Leaked emails available at WikiLeaks have revealed a scheme thought up by Saudi Arabia to simply buy Hacking Team outright, rather than continue to pay the outlandish costs for their services. Between 2013 and early 2014, several e-mails were exchanged with the Italian security professionals, who now have a proven history of aiding governments guilty of human rights violations, something they’d previously denied.
Syrian-born investor Wafic Said is a close friend of the Saudi royal family and initiated the potential purchase through his company Safinvest. Several e-mails in the Wikileaks Hacking Team dump refer to a letter of intent, signed by the major principals of Safinvest, which never appeared to materialize. Wafic Said was overly apologetic in one such e-mail, saying:
I have spoken to Ian and to William Heard and can assure you that everyone is doing their utmost to proceed with the due diligence as quickly and diligently as possible. However, it is not their fault if it is difficult to find suitable auditors to carry out the due diligence within such a short time-frame. There are few international auditors and one should accept that they are often very busy. You must have faith and trust me.
In the middle of November, 2013, Hacking Team very much believed they were soon to cash out for 37 million Euros. In this e-mail, they assured Safinvest employee Charles Stauffer that things were going fine. Hacking Team CEO David Vinzencetti wrote:
[…] Despite the fact that the two VCs have not signed the LOI [letter of intent] yet —due to mere internal bureaucracy reasons—, they definitely are in the process of signing such a document and they have formally assured me that they are totally “behind me”. All the other shareholders have duly signed.
The deal appears to have fallen through in early 2014 when a new Saudi intelligence chief was installed. Another search term that yields plentiful results at the Hacking Team dump is “halo,” the name the Saudis intended to give the new company.
One thing that cannot be denied, sifting through the massive trove of leaked e-mails, is that Hacking Team most certainly did service the Saudi state.
Emails in May, 2012 detail the firm going to Riyadh on Saudi funds for reasons not disclosed. Two email addresses were used: [email protected] and [email protected]. The person writing to Hacking Team explicitly stated that they do not use e-mail for such sensitive communication, but that they could communicate via the Saudi embassy in Italy or in Washington.
that is pleasure to us too. our embassy will contact you for the visa. and i will send for you the tickets. the embassy not authorized to discuss any thing with you. they just know that you will be a vip guests for the Royal Court.
The Saudi government is well-known for putting people to death for speaking out against it, and Hacking Team’s tools could very well have been used to such an end. As late as 2015, it appears Hacking Team had ongoing interactions with the Saudi Royal Family, with H.E. Saud Al-Qahtani, an officer of the Royal Court, contacting them in late June in his capacity for “media monitoring” and more.
[…] we here at the Center for Media Monitoring and Analysis at the Saudi Royal Court ( THE King Office) would like to be in productive cooperation with you and develop a long and strategic partnership.
I would like you to be so kind as to send us the complete list of services that your esteemed company offers, in addition to their prices, all explained in detail, as soon as possible please.
You may contact me by Telegram or Threema on my private mobile […]
Then, in July, as you know, Hacking Team was compromised in a big way. There’s no telling whether they’re still doing business with repressive governments or not. Speaking to CSO Online, Hacking Team spokesman Eric Rabe said, “If our technology is sold to a repressive regime it does not automatically mean it will be used to terrorize dissidents and repress democracy.”
Featured image from Shutterstock.
Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet
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.
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.
“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.
Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility
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.
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.
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.
Ethereum Prices on Track for 35% Monthly Drop
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.
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.
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.
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