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Cryptocurrency exchange sanctioned by Biden administration in effort to cut off revenue to ransomware groups

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The sanctions cut access to US markets for Suex, a cryptocurrency exchange that US officials accused of doing business with hackers behind eight types of ransomware — malicious software that locks computers.

The Treasury Department also updated its sanctions-related guidance to US businesses to “strongly discourage” firms from paying ransoms to cybercriminals. US officials worry that the multimillion-dollar extortions of major US firms have only invited more ransomware attacks from groups based in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The news comes as US officials are skeptical that Russian President Vladimir Putin will do anything to rein in cybercriminals operating from Russian soil. On Monday, a grain cooperative in Iowa became the latest US company to suffer from a ransomware intrusion at the hands of suspected Russian-speaking hackers.

Suex bills itself as an easy way to buy cryptocurrency, which is often difficult to trace, with a credit or debit card. While Suex is relatively obscure in the cryptocurrency market, the Treasury Department estimated that 40% of Suex’s transaction history is linked with illicit activity. The exchange did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

“The impact on the sanctioned exchange will be severe,” Tom Robinson, co-founder of cryptocurrency analysis firm Elliptic, told CNN. “Treasury has effectively cut the exchange off from access to the US dollar. Banks everywhere will be on alert.”

The ransomware threat gained national attention in May, when alleged Russian cybercriminals forced Colonial Pipeline, which transports some 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, to shut down for days.
Colonial Pipeline paid the hackers $4.4 million in cryptocurrency to recover the company’s data. The Justice Department seized about $2.3 million of that ransom from the hackers, but officials don’t want to see the money leaving corporate accounts in the first place.

Seeing ransomware as a national security and economic threat, President Joe Biden in June urged Putin to crack down on cybercriminals operating from Russia. However, FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said last week that there was “no indication” that Putin had done so.

On Monday, New Cooperative, a grain distributor with 60 locations in Iowa, confirmed that it was the target of a ransomware attack by a Russian-speaking group known as BlackMatter. Some cybersecurity experts believe BlackMatter is linked to the same group that breached Colonial Pipeline’s computers.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have proactively taken our systems offline to contain the threat, and we can confirm it has been successfully contained,” New Cooperative said in a statement.

The cooperative declined to comment on the size of the ransom demanded by the hackers. But Recorded Future, a Boston-based threat intelligence firm, said the hackers had demanded $5.9 million, citing transcripts of negotiations between New Cooperative and BlackMatter.

“We’re tracking the ransomware incident, but we’re not seeing particular impact [on the cooperative’s operations] at this time,” Anne Neuberger, a White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Monday. “We’re in touch with the company and working closely with them.”



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FreshKorn Cryptocurrency

Stocks rebound after Omicron plunge

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Reports of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus brought back memories of last summer when the fast-spreading Delta variant put a dent in the recovery and consumer confidence. This spooked investors on a traditionally quiet day in the market following Thanksgiving, leading to one of the worst days for stocks this year.
The Dow (INDU) logged its worst day since October 2020, while the S&P 500 (SPX) had its worst performance since February. The Nasdaq Composite (COMP) recorded its steepest fall since September.

But just as the market quickly bounced back from its Delta fears, history appears to be repeating itself: Investors are taking a breath and sensing a buying opportunity.

The market opened in the green, with all three indexes sharply higher. The Dow opened up 375 points, or 1.1%, while the S&P rose 1.2%. The Nasdaq was 1.5% higher.

Other asset classes that were battered Friday — notably oil and cryptocurrencies — also recovered.

US oil prices were up 6.7%, or almost $5, at $72.69 per barrel around the time of the stock market open. That doesn’t totally make up for Friday’s drop, but it takes back a chunk of it.

The global oil benchmark Brent was up 5.7% at $76.84 per barrel.

Bitcoin was up more than 5%.

