceHash, based in Slovenia, matches people in need of computer-processing power to mine cryptocurrencies with people who have power to spare. Payment is made in bitcoin. The company advised users to change their passwords.

“We are truly sorry for any inconvenience that this may have caused and are committing every resource towards solving this issue as soon as possible,” NiceHash said.

Security has been an issue with bitcoin for years. One of the best-known cautionary tales is that of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange. It collapsed and filed for bankruptcy protection after losing virtual currency valued at hundreds of millions of dollars in 2014.

Write to Steven Russolillo at steven.russolillo@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/millions-may-be-missing-in-bitcoin-heist-1512625176

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The “Buy Bitcoin” screen on the world’s first bitcoin ATM allows users to choose how much they would like to spend. Photo: David Ryder/WIRED

Bitcoin Price Mania: A BTC ATM Experiment

A video highlighting just how volatile the virtual currency is during the course of a single day

Bitcoin Price Mania: An ATM Adventure
Bitcoin’s price has risen more than 900% this year, but it’s seen wild fluctuations ranging from 44% up or 25% down against the dollar. WSJ’s Thomas Di Fonzo visits New York City’s bitcoin ATMs to demonstrate how volatile the virtual currency can be in just a day. Photo: Alexander Hotz/The Wall Street Journal

Take $50 of cold hard cash. You know by the end of the day that it’s likely to have the same value it started with. Now take bitcoin (BTC)—the virtual currency that exists on the internet and is maintained by a network of computers. It’s risen more than 900% this year and seen fluctuations as high as 44% over some periods as short as five days. These types of fluctuations are rarely seen in other assets, like gold.

To demonstrate bitcoin’s volatility over the course of a day, WSJ’s Thomas Di Fonzo traveled around five New…

Read more and see video:

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/bitcoin-price-mania-an-atm-experiment-1512502290

Putin Wants to Win, But Not at All Costs

December 6, 2017
His military strategy is far more calculated than his predecessors.
By Leonid Bershidsky
Bloomberg
Breaking the Soviet mold.

 Photographer: Maxim Marmur/AFP/Getty Images)

As Russia has worked to convince the world that its military power is growing, it has concealed its costs in terms of blood and treasure. But newly revealed statistics show surprisingly low casualties despite engagements in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria.

It was the latest evidence that President Vladimir Putin’s military strategy is far more calculated than his predecessors, who were willing to win at all costs. Boris Yeltsin’s losses in Chechnya gutted his public support and the Soviet Union’s costly, failed Afghanistan adventure helped speed the end of an empire. Putin’s position is far more secure, which makes his approach to war all the more difficult to explain.

Russia has not reported active duty casualties since 2010 even as it expanded its military operations on several fronts. In 2015, Putin was accused of trying to hide losses in eastern Ukraine, where Russia stubbornly denies military involvement, by classifying data on losses incurred in “peacetime military operations.”

This week, the daily newspaper Vedomosti discovered the casualties figures on the Russian government procurement website. In October, Sogaz, an insurance company owned by a group of investors close to Putin, won the tender to insure Russian military personnel against death and injury. Everyone in active service — conscripts, professional contract soldiers, officers — is insured. In 2016, that meant 1,191,095 people.

Along with the requirements and probability tables, the Defense Ministry, which organized the tender published the number of insurance claims made in 2012 through 2016. Of these claims, 3,198 were related to deaths. The deaths didn’t necessarily occur the same year as the claims were made, but the count should be close enough to the actual number of casualties.

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Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber released bombs over Syria

These fall far short of earlier losses, these are small. In 2000, for example, the Russian military lost 1,310 people in Chechnya, according to official statistics.

In 2014, Ukraine accused Russia of sending troops to stop it from crushing two pro-Russian, separatist “people’s republics” in its eastern part. Regular Russian troops apparently did show up in eastern Ukraine at crucial moments of the conflict, such as when the Ukrainian military was surrounded at Ilovaysk in August and September, 2014, and when they were crushed at Debaltseve in January and February, 2015. According to the Ukrainian defense ministry, it lost 432 service members in these two battles. If the small peak of Russian casualties in 2014 indicates the Ilovaysk episode, and if about 650 deaths a year in 2012 and 2013 are standard peaceful-year numbers, Russia lost about 170 service members in the Ilovaysk intervention. The Debaltseve casualties were statistically negligible.

So clearly were the regular military’s losses in Syria, where Russia began a largely aerial operation in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in September, 2015.

