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U.S. indicts Iranian hackers responsible for deploying 'SamSam' ransomware

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday indicted two Iranians for launching a major ransomware cyber attack known as “SamSam” and sanctioned two others for helping exchange the ransom payments from Bitcoin digital currency into rials.

The 34-month long hacking scheme wreaked havoc on hospitals, schools, companies and government agencies, including the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Newark, New Jersey, causing over $30 million in losses to victims and allowing the alleged hackers to collect over $6 million in ransom payments.

The deployment of the SamSam ransomware represented some of the most high-profile cyber attacks that have occurred on U.S. soil, including one in 2016 that forced Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles to turn away patients and one last year that shut down Atlanta courts and much of its city government.

The six-count indictment, unsealed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, charges Iran-based Faramarz Shahi Savandi, 34, and Mohammad Mehdi Shah Mansouri, 27 with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit fraud related to computers, and other counts accusing them of intentionally damaging protected computers and illegally transmitting demands related to protected computers.

The Treasury Department, meanwhile, said it had sanctioned Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan for exchanging digital ransomware payments into rials.

Neither Khorashadizadeh nor Ghorbaniyan were named in the indictment, though the indictment appeared to reference their activities.

“The allegations in the indictment unsealed today—the first of its kind—outline an Iran-based international computer hacking and extortion scheme that engaged in 21st-century digital blackmail,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, in announcing the criminal charges on Wednesday.

Reuters could not immediately locate the four Iranians named by the U.S. government, and it will likely be difficult to hold them accountable in a federal court because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Iran.

However, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters at a press conference that he remains confident they might one day be brought to justice.

“These defendants are now fugitives from American justice,” Rosenstein said. “American justice has a long arm and we will wait and eventually, we are confident that we will take these perpetrators into custody.”

According to the Treasury, the SamSam ransomware scheme targeted more than 200 victims.

In addition to Atlanta and Newark, other victims cited by the Justice Department included healthcare companies such as Laboratory Corporation of American Holdings, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Medstar Health, the port of San Diego and the Nebraska Orthopedic Hospital.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Makini Brice and Timothy Ahmann in Washington, Jim Finkle in New York and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by Susan Thomas

Can Innovative Technology Fill Your Jewelry Box?

Self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and tech disruptor Pamela Norton put together a handful of innovative tech things most people know nothing about, to build a business prepped for the modern world of luxury coupled with crypto, nano, and securitization. Before I profile her unique launch, let’s take a quick walk down memory lane.

Jump Back 10 (or 30) Years

There’s a reason cryptocurrency and the blockchain is catching so much attention now. Point blank, that reason is trust… or a lack thereof. Curious and brave types have been dabbling in encryption and crypto potentials since the 1980’s. Bitcoin has actually been around since 2009, so it didn’t just pop on the scene, and today, there are over 1,600 cryptocurrencies out there.  And if entrepreneurs have learned anything from then until now it’s that funding is a huge hurdle, and partnering with funds you can trust isn’t guaranteed.

Checks + Balances + Control

This lack of trust has created an absolute gap in the marketplace. Usually the gaps we see are more product geared and less financial, but this time it’s different. This time, this gap, has everything to do with the missing connection between security, transparency, and financial sustainability. That’s why Pamela Norton’s business is so unusual. Borsetta.io is a secure supply-chain platform that makes it easy to inventory and authenticate high-value, mission critical assets with unique, tamper-proof signatures. The short of it: they protect physical assets using blockchain and nanotechnology.

Criminals Are Getting Smarter

If there’s something good to steal, you can bet someone out there is trying to steal it. In the case of luxury items and funds, it’s usually a lot of thieves. According to Norton and Borsetta, counterfeit is the largest criminal enterprise in the world- $1.7 Trillion and growing to $4.2 Trillion by 2022. Security and protection are huge concerns, and it isn’t only big businesses who are looking to protect their assets.

