We are familiar with the way corporate executives are perfectly willing to break the law (and pay a fine: no on ever goes to jail, and the company pays for the fines) if it increases profits, particularly if the fines (if any) are but a fraction of the profit realized. (See earlier post today and Jamie Dimon’s secret meetings)
So why would a corporation hesitate to use ransomware against its competitors? … [crickets] …
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports in Motherboard:
Ransomware—computer viruses that lock a victim’s files and demand a payment to get them back—has become so common that experts believe it’s now an “epidemic.”
Security experts have always assumed that ransomware hackers are in it for the ransom. But a shocking claim made by one ransomware agent suggests there may be another motive: corporate sabotage.
In an exchange with a security researcher pretending to be a victim, one ransomware agent claimed they were working for a Fortune 500 company.
“We are hired by [a] corporation to cyber disrupt day-to-day business of their competition,” the customer support agent of a ransomware known as Jigsaw said, according to a new report by security firm F-Secure.
Ransomware is an attractive endeavor for cybercriminals. By asking for relatively low amounts of money from victims—as low as $150 or $400—it has a high rate of success. And by targeting thousands of internet users indiscriminately, it scales really well. But if this operator’s statements are true, it seems like a gang of cybercriminals has found a new way to get paid twice: once by ransom, and once by companies to disrupt their competitors.
The operator thought they were talking to just another ransomware victim, but it was actually an F-Secure researcher posing as “Christine Walters,” a fake persona of a 40-year-old from Finland who knows little about computers and nothing about ransomware.
F-Secure researchers used “her” to contact the operators and support agents of several ransomware families. (Ransomware operations now commonly have “support portals” where victims can get help to understand how to unlock files or use bitcoin to pay for the ransom).
In their exchanges, the ransomware agent told “Christine,” that they were surprised she got infected because their operation was targeting specific victims chosen by a corporate client.
“I don’t even know how you got it,” the agent said. “Never have we done anything in Finland.”
The agent never gives too many details, just tantalizing hints. At one point, they say that “the purpose was just to lock files to delay a corporation’s production time to allow our clients to introduce a similar product into the market first.”
“Yes, big name corporation. Fortune 500 company. What I still don’t understand is that the target is in the USA and you and another person in Finland got the email and the client always gives us the contact emails so you are on someone’s mailing list,” the agent told “Christine,” according to F-Secure.
I tried reaching out to the agent via email, but didn’t get an answer for days. When I prodded them again for an interview, I simply got a short response: “I decline. Thank you.”
The agent’s claim that the gang was getting paid by a corporate client to target a specific organization is unprecedented, according to F-Secure.
“If this indeed was a case where ransomware was used on purpose to disrupt a competitor’s operation, it’s the only case we know of,” Mikko Hypponen, the chief research officer at F-secure, told me in an email.
In their last message with “Christine,” the agent says . . .
I wracked my brain to remember this—I recalled a long article in the New Yorker about club date musicians, but then I remembered Google.
New York-area club date musicians play from memory, often drawing on repertoires spanning fifty years of popular music to produce arrangements on the spot. Impressive as their skills are, though, they occupy an ambivalent position: their art must be background, never overshadowing the event, whether a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or a debutante ball. Their artistic and musical skills, finely tuned for club date gigs, are rarely even noticed, much less remarked upon, by their audiences.
Club Date Musicians is a pioneering ethnomusicological portrait focusing on the three hundred to five hundred New York musicians whose primary income is derived from playing private parties. Interviewing more than a hundred musicians and observing more than forty performances, Bruce MacLeod lets the musicians speak for themselves.
MacLeod examines the relation of audience to performer, the ensembles’ social and musical organization, the musicians’ economic and social status, and the process of change within the musical culture. The reader will discover why New York club date musicians don’t use written music, how rock and roll has affected the occupation, and why the stereotypical picture of the bored, inept club date performer is unfair.
It was fascinating reading.
Somehow I’m reminded of the scene of the comics sitting around a diner table in Carnegie Delicatessen, their stories acting as the frame for one of Woody Allen’s good movies, Broadway Danny Rose, talking about the old days, how many venues were available in New York and just over the river in New Jersey. They were bemoaning how many had closed, and one said his last dates had been in Philadelphia and then in Baltimore. “To be a comic today,” he said, “you have to have a good set of tires.”
I wonder what the club date scene is like today.
Broadway Danny Rose is, I think, a movie about forgiveness.
I do not agree with Tim Kaine, possibly our next VP, that banks should be even less regulated than they are now. Even with the current levels of regulation, we see much criminal activity on Wall Street. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
A mere three months after JPMorgan Chase and three of its competitors (Citicorp, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland) pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to rig foreign currency trading and paid criminal fines totaling over $2.5 billion, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, began meeting in secret with his competitors in the asset management field.
