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Exclusive: Suspected North Korean hackers targeted COVID vaccine maker AstraZeneca – sources

Suspected North Korean hackers have tried to break into the systems of British drugmaker AstraZeneca in recent weeks, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, as the company races to deploy its vaccine for the COVID-19 virus….

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LONDON (Reuters) – Suspected North Korean hackers have tried to break into the systems of British drugmaker AstraZeneca in recent weeks, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, as the company races to deploy its vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

The hackers posed as recruiters on networking site LinkedIn and WhatsApp to approach AstraZeneca staff with fake job offers, the sources said. They then sent documents purporting to be job descriptions that were laced with malicious code designed to gain access to a victim’s computer.

The hacking attempts targeted a “broad set of people” including staff working on COVID-19 research, said one of the sources, but are not thought to have been successful.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations in Geneva did not respond to a request for comment. Pyongyang has previously denied carrying out cyberattacks. It has no direct line of contact for foreign media.

AstraZeneca, which has emerged as one of the top three COVID-19 vaccine developers, declined to comment.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss non-public information, said the tools and techniques used in the attacks showed they were part of an ongoing hacking campaign that U.S. officials and cybersecurity researchers have attributed to North Korea.

The campaign has previously focused on defence companies and media organisations but pivoted to COVID-related targets in recent weeks, according to three people who have investigated the attacks.

Cyberattacks against health bodies, vaccine scientists and drugmakers have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic as state-backed and criminal hacking groups scramble to obtain the latest research and information about the outbreak.

Western officials say any stolen information could be sold for profit, used to extort the victims, or give foreign governments a valuable strategic advantage as they fight to contain a disease that has killed 1.4 million people worldwide.

Microsoft said this month it had seen two North Korean hacking groups target vaccine developers in multiple countries, including by “sending messages with fabricated job descriptions.” Microsoft did not name any of the targeted organisations.

South Korean lawmakers said on Friday that the country’s intelligence agency had foiled some of those attempts.

Reuters has previously reported that hackers from Iran, China and Russia have attempted to break into leading drugmakers and even the World Health Organisation this year. Tehran, Beijing and Moscow have all denied the allegations.

Some of the accounts used in the attacks on AstraZeneca were registered to Russian email addresses, one of the sources said, in a possible attempt to mislead investigators.

North Korea has been blamed by U.S. prosecutors for some of the world’s most audacious and damaging cyberattacks, including the hack and leak of emails from Sony Pictures in 2014, the 2016 theft of $81 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh, and unleashing the Wannacry ransomware virus in 2017.

Pyongyang has described the allegations as part of attempts by Washington to smear its image.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in GENEVA; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/healthcare-coronavirus-astrazeneca-north/exclusive-suspected-north-korean-hackers-targeted-covid-vaccine-maker-astrazeneca-sources-idUSL8N2IC2QU

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Reuters

Myanmar security forces with rifle grenades kill over 80 protesters – monitoring group

Myanmar security forces fired rifle grenades at protesters in a town near Yangon on Friday, killing more than 80 people, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group and a domestic news outlet said.

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(Reuters) – Myanmar security forces fired rifle grenades at protesters in a town near Yangon on Friday, killing more than 80 people, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group and a domestic news outlet said.

Details of the death toll in the town of Bago, 90 km (55 miles) northeast of Yangon, were not initially available because security forces piled up bodies in the Zeyar Muni pagoda compound and cordoned off the area, according to witnesses and domestic media outlets.

The AAPP and Myanmar Now news outlet said on Saturday that 82 people were killed during the protest against the Feb. 1 military coup in the country. Firing started before dawn on Friday and continued into the afternoon, Myanmar Now said.

“It is like genocide,” the news outlet quoted a protest organiser called Ye Htut as saying. “They are shooting at every shadow.”

Many residents of the town have fled, according to accounts on social media.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military junta could not be reached on Saturday.

AAPP, which has maintained a daily tally of protesters killed and arrested by security forces, has previously said 618 people have died since the coup.

That figure is disputed by the military, which says it staged the coup because a November election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was rigged. The election commission has dismissed the assertion.

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference on Friday in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the military had recorded 248 civilian deaths and 16 police deaths, and said no automatic weapons had been used by security forces.

An alliance of ethnic armies in Myanmar that has opposed the junta’s crackdown attacked a police station in the east on Saturday and at least 10 policemen were killed, domestic media said.

The police station at Naungmon in Shan state was attacked early in the morning by fighters from an alliance that includes the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the media reported.

Shan News said at least 10 policemen were killed, while the Shwe Phee Myay news outlet put the death toll at 14.

Myanmar’s military rulers said on Friday that protests against its rule were dwindling because people wanted peace, and that it would hold elections within two years.

Ousted Myanmar lawmakers urged the United Nations Security Council on Friday to take action against the military.

“Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” said Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers. She urged Council members to apply both direct and indirect pressure on the junta.

“Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure, of state collapse,” Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar with the International Crisis Group, told the informal U.N. meeting, the first public discussion of Myanmar by council members.

Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Pravin Char

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-idUSKBN2BX0D5

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Reuters

Factbox: Russian central bank considers digital rouble in 2023

(Refiles to remove superfluous word in headline; no change in text.)

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(Refiles to remove superfluous word in headline; no change in text.)

FILE PHOTO: A Russian flag flies over Russian Central Bank headquarters in Moscow, Russia December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

(Reuters) – The Russian central bank is considering limiting future transactions with a digital rouble to smooth the impact of its implementation, planned for 2023, Deputy Governor Alexei Zabotkin said on Thursday.

Russia is working on introducing the digital rouble on top of existing cash and non-cash roubles, to facilitate payments for individuals and businesses and make the use of its currency more global in the face of Western sanctions.

“The emission of the cryptorouble will be akin to cash emission,” Zabotkin said.

“It will be feasible to introduce limits on the transactions from non-cash form into the digital rouble,” Zabotkin said, adding that the central bank will stand ready to compensate for possible liquidity shortages when introducing the digital rouble.

Russia is joining other central banks across the world that are stepping up efforts to develop digital currencies to modernise financial systems, speed up payments and counter a potential threat from other cryptocurrencies.

Below are the key aspects that are known about Russia’s digital rouble project:

* The central bank first floated the idea of the digital rouble in October, citing the need to make payments more convenient;

* The digital rouble will be issued by the central bank and will not substitute for cash in circulation or accounts in banks;

* The first test-drive stage is planned for 2022 and will include transactions with banks. Other operations, such as tax payments and budget settlements, will be tested later;

* Russia is leaning towards a two-tier system for its digital rouble, with banks opening digital wallets with the central bank and serving as intermediaries for customers and companies;

* Russian banks expressed concern about the digital rouble, pointing at cyber risks, possible liquidity shortages and damage to their profits;

* Russia gave cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, legal status in 2020. But it banned them from being used as a means of payment, stressing that only currencies issued by central banks can be used for that;

* Russia eyes the digital rouble introduction at times when major central banks including the U.S. Federal Reserve have teamed up with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) to explore central bank digital currencies.

Reporting by Anna Rzhevkina and Elena Fabrichnaya; editing by Andrey Ostroukh, Larry King

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-cenbank-rouble-factbox/factbox-russian-central-bank-considers-digital-rouble-in-2023-idUSKBN2BV2AH?il=0

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Reuters

Left-wing party opposed to big mining project wins Greenland election

A left-wing party that opposes a large rare earth mining project has become the biggest in parliament after securing more than a third of votes in a snap election.

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COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A left-wing party that opposes a large rare earth mining project has become the biggest in parliament after securing more than a third of votes in a snap election.

Members of IA (Inuit Ataqatigiit) celebrate following the exit pools during Greenland’s election in Nuuk, Greenland April 6, 2021. Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS

The result of Tuesday’s election casts doubt on the mining complex at Kvanefjeld in the south of the Arctic island and sends a strong signal to international mining companies wanting to exploit Greenland’s vast untapped mineral resources.

The Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) party won 37% of votes, compared to 26% in the last election four years ago, overtaking the ruling social democratic Siumut party which secured 29% of votes, according to official results.

The pro-mining Siumut party has been in power most of the time since 1979.

Though not opposed outright to mining, IA has a strong environmental focus. It has campaigned to halt the Kvanefjeld project, which aside from rare earths including neodymium – which is used in wind turbines, electric vehicles and combat aircraft – also contains uranium.

“This will without doubt hamper mining development in Greenland,” said Mikaa Mered, lecturer on Arctic affairs at HEC business school in Paris.

While most Greenlanders see mining as an important path towards independence, the Kvanefjeld mine has been a contention point for years, sowing deep divisions in the government and population over environmental concerns.

“It’s not that Greenlanders don’t want mining, but they don’t want dirty mining,” Mered said, referring to uranium and rare earth projects. “Greenlanders are sending a strong message that for them it’s not worth sacrificing the environment to achieve independence and economic development.”

CHALLENGES AHEAD

The island of 56,000 people, which former U.S. President Donald Trump offered to buy in 2019, is part of the Kingdom of Denmark but has broad autonomy.

IA leader Mute Egede, 34, will be first to try to form a new government. A potential government ally could be the Naleraq, an independence party that also opposes the Kvanefjeld project.

Support from Prime Minister Kim Kielsen and his governing Siumut party helped license-holder Greenland Minerals gain preliminary approval for the project last year, paving the way for a public hearing.

The Australian firm has already spent more than $100 million preparing the mine and has proven processing technology through its Chinese partner Shenghe Resources.

“The challenge for IA will be to explain to the world that Greenland is still open for business and still an attractive mining jurisdiction,” said Dwayne Menezes, head of London-based think-tank Polar Research and Policy Initiative.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Timothy Heritage

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Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-greenland-election-idUSKBN2BU0V1

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