Smart Contracts, Securitization & Luxury Items

A patented decentralized security protocol to protect, secure, tokenize, and transact physical assets is a solution that includes nanotechnology, hardware, software, a patented protocol layer and even a developer toolkit. The Borsetta platform can also connect with Ethereum, Hyperledger, Hedera, and other blockchain solutions while supporting QR, RFID, and other third-party applications and unique signatures.

What’s Jewelry Got To Do With It?

Luxury, eco-conscious jewelry and lab cultivated diamonds got Norton questioning why there wasn’t transparency in the market that dominates around $30 billion in profits every year. When she entered the business, she was shocked at all the holes, gaps, and lack of transparency in such a massive market. She found herself wondering how she could connect the physical assets to the digital titles on the blockchain? How could she  validate these luxury or high value items? How could she protect them? And how could she put our assets to work for us? How could she revolutionize the value in our lives?

These Are Smart, But So Are You

Don’t let the terms fool you. These are just smart technologies, allowing transactions to take place that protect everyone involved, from start to finish. The marketplace now allows for too much corruption, counterfeits, theft, rip-offs, dishonesty, and unsustainable methods. Norton wants to be part of the movement to minimize those things, to give the value to the creators, to protect assets, and to ensure transparency.

Get On Board

As we wait around for the blockchain technology to take off, and the digital infrastructure to show up, we can dream about a future full of protection, securitization, smart contracts, and the real-life applications just over the horizon. The next industrial revolution is upon us, and we must adopt to adapt, or be left behind

Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year Is ‘Misinformation’—a Slap at High Tech

Dictionary.com today announced its word of the year is “misinformation.” The site’s definition of the word is “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”

“The rampant spread of misinformation is really providing new challenges for navigating life in 2018,” said Jane Solomon, linguist-in-residence at Dictionary, to the Associated Press.

According to Solomon, the difference between misinformation and disinformation is important. The latter refers to attempts to mislead. With the word of the year, wrong information is perpetuated by accident or error. However, misinformation can lead to disaster and death, such as violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, riots in Sri Lanka, and mob violence in India.

Dictionary.com has done a lot of work on defining and updating related terms, including echo chamber, confirmation bias, filter bubble, conspiracy theory, fake news, post-fact, post-truth, homophily, influencer, and gatekeeper.

But a big reason that misinformation got the nod is the role that technology has played in spreading false information. Social media has made it easier than ever to share hate speech, rumors, false stories, satire perceived as straight reporting, and doctored images.

It has become a deluge that flows in fast. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube have faced sharp criticism for their failure to stem the tide.

Dictionary.com says that it isn’t just the realm of politics that faces an impact. The environment and medical information have both faced challenges.

Some of the other words under consideration were representation, self-made, and backlash.

The Oxford word of the year was “toxic,” with many aspects of culture being denoted by the term.

American Airlines CEO Says Customer Service Isn't the Priority (Have a Guess What Is)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Consistently, the airline has become a symbol of too many things that are wrong with air travel.

It’s managed to put itself in a We Don’t Really Care About Passengers corner. 

It seems to find it hard to emerge from that.

In a conversation with employees reported by View From The Wing’s Gary Leff, an American pilot told Parker that there seems to be a reluctance to offer customer service to passengers, even when the flight won’t be leaving on time.

He told the story of a connecting customer who said they’d left their phone and laptop on a flight and no American employee wanted to help. 

They’re all told, you see, that the priority is the so-called D0, the determination to push back on time to the detriment, some might say, of customer service.

You know, those little things like the pre-flight drinks the more exalted customers adore.

Parker offered these extremely honest and revealing words: 

The most important thing to customers is that we deliver on our commitment to leave on time and get them to the destination as they have scheduled.

But isn’t pushing back on time just one aspect of a greater good? That the customer should feel good on your airline and want to come back.

This, it strikes me, has been American’s singular difficulty of late.