On February 1 of this year, the Financial Times reported that “secret summits” had been held beginning in August 2015 between “asset management bosses” including Jamie Dimon, Abby Johnson of Fidelity, Larry Fink of BlackRock, and Tim Armour of Capital Group. The article went on to report that Dimon and Warren Buffett had convened the sessions at JPMorgan’s headquarters in New York to discuss “a statement of best practice on corporate governance.”
Secret meetings between competitors, regardless of what they are said to be discussing, is a serious no-no under U.S. antitrust law. A company like JPMorgan Chase, that was charged by the U.S. Justice Department in 2014 with two deferred prosecution felony counts for its egregious conduct in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and hit again the next year with the felony count in the foreign currency conspiracy is skating on very thin ice. (It should be noted that under Jamie Dimon’s leadership, JPMorgan Chase received its only felony counts in the bank’s century old history. That should tell the public something about how things have changed in American banking culture.)
Two trial lawyers, Helen Davis Chaitman and Lance Gotthoffer, have written a book and set up a web site to call the public’s attention to JPMorgan’s mob-like activity. The lawyers write: “In the past four years alone, JPMorgan Chase has paid out $35,735,254,670 in fines and settlements for fraudulent and illegal practices.” In one chapter of the book, they compare JPMorgan Chase to the Gambino crime family and recommend that it be prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
If these meetings were genuinely about crafting “best practice on corporate governance” why did they commence in secret? Why were they not commenced at one of the official financial industry trade associations like the Financial Services Forum or the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), which says it is “the voice of the nation’s securities industry.”
According to guidelines published by various trade associations and law firms, the following rules must be followed when . . .
Joshua Sokol reports in Quanta:
en physicists announced in February that they had detected gravitational waves firsthand, the foundations of physics scarcely rattled. The signal exactly matched the expectations physicists had arrived at after a century of tinkering with Einstein’s theory of general relativity. “There is a question: Can you do fundamental physics with it? Can you do things beyond the standard model with it?” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical physicist at Stanford University. “And most people think the answer to that is no.”
Asimina Arvanitaki is not one of those people. A theoretical physicist at Ontario’s Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Arvanitaki has been dreaming up ways to use black holes to explore nature’s fundamental particles and forces since 2010, when she published a paper with Dimopoulos, her mentor from graduate school, and others. Together, they sketched out a “string axiverse,” a pantheon of as yet undiscovered, weakly interacting particles. Axions such as these have long been a favored candidate to explain dark matter and other mysteries.
In the intervening years, Arvanitaki and her colleagues have developed the idea through successive papers. But February’s announcement marked a turning point, where it all started to seem possible to test these ideas. Studying gravitational waves from the newfound population of merging black holes would allow physicists to search for those axions, since the axions would bind to black holes in what Arvanitaki describes as a “black hole atom.”
“When it came up, we were like, ‘Oh my god, we’re going to do it now, we’re going to look for this,’” she said. “It’s a whole different ball game if you actually have data.”
That’s Arvanitaki’s knack: matching what she calls “well-motivated,” field-hopping theoretical ideas with the precise experiment that could probe them. “By thinking away from what people are used to thinking about, you see that there is low-hanging fruit that lie in the interfaces,” she said. At the end of April, she was named the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s Aristarchus Chair at the Perimeter Institute, the first woman to hold a research chair there.
It’s a long way to come for someone raised in the small Grecian village of Koklas, where the graduating class at her high school — at which both of her parents taught — consisted of nine students. Quanta Magazine spoke with Arvanitaki about her plan to use black holes as particle detectors. An edited and condensed version of those discussions follows.
QUANTA MAGZINE: When did you start to think that black holes might be good places to look for axions?
ASIMINA ARVANITAKI: When we were writing the axiverse paper, Nemanja Kaloper, a physicist who is very good in general relativity, came and told us, “Hey, did you know there is this effect in general relativity called superradiance?” And we’re like, “No, this cannot be, I don’t think this happens. This cannot happen for a realistic system. You must be wrong.” And then he eventually convinced us that this could be possible, and then we spent like a year figuring out the dynamics.
What is superradiance, and how does it work?
An astrophysical black hole can rotate. There is a region around it called the “ergo region” where even light has to rotate. Imagine I take a piece of matter and throw it in a trajectory that goes through the ergo region. Now imagine you have some explosives in the matter, and it breaks apart into pieces. Part of it falls into the black hole and part escapes into infinity. The piece that is coming out has more total energy than the piece that went in the black hole.
You can perform the same experiment by scattering radiation from a black hole. Take an electromagnetic wave pulse, scatter it from the black hole, and you see that the pulse you got back has a higher amplitude.
So you can send a pulse of light near a black hole in such a way that it would take some energy and angular momentum from the black hole’s spin?
