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Department of Justice Abandoning Hacking Charges Against NOAA Employee

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Last October, Sherry Chen was brought up on very serious hacking charges. The government alleged that in 2012, Chen had illegally accessed data from the National Inventory of Dams. The NID is an Army Corps of Engineers database which records information about the structural integrity, as well as other safety information, about all the 87,000 dams in the United States. Until relatively recently, parts of the database was publicly accessible.

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NOAA_logo.svgThe charges against Chen stemmed from her having sent files from the database to Jiao Yong, an employee of the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources. She had met Yong while on vacation with her family in 2012. Chen moved to the United States in 1992 and became a naturalized citizen, going onto become a respected member of her field of hydrology. One of the e-mails she exchanged with Yong would raise a red flag in any investigator’s mind though it is not particularly evidence-laden.

It was very glad to meet you in Beijing after so many years and impressed with your achievement and contribution to the nation in water resources development and management. […] I am back home now and have been looking for the dam-related information you are interested [in.]

Sherry Chen Receiving an Award for "development and implementation into operations of a new hydraulic model used to produce lifesaving river forecasts for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during 2011 record flooding" -- Courtesy NWAS.org

Sherry Chen (lower left) Receiving an Award for “development and implementation into operations of a new hydraulic model used to produce lifesaving river forecasts for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during 2011 record flooding” // Courtesy NWAS.org

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The trouble with the government’s case, of course, is that Chen never sent anything the Chinese official could not have publicly gotten. Investigators seem to have been closing a logic loop of their own accord, by connecting an unidentified breach of the database to Chen without ever confirming that she, in fact, had broken the law or gone outside her job description. Perhaps this is why they’ve decided not to pursue the case, a rare occurrence in federal prosecutions since it takes a lot for them to get involved in the first place. On the surface, and given the e-mail discovery quoted above, it may have seemed to federal prosecutors like they had a grand slam on their hands, when all they had was a foul ball.

Also read: US Still Convinced North Korea Attacked Sony

Chinese Hacking a Continuing Concern for US Government

As Hacked recently reported, officials throughout the government are on the watch for Chinese penetrations. China has a staggering army of hackers dedicated to stealing everything from sensitive military records to trade secrets, business plans, blueprints, and business communications. China has a booming economy to support its growing world hegemony and has not been shy about wielding its economic power in order to gain political power in nations in need.

But in the case of Sherry Chen, a naturalized citizen who seems to cherish her job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, investigators were simply off-base. At the time of her arrest, the FBI said:

U.S. Attorney Stewart commended FBI and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Security who are jointly investigating this case. Assistant United States Attorney Dwight Keller is representing the government, in this case.

But now that the charges have been dropped (presumably because the government was sure it would lose the case), the FBI is saying nothing on the matter. No apology required? The damage done to the hydrologist’s career is virtually irreversible, and she is asking to be reinstated immediately. If NOAA grants her request, she will likely receive back-pay.

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Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet

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Uber Technologies Inc. has reportedly paid hackers to delete scores of private data stolen from the company in a security breach that was concealed for over a year. The revelation provides further confirmation that, when it comes to cyber security, crime does pay.

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Massive Data Breach

According to Bloomberg Technology, hackers retrieved the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers at some point last year. Nobody heard about it because the rideshare company paid the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet. A purge at the front office of Uber also ensured that the massive cyber breach was kept under wraps.

The compromised data was from October 2016 and included the names, phone numbers and addressed of 50 million Uber riders globally. About seven million drivers had their personal information accessed as well.

At the time of the cyber attack, Uber was inundated with a slew of legal issues stemming from alleged privacy violations. Rather than shine even more negative spotlight on the company, Uber executives decided to pay hackers to stay quiet.

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“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in September, said in a statement that was published by Bloomberg. “We are changing the way we do business.”

Hackers have done a masterful job infiltrating companies and governments in recent years. As a reminder, recent cyber attacks levied against Yahoo!, Target Corp and Equifax Inc. dwarf Uber’s 57 million compromised accounts.

Various reports indicate that cyber attacks are bleeding the global economy dry. One report, issued by the World Economic Forum, suggests that cyber crime cost the world economy $445 billion in 2016. If cyber crime were its own market cap, it would exceed Microsoft Inc., Facebook Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp

The Fall of Uber?

Uber revolutionized the ride-hailing business over the span of seven years by giving more power to the consumer. Several missteps later, the company finds itself in legal hot water, with its future appearing less certain than it did just one year ago.