I can’t remember whether the flight pushed back on time. I do remember, however, her strained and abject attempts to provide the minimum customer service she could.

The consequence, for me at least, has been to avoid American and choose other airlines. 

Am I alone in reacting this way?

I used to fly American a lot. I used to actively choose it because it flew bigger planes from San Francisco to New York and seemed a good enough airline.

Parker is right that customers want to get to their destination on time. But isn’t it a little like restaurant customers who say they want good food?

If they get cold, disinterested service, I suspect many will happily give up the food for a restaurant that makes them feel good.

A greater difficulty for Parker is that there are airlines that are admired for their customer service and their reliable approach to arriving on time.

Delta, for example, seems to manage this rather well. Despite flying some tatty old planes. 

Perhaps the real problem is that Parker transposes his own beliefs about what should be important into his customers.

He wants the focus to be on-time departure because he believes the airline will make more money that way.

If the planes are always on time, the system rolls along nicely and there are no unexpected costs.

Which reminds me of a T-shirt I used to wear, a long time ago. On it, a woman looks up at her lover and explains: “There’s more to life than snogging, Barry.”

American Airlines Just Sneakily Scheduled Its Most Insanely Cramped Plane For a Really, Really Long Flight

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It’s a story of discomfort and despair.

Well, they’re narrower than an average Porta-Potty,

American Airlines gave a good impression of not caring what anyone thought. Its CEO, Doug Parker, didn’t even bother flying on the plane for the longest time.

He couldn’t understand why anyone might think he should. When he finally got on it, his review was, well, please read it.

You might have thought, though, that the airline would fly this plane on busy, short routes.

You might also have thought that humans can live in sandcastles and Norway will have warm sunshine in December.

From Miami to Brasilia.

No, American didn’t offer an announcement by loud-hailer. Why would it?

Please sit with me here, on my sofa with truly First Class legroom, and consider what these passengers will experience from May 4 next year.

They’ll have no seatback screens. They’ll have those tiny, tiny toilets. And, in First Class, they’ll have something normally known as Premium Economy seating.

American believes that its 30-inch Economy Class seat pitch — the distance between the back of one seat and the one in front — feels like 31 inches.

Yet you, should you dedicate yourself to this endurance test, will soon realize that these seats are much thinner than the ones you’ve been used to for the last 20 years.

When you’ve sat in them for 7 hours, I suspect you’ll wish you’d flown on a different plane.

You might ask, though, why American would fly this plane on such a long route.

The simple answer is: because it can.

It makes a judgment about what planes it has and the competition on that route. It believes that it can get away with making passengers suffer, because it’ll still get the business.

The MAX is good for American’s money-making enthusiasm. It’s more fuel efficient and, of course, with those additional seats, it can generate more revenue. 

American also insists it has enormous benefits, such as bigger overhead bins and satellite Wi-Fi.

And it’s not as if American’s the only airline buying these things. Southwest ordered more than 200 of them — but has chosen not to stuff them with quite as many seats as American.

I await with some fascination how First Class passengers, who used to fly in American’s Boeing 757s with lie-flat seats, will now experience the MAX for an 8-hour run. 

Just imagine if, for some, um, operational reason, the plane has sit on the tarmac for an hour before takeoff. 

Oh, the pain of modern flying.

A United Airlines Pilot Was Arrested. The Reason Why Is Truly Shocking, But How He Got There Is Even Crazier

There are eight million stories in the naked city, as an old television show used to say. A United Airlines pilot was arrested for being one of them.

It’s an embarrassing, mildly tawdry tale–but when you dig into the reasons behind United Airlines Capt. Andrew Collins’s arrest, you just might find you have some sympathy.

And, you might also find yourself wondering just what life is like for pilots these days.

First the story. Collins, 54, has been with United Airlines for 22 years. As he told The Denver Post, last September he was up for about 30 hours straight, flying around the country and being diverted because of thunderstorms.

He arrived finally in Denver, and checked into the Westin Hotel at the airport. 