This is old news, by the way, this is very old news. In ’72 Press and Teukolsky wrote a Nature paper that suggested the following cute thing. Let’s imagine you performed the same experiment as the light, but now imagine that you have the black hole surrounded by a giant mirror. What will happen in that case is the light will bounce on the mirror many times, the amplitude [of the light] grows exponentially, and the mirror eventually explodes due to radiation pressure. They called it the black hole bomb.
The property that allows light to do this is that light is made of photons, and photons are bosons — particles that can sit in the same space at the same time with the same wave function. Now imagine that you have another boson that has a mass. It can [orbit] the black hole. The particle’s mass acts like a mirror, because it confines the particle in the vicinity of the black hole.
In this way, axions might get stuck around a black hole?
This process requires that the size of the particle is comparable to the black hole size. Turns out that [axion] mass can be anywhere from Hubble scale — with a quantum wavelength as big as the universe — or you could have a particle that’s tiny in size.
So if they exist, axions can bind to black holes with a similar size and mass. What’s next? . . .
Kevin Drum blogs in Mother Jones:
Here’s another chart to prepare you for Donald Trump’s speech tonight. It shows the number of police fatalities since the violent crime peak of 1993. For 2016, I’ve extrapolated from the number of fatalities through today. As you can see, there’s nothing scary here. The number is down from two decades ago and basically flat over the five years.
I think we’re starting to see what sort of things Goldman Sachs was purchasing with those extremely generous speaking fees paid to Clinton: picking Tim Kaine as VP is a big present to Wall Street (and bad news for Federal regulators such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). I’m sure Wall Street views the money they gave to Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation a bargain if they get deregulation for that price.
Note this article by Zach Carter in the Huffington Post:
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is on Hillary Clinton’s short list of potential vice presidential nominees. He’s also actively pushing bank deregulation this week as he campaigns for the job.
Kaine signed two letters on Monday urging federal regulators to go easy on banks ― one to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is believed to be weighing Kaine among a handful of other potential VP choices. Her pick is widely viewed in Washington as a sign of her governing intentions. The former secretary of state has spent weeks attempting to woo progressive supporters of vanquished primary challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Choosing from one of the handful of names on her short list ― Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) or Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), for instance ― would signal that her camp is taking progressive concerns seriously.
Kaine, by contrast, is setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party. He has championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that both Sanders and Warren oppose, and he is now publicly siding with bank deregulation advocates at the height of Clinton’s veepstakes.
The big bank letter would help major firms including Capital One, PNC Bank and U.S. Bank, all of which control hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Such large “regional banks,” Kaine writes, are being discriminated against based solely on the fact that they are so big.
In a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg, Kaine argues that . . .
Also, Zaid Jilani reports in The Intercept:
Hillary Clinton’s rumored vice presidential pick Sen. Tim Kaine defended his vote for fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Thursday.
Kaine, who spoke to The Intercept after an event at a Northern Virginia mosque, praised the agreement as an improvement of the status quo, but maintained that he had not yet decided how to vote on final approval of the agreement. By contrast, Hillary Clinton has qualified her previous encouragement of the agreement, and now says she opposes it.
Kaine’s measured praise of the agreement could signal one of two things. Either he is out of the running for the vice presidential spot, as his position on this major issue stands in opposition to hers. Or, by picking him, Clinton is signaling that her newly declared opposition to the agreement is not sincere. The latter explanation would confirm the theory offered by U.S. Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue, among others, who has said that Clinton is campaigning against the TPP for political reasons but would ultimately implement the deal.
With only hours to go before Clinton announced her pick, Kaine was unabashed in defending his vote. “Fast track was to give President Obama the same tools to negotiate a trade deal that every president since Gerald Ford has had, and of course I voted for that,” Kaine said. “Why would I not give to this president the same tools to negotiate a trade deal that other presidents have had?”
Fast track powers allow the president to submit the agreement to Congress for an up or down vote without any changes. Fast track was widely viewed as necessary for assuring final passage of the agreement, and few Democrats supported authorizing those powers for Obama for the TPP. Only 28 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats voted in favor of fast track.
Kaine explained that now that the final agreement has been reached in international negotiations, he is weighing whether or not to vote for it.
“I am having discussions with groups around Virginia about the treaty itself. I see much in it to like. I think it’s an upgrade of labor standards. I think it’s an upgrade of environmental standards, I think it’s an upgrade in intellectual property protections,” he explained. “I do see at least right now that there is one element that I do have some very significant concerns about. And that is the dispute resolution mechanism. And I’ve got a lot of concerns about that. So I have no idea about when a vote would be because the majority will make that decision. And I’m not in the majority. But long before there would be a vote on that I’m trying to climb the learning curve on the areas where I have questions. So again, much of it I see I think as a significant improvement over the status quo. The dispute resolution mechanism I still have some significant concerns about.”
The dispute resolution provisions Kaine is referring to would expand the corporate right to sue governments over alleged violations of the TPP. Many fear that it infringes on national sovereignty. . .