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Ransomware: US financial institutions report major increase in payments to cybercriminals

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The data “indicates that ransomware is an increasing threat to the U.S. financial sector, businesses, and the public,” says the report from Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

The report comes as the Biden administration has looked for multiple ways to cut off revenue streams for Russian-speaking ransomware groups that have extorted millions of dollars from major US companies. President Joe Biden asked Russian President Vladimir Putin in June to crack down on cybercriminals operating from Russian soil; US officials are waiting to see if Moscow will take any substantive action.

The Treasury data comprises so-called Suspicious Activity Reports that financial institutions are required to file within 30 days of detecting cases of suspected money laundering or fraud. They cover suspected ransomware-related payments that banks and other businesses are aware of involving themselves or their customers.

“If current trends continue, SARs filed in 2021 are projected to have a higher ransomware-related transaction value than SARs filed in the previous 10 years combined,” the report states.

US calls on Russia to do more to crack down on ransomware groups as White House hosts meeting with allies

The total value of ransomware-related Suspicious Activity Reports filed during the first six months of 2021 was $590 million (some of those transactions occurred in 2020), compared with $416 million reported in 2020. The increase in reported payments may be due to both the swell in ransomware attacks and the greater awareness of threats and detection tools that organizations have, the report said.

The Treasury report “underscores the pervasiveness of ransomware and how it affects numerous facets of the US economy,” Amy Chang, head of risk and response at cyber insurance firm Resilience, told CNN.

The report, she added, “provides valuable insight for cybersecurity practitioners to utilize, from threat hunting to data modeling to considerations around ransom payments.”

After a string of ransomware attacks in recent months on US critical infrastructure, the issue has become a top economic and national security priority for the Biden administration.

The White House this week convened a 30-country virtual summit to try to hash out more effective ways to track and prosecute ransomware gangs. Russia was notably absent. The US has tried to pressure Moscow to curb ransomware attacks in bilateral talks.

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In the meantime, US agencies have looked for other ways to slow down ransomware groups. Treasury imposed sanctions last month on a cryptocurrency exchange that US officials accused of doing business with hackers behind eight types of ransomware.

US officials discourage businesses from paying ransoms because it risks fueling even more hacks. But some companies say they are faced with no choice to pay off crooks who hold their systems hostage.

Treasury officials have also issued updated guidance to US companies on how they can avoid running afoul of US sanctions when they do pay ransoms.



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FreshKorn Cryptocurrency

As Big Tech stocks get slaughtered, Intel rises from the ashes

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The company is taking steps to address the issue, most notably by stepping up production in America. Intel announced plans Friday to invest more than $20 billion on two new semiconductor plants in Ohio. President Biden will discuss the Intel news later Friday.
Intel shares are up 3% in 2022 while rivals Nvidia (NVDA) and AMD (AMD) have each fallen more than 10%. Intel is outperforming the rest of the chip industry, too. The iShares Semiconductor (SOXX) exchange-traded fund is down 8% so far this year.
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Last week, Gelsinger posted a holiday/New Year’s video message on LinkedIn to brag about recent accomplishments. Wearing an ugly Christmas sweater with Intel’s logo on it, Gelsinger said the company’s new Alder Lake chips for PCs have thrust Intel back into a winning position in the chip world.
“All of a sudden, boom! We are back in the game,” he crowed. “AMD in the rear view mirror…and never again will they be in the windshield, we are just leading the market!” he crowed. Gelsinger spent 30 years at Intel as its first chief technology officer and later senior vice president and general manager before leaving in 2009 to take a job at EMC. (EMC has since merged with VMWare and is now owned by Dell (DELL).)

Intel playing catch up to Nvidia and AMD

AMD, under the leadership of CEO Lisa Su, has gained market share primarily in PC chips at the expense of Intel over the past five years. That’s one of the main reasons why AMD’s stock has soared more than 1,200% since January 2017. Intel’s, meanwhile, has gained just 45% while the iShares Semiconductor ETF has surged 300%.

Nvidia’s stock has also been a much better bet than Intel’s during the past five years, so much so that Nvidia’s market valuation of almost $635 billion is nearly three times Intel’s $219 billion.

And Nvidia has been a leading player, along with AMD, in graphics processing chips, a portion of the market that has grown rapidly thanks to gaming and cryptocurrency mining. Intel is now trying to play catch-up in the graphics chip market, and analysts see some hopeful signs for the company’s upcoming Arc family of processors.

New CEOs are benefiting from a long Wall Street honeymoon

Intel’s weak performance compared to AMD, Nvidia and the rest of the sector, is likely a key reason why former CEO Bob Swan stepped down last year to make way for Gelsinger’s return.

Intel now has more momentum. It recently hired a new chief financial officer from memory chip giant Micron (MU), a move that tech investors applauded.
Traders also liked the December announcement that Intel finally plans to spin off self driving tech unit Mobileye, which it bought in 2017 for $15 billion and is expected to go public with a valuation of about $50 billion.

Wall Street analysts are acknowledging the apparent change in the sector’s momentum, too. Piper Sandler’s Harsh Kumar downgraded AMD’s stock Thursday, citing growth concerns and increased competition throughout the chip sector.

And Susquehanna International Group analyst Chris Rolland wrote in a report Thursday that the Arc chips, which will be primarily used for PC gaming, “could heat up” competition with AMD and Nvidia.