The next morning, he woke up around 10:30 a.m., and walked around his room, getting ready to take a shower. At one point he stood in front of the 10th floor window of his hotel room for more than 20 minutes while he talked on the phone.

Key detail: He was stark naked. Remember, he was alone in his hotel room, as he tells it, not expecting to see anyone, or to be seen. 

But then things took a turn for the worse: a knock at the door, cops barging in with their guns drawn. Collins wound up in handcuffs and carted off to an airport jail, where he was charged with indecent exposure.

The problem, as he tells it, is that he didn’t realize the window he was standing in front of was transparent on both sides, or that anyone else was had a line of sight that would let them see him. Apparently, he was wrong.

“We’re not disputing the fact that I was standing nude in front of the hotel window,” Collins told the Post about the Sept. 20 incident. But he added, “Some witnesses said I was dancing, gyrating and waving. I’m completely innocent. It’s really unfortunate that it happened at all.”

Collins’s lawyer later went to the same room Collins stayed in at the Westin to investigate. And he says he concluded it’s totally reasonable for Collins not to have realized that anyone could see him while he was standing in front of the window.

“The concourse windows are tinted green and are opaque and reflective,” the attorney, Craig Silverman, told the Post. From the hotel room, he said, “It’s like looking at a green wall or a green mirror.”

It’s a misdemeanor case, and Collins has been “removed from his duties pending an internal review,” a United Airlines spokesperson told me. Of course, he has the presumption of innocence under our justice system.

Collins doesn’t quite blame what happened on the fact that he’d allegedly been up for 30 hours straight, but this story doesn’t exactly make it seem like flying for United is any kind of glamorous, high-reward job.

Bounced around the country, up a day and a half, stuck in a hotel room waiting for your next flight–only to wind up humiliated and facing legal jeopardy. He’s the head of his local union shop and was running for the national presidency when this all happened. That opportunity went out the window (sorry).

Meanwhile, airlines say they’re going to be short of pilots in the coming years, as younger people simply aren’t enamored of flying the way their predecessors were. Stories like what happened to Collins don’t make it easier.

He’s due in court Dec. 5. His lawyer hopes he can get the whole thing dismissed.

Tesla cuts China car prices to absorb hit from trade war tariffs

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) is cutting the price of its Model X and Model S cars in China, the U.S. firm said on Thursday, in a shift in strategy that will see it take more of a hit from tariffs linked to a biting trade war between China and the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A man finishes charging his Tesla car at a charging point outside Tesla China headquarters in Beijing, China July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

The electric carmaker, led by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, said it will cut prices of the two models by 12-26 percent to make the cars more “affordable” in the world’s top auto market, where sales of so-called new-energy vehicles are rising fast.

The move comes amid severe trade tensions between China and the United States, which has seen extra tariffs slapped on U.S. imports into the country, including automobiles, hurting Tesla which imports all the cars it currently sells in the market.

“We are absorbing a significant part of the tariff to help make our cars more affordable for customers in China,” Tesla said in a statement sent to Reuters.

The move marks a shift from July when Tesla was one of the first U.S. carmakers to raise prices in the market in response to tariffs. The firm hiked prices then on its Model X and S cars by about 20 percent.

Tesla warned last month it was facing major problems with selling cars in China due to new tariffs that would force it to accelerate investment in its first overseas Gigafactory in Shanghai.

The carmaker last month secured the site for the facility, which will help it avoid steep import tariffs.

The firm, which recently launched pre-sales of its new Model 3 car in China, added in its statement that the car’s pricetag would start from 540,000 yuan ($77,928.83) for a dual motor all-wheel drive version, and 595,000 yuan for a performance version.

Before the price hike in July, Tesla had lowered prices on its models in China in May, after Beijing had said it would cut import tariffs for all auto imports.

