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The bizarre story of the inventor of ransomware

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The disc was one of 20,000 sent in the mail to attendees of the World Health Organization’s AIDS conference in Stockholm, and Willems’ boss had asked him to check what was on it.

Willems was expecting to see medical research when the disc’s contents loaded. Instead he became a victim of the first act of ransomware — more than 30 years before the ransomware attack on the US Colonial Pipeline ignited a gas shortage in parts of the US last week.

A few days after inserting the disc, Willems’ computer locked and a message appeared demanding that he send $189 in an envelope to a PO Box in Panama. “I didn’t pay the ransom or lose any data because I figured out how to reverse the situation,” he told CNN Business.

He was one of the lucky ones: Some people lost their life’s work.

“I started to get calls from medical institutions and organizations asking how I got around it,” said Willems, who is now a cybersecurity expert at G Data, which developed the world’s first commercial antivirus solution in 1987. “The incident created a lot of damage back in those days. People lost a lot of work. It was not a marginal thing — it was a big thing, even then.”

This disc was one of 20,000 sent in the mail to attendees of the World Health Organization's AIDS conference in Stockholm
The scheme made headlines and appeared in Virus Bulletin, a security magazine for professionals, a month later: “While the conception is ingenious and extremely devious, the actual programming is quite untidy,” the analysis said. Although it was a pretty basic malware, it was the first time many people had ever heard of the concept — or of digital extortion. It’s unclear if any people or organizations paid the ransom.

The floppy discs were sent to addresses all over the world obtained from a mailing list. Law enforcement traced the effort to a PO box owned by a Harvard-taught evolutionary biologist named Joseph Popp, who was conducting AIDS research at the time.

He was arrested and charged with multiple counts of blackmail, and is widely credited with being the inventor of ransomware, according to security news website CSOnline.com.

“Even to this day, no one really knows why he did this,” said Willems, noting how costly and time intensive it would have been to mail that number of floppy discs to so many people. “He was very influenced by something. Perhaps someone else was involved — as a biologist, how did he have money to pay for all of those discs? Was he angry about the research? Nobody knows.”

Some reports indicate Popp had been rejected by WHO for a job opportunity.
Eddy Willems with his original floppy disc with ransomware from 1989
After his arrest at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, Popp was sent back to the United States and imprisoned. He allegedly told authorities he had planned to donate the ransom money to AIDS research. His attorneys also argued he was not fit to stand trial; he reportedly wore condoms on his nose and curlers in his beard to prove he was unwell, according to journalist Alina Simone. (A judge ruled in his favor.) Popp died in 2007.
The case became a big discussion point, and the legacy of his crime persists to this day. The US Justice Department recently said 2020 was “the worst year to date for ransomware attacks.” Security experts believe ransomware attacks against both corporations and individuals will continue to grow because they’re easy to execute, hard to trace and victims can be exploited out of a lot of money.
Ransomware typically wreaks havoc on computer systems either after someone clicks on a malicious link and unknowingly installs software or from a vulnerability on an outdated server.
Ransomware took down the Colonial Pipeline. You could be at risk too
One of the biggest problems about ransomware nowadays is that ransoms are often paid with cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin, which is exchanged anonymously and not traceable. While most large-scale ransomware activity stems from organized crime groups — as is the case with the US pipeline — Popp seemed to have acted alone.

“More than an actual criminal mastermind, he was what you would classify as a ‘lone actor’ as opposed to an organized crime syndicate or state sponsored actor,” said Michela Menting, a research director at market research firm ABI Research. “His motivations appeared to be quite personal. … He obviously had strong feelings about AIDS and AIDS research.”

While the reasons for his act are unknown, Popp made a big effort to clear his name and moved on to other pursuits, Menting said. He self-published a self-help book called “Popular Evolution,” for instance, in which he advocated that the marriage age be lowered and young women focus their lives on birthing children.
Before his death, Popp created The Joseph L. Popp, Jr. Butterfly Conservatory in upstate New York. The conservatory did not respond to a request for comment.

The floppy disc, now a piece of security history and likely one of the few left in the world, hangs on Willems’ living room wall.

“A museum offered me $1,000 for it, but I’ve decided to keep it,” he said.



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FreshKorn Cryptocurrency

Dow plummets more than 500 points as volatility returns to stock market

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The Dow fell more than 530 points Friday, a drop of around 1.6%. It was a broad-based selloff, with all 30 Dow stocks finishing in the red. Intel (INTC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Walgreens (WBA) were among the biggest decliners.

The Dow is now on a five-day losing streak, falling nearly 3.5% this week. That’s the worst weekly pullback since late January.