When Putin came to Assad’s rescue, many Russians — including some Putin supporters — feared he might get bogged down there, as the Soviets did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviet Union lost more than 15,000 people in the 10-year war — enough for the deaths to register on most Russians’ radars. Nobel prizewinner Svetlana Aleksievich described the grief and the anger in her 1989 novel, Zinc Boys. In terms of military casualties, however, Putin’s Syrian campaign has cost his regime remarkably little, and now that the fighting is almost over, any damage to his domestic standing is highly unlikely.

The Russian military tradition — at least in the 20th century wars — wasn’t about keeping soldiers alive but about achieving goals at any price. The current numbers indicate a change — but perhaps not an entirely positive one. Under Putin, Russia fights its wars in a different way.

In Ukraine, the separatist forces, consisting of Ukrainian nationals, Russian nationalist volunteers and mercenaries, bear the brunt of the losses in a war that has already killed more than 10,000 people. In Syria, the Russian boots on the ground — as opposed to planes in the air — weren’t, for the most part, regular service members but fighters of the Wagner Group — a private military company run by Dmitri Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence lieutenant colonel. Its 6,000-strong mercenary force, not all of it Russian, has reportedly taken part in the Ukrainian action, too, including the Crimea takeover. There’s only anecdotal information about Wagner’s losses, though they would have far less political significance, of course.

As Putin increased and rearmed the Russian military, he has also embraced the concept of hybrid war, shifting much of the burden onto the shoulders of irregulars. In part thanks to that shift, Russia’s military losses in 2014, the worst of the last five years, only reached 68.8 per 100,000 — significantly less than the 88.1 service members per 100,000 the U.S. lost in 2010, the last year for which data are publicly available from the Defense Casualty Analysis System.

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Contrary to its well-established practice, the Russian defense ministry didn’t try to deny the casualty numbers after Vedomosti unearthed the tender documentation. So perhaps the leak wasn’t accidental: Putin is preparing to announce his bid for a fourth term as president, and the relatively small losses should help him show off his prowess as commander-in-chief. Still, they won’t justify Russia’s participation in the destruction of Ukraine or the human, economic and diplomatic cost that disastrous Putin decision has imposed on Russia itself.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Apple, Facebook find something to praise China for amid Internet clampdown — “The Chinese government … doing a fabulous job on that.”

December 5, 2017

WUZHEN, CHINA (REUTERS) – Top executives at Apple Inc and Facebook Inc managed to find something to praise Beijing for at an Internet conference in China this week, even as its Communist Party rulers ban Western social media and stamp on online dissent.

China’s World Internet Conference attracted the heads of Google and Apple for the first time to hear China vow to open up its Internet – just as long as it can guard cyberspace in the same way it guards its borders.

The tacit endorsement of the event by top US tech executives comes as China introduces strict new rules on censorship and data storage, causing headaches for foreign tech firms permitted to do business in China and signalling that restrictions banning others are unlikely to be lifted any time soon.

“I’d compliment the Chinese government in terms of leadership on using data,” Facebook vice-president Vaughan Smith said on Tuesday (Dec 5), citing government bodies such as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

“The Chinese government, the CAC and MIIT are doing a fabulous job on that.”

Facebook and Google are not accessible in China behind the country’s Great Firewall, along with major Western news outlets and social media sites, while Apple is subject to strict censorship. The US firm removed dozens of popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China App Store this year to comply with government requests.

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“The theme of this conference, developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits, is a vision we at Apple share,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said on Sunday. The audience cheered him twice – once when he reached the podium, and again when he bowed.

China cracks down on any sign of online criticism of the government which it sees as a threat to social stability and one-party rule.

Some embassies, business groups and foreign firms steer clear of the highly choreographed Internet event, analysts say, because of the perceived propaganda.

But diplomacy seemed to rule the day at the conference, held in the ancient scenic city of Wuzhen in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and neither Smith nor Cook addressed issues of censorship or cyber regulation.

Cook has made frequent trips to China over the past year, as the firm has looked to revive sales in the market and make a push into services that require working with local partners on data storage.

“Companies that have sent high-level delegations to this conference in Wuzhen in the past have often done so because there is some type of significant issue with their access to the market,” said an industry source familiar with the event who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

At the event itself, conference guests were treated to a bubble of uncensored Internet in hotels, including access to Google, Facebook and foreign news outlets with specialised codes handed out to guests.

In discussions on topics such as artificial intelligence and tech innovation, overseas executives generally skirted the topic of regulation, though it surfaced at times.

“More people come to Facebook than are in China,” said Facebook’s Smith at a talk on digital economy on Tuesday. “(But) I realise not everyone in the room is familiar with Facebook.”

Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd which owns Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, said that foreign tech firms wishing to enter the China market should abide by its laws.

“(Foreign companies) are determined to come. Follow the rules and laws and if you’re unhappy, leave,” said Ma. “This is not a market (where) you can come and go.”

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