“Investors are trying to make sense of the latest Omicron Covid strain, but at this point more seems to be unknown than known,” said analysts at Bespoke Investments. “Clouding things even more, we’re unlikely to have definitive answers in the immediate future.”



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FreshKorn Cryptocurrency

Stocks tumble as fears over new Covid-19 variant grip global markets

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US equities took a dive at the open and continued their downward path in the first half hour of trading, with the Dow more some 900 points lower. Oil prices were also badly hit.

Over the summer, the Delta variant spooked consumers and weighed on sectors like leisure and hospitality. Now investors and economists worry this new variant could do the same.

Wall Street was deep in the red early Friday, with the Dow (INDU) falling 2.5%, or about 900 points, in what is shaping up to be a volatile session. The broader S&P 500 (SPX) tumbled 1.8% and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) opened down 1.3%.

It’s a shortened trading session as the New York Stock Exchange will close at 1 pm ET after being closed Thursday for Thanksgiving. Reduced trading volume during this half-day session is also likely to exacerbate the swings in the market.

Nevertheless, it could shape up to be one of the worst days of the year for stocks.

But it’s not just stocks that are getting a beating.

Oil prices are tumbling as well. US oil futures fell 7.4%, or nearly $6, to $72.51 per barrel around the time of the stock market open. The global benchmark Brent dropped 6.8% to $76.63 per barrel.

The US dollar, measured by the ICE US Dollar Index, which pegs it against its main rivals, was down 0.6% Friday morning.

Cryptocurrencies also felt the heat, dropping across the board. Bitcoin was down nearly 7% around the time of the stock market open, according to CoinDesk data.

Meanwhile, investors are pushing into safe haven investments. The 10-year US Treasury bond got more expensive and yields fell more than 0.1 percentage points to 1.52% Friday morning. Gold prices also jumped.



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FreshKorn Cryptocurrency

‘NFT’ is Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2021, beating out ‘crypto’ and ‘cheugy’

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Written by Jack Guy, CNNLondon

“NFT,” the abbreviation of “non-fungible token,” has been named Word of the Year by dictionary publisher Collins, beating “crypto” and “cheugy” to the top spot.

An NFT is “a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible,” according to a blog post from Collins, published Wednesday.

Acting like virtual signatures, NFTs prove the authenticity of an artwork as the blockchain serves as incorruptible proof of ownership, meaning that “original” artworks and their owners can always be identified via the blockchain, even if an image or video is widely replicated.

They also provide scarcity, and as a result the digital art market has been booming.
In March, a digital artwork named “Everydays: The First 5000 days” sold for $69.3 million via Christie’s, making its creator, graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, one of the art market’s most valuable living artists.

The idea of a digital revolution is also captured in another of the dictionary’s candidates for Word of the Year: “crypto,” short for “cryptocurrency,” digital money that is challenging traditional forms of money, according to Collins.

It also named “metaverse” in its blog post, following Facebook’s announcement that it would change its corporate name to Meta.

Other selected words reflect the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with “double-vaxxed” and “hybrid working” making the shortlist.

“Climate anxiety” reflects growing concern about the damage humans are doing to the planet, while “neopronoun” is a way of referring to a person without using their name or traditional markers of gender, such as “he” and “she.” Collins gives “xe,” “ze” and “ve” as examples of neopronouns.

Rounding out the shortlist are “Regencycore,” which is defined as a fashion aesthetic inspired by the Georgian-era clothing seen in the Netflix show “Bridgerton,” and “cheugy,” which is used to say that something is out of date or uncool.

In 2020, Collins named “lockdown” its Word of the Year, for obvious reasons, and, earlier this month, Oxford Languages made “vax” its pick for 2021.

Defined as “a colloquialism meaning either vaccine or vaccination as a noun and vaccinate as a verb,” vax was relatively rare until this year, the company, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, said.

In September, vax appeared more than 72 times more frequently than the year before, said Oxford Languages, which analyzes news content to track changes in the English language.



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