“At the right price point,” Rolland noted, Intel may be able to quickly “obtain share in an otherwise supply-constrained market.”

Intel is likely to give investors an update on supply chain issues when it reports earnings for the fourth quarter on Wednesday.



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Bitcoin, ethereum prices tumble as cryptocurrencies continue their downward slide

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And it’s not just Bitcoin, as cryptocurrencies in general have had a dismal start to the year. Bitcoin has fallen over 8% in the last 24 hours, and was trading at $35,479 as of 9:30 am ET, according to CoinDesk. The world’s most valuable cryptocurrency has plummeted over 20% since the beginning of the year. In November it was trading at a record high of $68,990.
Its peers have fared worse. Ethereum, the world’s second most valuable cryptocurency, has fallen more than 12% in the last 24 hour, and was trading at around $2,400 as of mid-morning Saturday, according to CoinDesk. That’s an almost 30% drop since the start of the new year.
Investors are getting jittery about digital currencies and other riskier assets ever since the US Federal Reserve signaled it may unwind economic stimulus more aggressively than expected.
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Governments are cracking down as well. On Thursday, Reuters reported that Russia’s central bank has proposed a ban on crypto use and mining. Russia is one of the biggest crypto-mining nations in the world, but its central bank said that digital currencies can pose a threat to the country’s financial stability.
The Russian proposal comes just a few months after China launched a full-scale clampdown on cryptocurrency, banning both trading and mining.
Other countries are also flirting with a ban on crypto. In November, India said it was preparing to introduce a bill that would regulate digital currencies, although much is still unknown about that proposal. Earlier this week, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi said that global cooperation is needed to tackle problems posed by crytocurrencies.
However, not everyone is pessimistic. Goldman Sachs said that the price of bitcoin could reach more than $100,000 within the next five years. In a report published earlier this month, the bank’s analysts said they saw strong gains ahead because bitcoin would increasingly steal market share from gold.



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Top hedge fund manager warns that market ‘superbubble’ will burst

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Jeremy Grantham, co-founder and chief investment strategist of Grantham, Mayo, & van Otterloo (GMO) said in a report called “Let the Wild Rumpus Begin” that stocks are now in the midst of a “superbubble,” that it won’t end well.

Grantham, who has been running the firm’s investments since it was started in 1977, was similarly bearish at market tops in 2000, and during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008.

“Good luck! We’ll all need it,” said Grantham, whose firm manages about $65 billion in assets.

He noted that US stocks have experienced two such “superbubbles” before: 1929, a market fall that led to the Great Depression, and again in 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst. He also said the US housing market was a “superbubble” in 2006 and that the 1989 Japanese stock and housing markets were both “superbubbles.”
2022 hasn't been good for stocks. But the Biden market is still up 18%

“All five of these superbubbles corrected all the way back to trend with much greater and longer pain than average,” Grantham wrote.

Many investors don’t want to believe that the stock market is overdue for a broader pullback, Grantham argues, especially since the market fell into bear territory — albeit briefly — in March 2020 at the pandemic’s start.

“In a bubble, no one wants to hear the bear case. It is the worst kind of party-pooping,” Grantham wrote. “For bubbles, especially superbubbles where we are now, are often the most exhilarating financial experiences of a lifetime.”

Grantham believes that the Federal Reserve’s moves to cut rates to zero — and then keep them there for nearly two years — is a main cause for the market’s current frothiness. The Fed is widely expected to begin raising rates at its March meeting.

“One of the main reasons I deplore superbubbles — and resent the Fed and other financial authorities for allowing and facilitating them — is the under-recognized damage that bubbles cause as they deflate and mark down our wealth,” he wrote.

Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of hedge fund GMO, is warning that stocks could fall a lot further.

Grantham added that “as bubbles form, they give us a ludicrously overstated view of our real wealth, which encourages us to spend accordingly. Then, as bubbles break, they crush most of those dreams and accelerate the negative economic forces on the way down.”

“To allow bubbles, let alone help them along, is simply bad economic policy,” Grantham wrote, adding that he’s concerned about “the terrible increase in inequality that goes with higher prices of assets, which many simply do not own.”

This isn’t the first time Grantham has issued such a doom and gloom call on the markets. He made a similar proclamation about the end of the bull market in January 2021, calling stocks an “epic bubble.” The market wrapped up 2021 near record highs and with its third straight year of gains.

Rate hikes will deflate a lot of the market’s hot air

Other investing experts share some, but not all, of Grantham’s concerns. Jordan Kahn, president and chief investment officer of ACM Funds, which has a portfolio that both buys stocks and short sells ones that it thinks are overvalued, said there are definitely more opportunities on the short side of the market right now.

Kahn told CNN Business that his long-short fund is only invested about 30% in bullish positions that it expects to go up. He is also worried about what will happen to stocks as rates go up.

Bitcoin tumbles as cryptocurrencies continue their downward slide

“When rates are at zero for a long time, it’s easy to justify almost any valuation, and coming out of 2020 we saw ridiculous prices for stocks,” he said, something he hadn’t seen since 1999. “But as soon as inflation started people question valuations.”

Still, Kahn isn’t as bearish as Grantham. Rather than an epic crash, he foresees a series of what he calls “bubble-ettes,” mini manias in corners of the market such as crytpocurrencies and speculative, unprofitable tech stocks.

“There has been a lot of blind faith,” Kahn said. “There are areas where there has been a lot of speculation and there will be pain there.”



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