Bullard, who does not have a say on the Fed’s policy committee this year but will have a vote in 2022, also said in the interview that the Fed is also starting to discuss the idea of tapering, or cutting back, its bond purchases.
Wall Street is worried about inflation. But investors are also nervous about the Fed taking away the stimulus it injected into the market during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is more future volatility ahead,” said Bruce Monrad, portfolio manager of Northeast Investors Trust. “It should increase as the Fed starts to think about raising rates and once it starts tapering.”

These market gyrations could become more routine, which may alarm investors who have gotten used to more calm on Wall Street.

It’s actually been an unusually quiet first half of 2021 — despite the craziness with meme stocks like AMC (AMC) and GameStop (GME) and the big moves in bitcoin (XBT) and other cryptocurrencies.
This cannabis stock is a new Reddit favorite
If you look at the broader stock market, and the VIX (VIX) volatility index in particular, 2021 has been serene for investors.

“Volatility has been very low because the market overall supported by improving earnings,” said Marco Pirondini, head of equity at Amundi US. “But there is always some speculation in other corners of the market.”

The VIX, which many investors refer to as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” is now hovering around the pre-pandemic levels of February 2020. It’s been steadily declining since peaking in March of last year. The VIX has fallen nearly 15% in 2021.

But the VIX spiked about 10% Friday, and some experts warn that the summer and latter half of 2021 could be a bit bumpier than the first six months of the year.

“When you look at the VIX, it’s eerily quiet. But that’s a little bit misleading,” said Darren Schuringa, CEO and founder of ASYMmetric ETFs, which runs a fund designed to lower investor risk.

Schuringa said he’s worried about the “speculative excess” in the meme stocks as well as in the tech sector and thinks that a broader market correction could be on the horizon.

It’s also clear, as Friday’s market pullback illustrates, that investors are hyperfocused on every little thing the Fed says about interest rates, tapering, inflation and the economy.

“I’m concerned about volatility in the second half of year. There is less room for error,” said Daniela Mardarovici, co-head of US multisector fixed income at Macquarie Investment Management. “Even a mild surprise from the Fed could create an aftershock.”

Still, it’s worth noting that volatility, while rising lately, remains relatively low. Measures of volatility for oil and interest rates have tumbled in recent months, along with the VIX.

“We could see some hiccups ahead. But it’s still pretty calm,” said Bill Sterling, global strategist with GW&K Investment Management.

Investors may also be overreacting to every utterance by Fed members. After all, Bullard is just one person, who doesn’t even have a vote until next year. The remaining Fed members still don’t think a rate hike is imminent.

“Big changes from the Fed are likely still years away. This volatility might be transitory but it will rear its head every now and then because of more uncertainty,” said Marvin Loh, senior global macro strategist with State Street Global Markets.



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Dow plummets 500 points as volatility returns to stock market

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The Dow fell 500 points in late morning trading Friday, a drop of around 1.5%. It was a broad-based selloff, with 29 of the 30 Dow stocks in the red. Caterpillar (CAT) was the only winner while Intel (INTC), Goldman Sachs (GS), American Express (AXP) and Walgreens (WBA) posted the biggest drops.

The Dow is now on pace for its fifth straight day of losses, falling more than 3% this week.

Bullard, who does not have a say on the Fed’s policy committee this year but will have a vote in 2022, also said in the interview that the Fed is also starting to discuss the idea of tapering, or cutting back, its bond purchases.
Wall Street is worried about inflation. But investors are also nervous about the Fed taking away the stimulus it injected into the market during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is more future volatility ahead,” said Bruce Monrad, portfolio manager of Northeast Investors Trust. “It should increase as the Fed starts to think about raising rates and once it starts tapering.”

These market gyrations could become more routine, which may alarm investors who have gotten used to more calm on Wall Street.

It’s actually been an unusually quiet first half of 2021 — despite the craziness with meme stocks like AMC (AMC) and GameStop (GME) and the big moves in bitcoin (XBT) and other cryptocurrencies.
This cannabis stock is a new Reddit favorite
If you look at the broader stock market, and the VIX (VIX) volatility index in particular, 2021 has been serene for investors.

“Volatility has been very low because the market overall supported by improving earnings,” said Marco Pirondini, head of equity at Amundi US. “But there is always some speculation in other corners of the market.”

The VIX, which many investors refer to as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” is now hovering around the pre-pandemic levels of February 2020. It’s been steadily declining since peaking in March of last year. The VIX has fallen nearly 15% in 2021.

But the VIX spiked more than 10% Friday morning, and some experts warn that the summer and latter half of 2021 could be a bit bumpier than the first six months of the year.

“When you look at the VIX, it’s eerily quiet. But that’s a little bit misleading,” said Darren Schuringa, CEO and founder of ASYMmetric ETFs, which runs a fund designed to lower investor risk.

Schuringa said he’s concerned about the “speculative excess” in the meme stocks as well as in the tech sector and thinks that a broader market correction could be on the horizon.



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Con Artists Capitalizing On Cryptocurrency Craze – CBS Miami

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