The rideshare company faces at least five U.S. probes ranging from bribes to illicit software and right up to unethical pricing schemes. According to another Bloomberg report, Uber is under investigation for violating price transparency regulations, not to mention the alleged theft of documents for Google’s autonomous cars.

Some governments are sensing weakness in the ride-hailing service, and are moving toward banning the Uber app entirely. London is the most prominent example of a city that has taken definitive steps to outlaw the service over a “lack of corporate responsibility.”

Even with its legal troubles, Uber is a revolutionary technology that has influenced a bevy of other innovations aimed at improving the human experience.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility

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Digital currency Ethereum climbed to a two-month high on Monday, taking some of the heat off Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, which have slumped since the weekend.

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Ethereum Forges Higher Path

Concerns over Bitcoin created a favourable tailwind for Ethereum (ETH/USD), which is the world’s No. 2 digital currency by total assets. Ether’s price topped $340.00 on Monday and later settled at $323.54. That was the highest since June 20.

At its peak, ether was up 10% on the day and 70% for the month of August.

The ETH/USD was last down 2.2% at $315.02, according to Bitfinex. Prices are due for a brisk recovery, based on the daily momentum indicators.

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Fractured Bitcoin Community

Bitcoin and its offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, retreated on Monday following a volatile weekend. The BTC/USD slumped at the start of the week and was down more than 3% on Tuesday, with prices falling below $3,900.00. Just last week, Bitcoin was trading at new records near $4,500.00.

Bitcoin Cash, which emerged after the Aug. 1 hard fork, climbed to new records on Saturday, but has been in free-fall ever since. The BTH was down another 20% on Tuesday to $594.49, according to CoinMarketCap. Its total market value has dropped by several billion over the past two days.

Analysts say that a “fractured” Bitcoin community has made Ethereum a more attractive bet this week. The ether token has shown remarkable poise over the past seven days, despite trading well shy of a new record.

Other drivers behind Ethereum’s advance are steady demand from South Korean investors and growing confidence in a smooth upgrade for the the ETH network. The upgrade, which has been dubbed “Metropolis,” is expected in the next several weeks. Its key benefits include tighter transaction privacy and greater efficiency.

Ethereum Prices Unaffected by ICO Heist

Fin-tech developer Enigma was on the receiving end of a cyber-heist on Monday after hackers took over the company’s website, mailing list and instant messaging platforms. The hack occurred three weeks before Enigma’s planned Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for September 11.

In addition to defacing the company’s website, the hackers pushed a special “pre-sale” ahead of the ICO. While many users realized it was a scam, 1,492 ether tokens – valued at $495,000 – were directed into the hackers’ cryptocurrency wallet by unsuspecting backers.

The irony in all this is that Engima is a cryptography company that prides itself on top-notch security protocols. The company issued a statement that its servers had not been compromised.

ETH/USD (Bitfinex)

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Ethereum Prices on Track for 35% Monthly Drop

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It has been a difficult month for ethereum. The world’s No. 2 digital currency has lost a third of its value over the past 30 days following a series of cyber breaches targeting vulnerable wallets and ICOs.

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Ethereum Struggles to Regain Momentum

Ethereum (ETH/USD) was trading near $197.00 Sunday at 6:30 BST, according to Bitfinex. That represents a decline of around 5%. At current values, ethereum’s market cap was $18.4 billion.

The ETH/USD exchange rate has struggled throughout July, with prices briefly falling below $160.00. The decline, which amounted to a 60-day low, lured bargain-hunters back into the market. After surging back toward $250.00, the ETH/USD has consolidated below the $220-mark, which continues to offer strong resistance. On the opposite side of the spectrum, major support is located at $180.00.

A price recovery may prove elusive in the short-term, with the Relative Strength Index (RSI) and Stochastic indicator signalling weak underlying momentum.

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Despite its recent decline, ethereum’s value has surged more than 2,200% this year.

Cyber Attacks, SEC Weigh on Market

The ethereum network suffered a large-scale cyber breach earlier this month resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars. A community of ethical hackers quickly banded together to “rescue” hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tokens.

Blockchain-based trading platform Coindash was also hijacked during an initial coin offering (ICO). The breach exposed Coindash’s ether wallet address, resulting in the loss of $7 million worth of ether.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also taken an interest in the ethereum-based ICO market. Last week, the regulator concluded that a certain multi-million dollar token sale last year violated securities law. Although ICOs have been compared to crowd-sourcing, the SEC maintained that some tokens were in fact securities.

Analysts say the SEC ruling could impact the future of ICOs, although it remains unclear how the regulator is pursuing this market. The SEC’s July 25 press release cautions investors about ICOs in general.

ETH/USD (Bitfinex)


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