($1 = 6.9294 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Himani Sarkar

7 Ways You Need to Organize Your Desktop (and Your Life)

If your computer is cluttered with disorganized files and unnecessary apps, it’s tough to get any work done. Not only will you find it harder to find the content you need when you need it, but you’ll also feel additional stress, and may also be more easily distracted.

Still, most people find it challenging to organize their computer desktop in a meaningful, intuitive way.

You can start by acknowledging the main challenges that get in the way of an organized desktop:

  • Choosing a standard. If you don’t have an idea how to organize your files, you’ll never get started. The analysis paralysis on deciding on an organizational method can kill some efforts before they even begin.
  • Clearing the clutter. Clutter has a powerful effect on your stress and emotional wellbeing, but it’s hard to delete files if you think there’s a chance you’ll use them again in the future. It’s very easy for a computer to become cluttered with unnecessary items.
  • Finding the time. It’s almost impossible to automate the process of organizing your desktop, which means you’ll need to make time to do it manually–time many workers feel they don’t have.
  • Staying consistent. Once you decide on an organizational standard, you’ll need to stay consistent in applying that standard in the future. This is where most people fail.

Now let’s focus on strategies you can use to get–and stay–organized:

1. Consolidate your most important apps.

First, take inventory of the apps that are most important for your position. You might have three or four that you use on a daily basis, or a subscription suite of software programs that provide you with most of the functionality you need. For example, you might be able to merge functions from multiple apps with a single, comprehensive solution, or use a single suite of apps to replace the hodgepodge collection you accumulated over time.

2. Delete or tuck away what you don’t use at least weekly.

Next, start decluttering whatever you can. If you can’t remember the last time you used an app, uninstall it. If you can’t imagine a scenario when you’ll need a specific file, delete it. If you’re struggling with the decision, but it seems like it might be unnecessary, create a folder where you can store these rarely accessed files and apps–then tuck that folder out of the way.

3. Decide on a file naming convention.

Next, decide on a naming convention for your files that you can use consistently. For example, you might code each file with the date, so they’re listed in chronological order, then include the name of the client each file pertains to, so you can quickly search by client. Start renaming any files that don’t already adhere to this convention, and make notes so you can use it consistently in the future.

4. Create a system of folders and subfolders.

Try to keep every file on your computer or in your cloud storage account in a strictly organized system of folders and subfolders. You should have a handful of “main” folders (like Documents, Artwork, or Templates), and several subfolders within those main folders based on clients or the specific types of files contained within. There may be some files that belong in multiple categories; for these, you’ll need to make an individual judgment call, and remember, you can always run a search if there’s something you can’t find.

5. Customize your background.

If you want your desktop to be even more intuitively organized, consider creating a custom background, divided into clear sections. For example, you might designate the left side of your screen for your “most used apps” and the middle for “frequently accessed files.”

6. Take the extra time to sort new content.

It’s tempting to dump new files onto your desktop haphazardly when you’re in a rush, but if you want to stay organized, you’ll need to commit to making the time to keep all new files and apps in the proper order (and with the proper naming conventions). It takes a few minutes at most, so it shouldn’t be much of a commitment.

7. Schedule a recurring cleaning session.

As long as your calendar isn’t already packed with reminders and to-dos, schedule a recurring session to re-clean your desktop to keep it from overflowing. Scheduling something once a week, or even once a month, can prevent your desktop from becoming cluttered again.

Once your desktop is sufficiently organized, you’ll find it much easier to find what you’re looking for, you’ll feel revitalized, and you might even find yourself in a better mood throughout the workday. It might take an investment of time to get organized, but the end results are worth it.

How Blockchain Technologies Can Enhance Cross-Industry Transparency

Now, blockchain technologies are poised to enhance cross-industry transparency via improvements to charity and donation programs.

I spoke with Changpeng Zhao, CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange company Binance, which runs the Blockchain Charity Foundation (BCF)–a wing of the company that’s devoted to global sustainable development. He shared how blockchain technologies can enhance transparency within a huge range of industries by making donation and charity systems easier to track and understand.

The Trouble with Current Donation Systems

There are so many disparate industries these days that it can be challenging to find any commonalities beyond death and taxes. But here’s one thing most industries have in common: At least some people and organizations within said industries are likely to participate in charity or donation programs.

That’s good news for society, but there’s just one problem: Donation systems notoriously lack transparency, which can lead to corruption and wear down the public’s trust–thereby decreasing the odds that people and organizations will continue to donate to worthy causes.

After piloting disaster relief donations via a campaign for West Japan flood donation, Zhao is intimately familiar with the lack of transparency that pervades so many charity programs.

“It was quite hard to push money to the ultimate beneficiaries–to identify who they are and who needs help,” Zhao says. Because the process of collecting and distributing donations is generally an opaque one, Zhao says not many people can understand where the money goes unless they’re provided with a detailed written report.

“Everyone sees one layer of transaction,” Zhao says. “The people who donated to us trust us to make good use of the money, but they no longer know where the money went until we publish that report.”

Zhao is concerned this can limit people’s willingness to donate. “In addition to being worried that the money may or may not be put to good use, the lack of transparency also reduces the sense of personal achievement,” he says. “If you can see where the money is going, that will help a lot in terms of personal feelings of achievement–so that’s very important.”

All of this helps explain why the BCF is committed to developing a fully transparent charity platform.

Making Charity Programs More Transparent

Zhao and his BCF maintain that employing blockchain technology within the charity ecosystem will yield a more efficient and transparent system and enhance the odds that donations will be distributed to those most in need.

“When it comes to the BCF program, our aim is to focus on transparency through this tracking portal,” Zhao says. “We want a completely transparent system.”

“Looking at the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the first few in the list could all be easily enhanced with a more transparent charity program,” Zhao says. “This increased transparency will prompt people to donate more and that will help a number of the initiatives including poverty, health, quality of education, gender equality and more.”

Rather than advocating for a specific charity, the BCF aims to help all charity initiatives via its blockchain charity platform.

Making Donation Systems More Transparent

In order to establish a fully transparent charity system, it’s necessary to track donations through multiple layers of donors, charity programs, NPOs, local supporters, and the ultimate beneficiaries.

That’s a tall order, but Zhao says Binance’s blockchain donation portal is capable of achieving it.

“As long as all of the transactions stay on-chain (done via cryptocurrency), blockchain tracks everything automatically,” Zhao says. “The job of the BCF portal is to collect the information on the blockchain and present it in an easy to understand manner. You can see the number of transactions of the incoming donations and the number of outgoing transactions for beneficiaries. And in between these two, there could be multiple layers for NPOs, local partners… etc., so we can track all of those in an easy to visualize way.”

The emphasis here is on easy to understand. Revealing oodles of data in and of itself doesn’t enhance transparency; it’s making that data accessible and understandable by all parties involved that provides greater clarity within donation systems.

The Importance of Education

In order to onboard more charitable organizations, governments, corporations, and grassroots communities, Zhao says the BCF first has to educate people about the value of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

The foundation is approaching this effort in several ways. For starters, the BCF is beginning to partner with universities and governments to educate teens and university students about cryptocurrency, blockchain, and so on.

“We also try to push very hard for the ultimate beneficiaries to accept cryptocurrency, so that will be a good way [for] people to learn,” Zhao says. “If users receive donations via crypto and these users need to learn about cryptocurrency or require help installing a wallet to receive the donation, there is a high incentive to learn that.”

Zhao is also hopeful that an increasing number of people and organizations from far-ranging industries will get on board with the blockchain in pursuit of a transparent charity platform.

“There [are] a lot more people that understand blockchain… [compared to a] few years ago, so today it is easier to push,” Zhao says. “I think the most significant challenge in expand[ing] BCF’s impact is really just educating people on blockchain. The more people who understand blockchain, the easier it is for BCF to push our impact.”