Hacking group targets organizations via Microsoft server software – Researcher

An unknown hacking group recently broke into organizations using a newly discovered flaw in Microsoft mail server software, a researcher said on Tuesday, in an example of how commonly used programs can be exploited to cast a wide net online.

Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous suite of products has been under scrutiny since the hack of SolarWinds, the Texas-based software firm that served as a springboard for several intrusions across government and the private sector. In other cases, hackers took advantage of the way customers had set up their Microsoft services to compromise their targets or dive further into affected networks.

Hackers who went after SolarWinds also breached Microsoft itself, accessing and downloading source code – including elements of Exchange, the company’s email and calendaring product.

Mike McLellan, director of intelligence for Dell Technologies Inc’s Secureworks, said he noticed the recent issue after a sudden spike in activity touching Exchange servers overnight on Sunday, with around 10 customers affected at his firm.

“It appears to be someone scanning and exploiting Microsoft Exchange servers in some way. We don’t know how,” he told Reuters.

Microsoft said in a statement that it would be “releasing an update and additional guidance to customers as soon as possible.” The statement said there was no relationship between the recent activity and the SolarWinds-tied hacking campaign.

McLellan said that for now, the hackers appeared focused on seeding malicious software and setting the stage for a potentially deeper intrusion rather than aggressively moving into networks right away.

“We haven’t seen any follow-on activity yet,” he said. “We’re going to find a lot of companies affected but a smaller number of companies actually exploited.”

McLellan said he had no solid indication of who might be responsible. The hackers in this case were using a strain of malware called “China Chopper,” which – despite the name – is used by a variety of digital spies.

The profile of the targets did not match any particular online threat, McLellan said. “It looks like a bit of a random mix.”

Texan chipmakers face slow recovery from power crisis as demand rises

Chipmakers, such as Samsung Electronics, will need a couple of weeks to resume production in Texas after shutdowns caused by severe weather, and customers could face knock-on effects in several months’ time, a representative of a trade body said.

Samsung, NXP Semiconductors and Infineon Technologies were ordered to shut factories in Texas last month after a winter storm killed at least 21 people and left millions of Texans without power.

The shutdown threatens chip supplies to customers, when the industry is scrambling to meet demand, which is rising especially from the auto sector, but also for laptops and other products as economies recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Chipmakers now have the power, water and gas they need to operate, but they need time to restart tools and clean the factories, Edward Latson, CEO of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, said.

He said the process was slow and “very expensive”.

The plant suspension would have an impact on automakers five months later because that is the time needed to make chips, he told Reuters.

There is also an impact now, Risto Puhakka, president of VLSIresearch, said.

“The impact is almost immediate, as the chip inventories are low and customers need them as soon as possible,” he said. “We are now looking at about one month of lost production.”

Samsung supplies chips for Tesla and other customers and NXP and Infineon are also automotive chip suppliers.

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said the electric vehicle company’s Fremont, California, plant shut down for two days last week, without elaborating further.

NXP, which has two factories in Austin, said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are diligently working through equipment, system and product assessments to resume our operations as soon as possible.”

Samsung had no immediate comment.

Robinhood now a go-to for young investors and short sellers

(Reuters) – Robinhood, the online brokerage used by many retail traders to pile in to heavily shorted stocks like GameStop Corp, has made an ambitious push into loaning out its clients’ shares to short sellers as it expands its business.

The broker had $1.9 billion in shares loaned out as of Dec. 31, nearly three times the $674 million a year earlier, and it was permitted to lend out $4.6 billion worth of securities under margin agreements, around five times bigger than the prior year, according to an annual regulatory filing here late on Monday.

The size of the jump highlights Robinhood’s rapid growth over the past year as the number of retail investors has soared in the work-from-home environment during the pandemic and as retail brokers have largely eliminated trading fees, a model Robinhood helped pioneer.

Menlo Park, California-based Robinhood is expected to go public this year with a valuation of more than $20 billion.

Securities lending is common among brokerages, which can earn income by lending shares to hedge funds and others, who then sell the shares back into the market, betting the share prices will drop so they can buy them back at a lower price when it is time to return them, pocketing the difference.

Shares that are in heavy demand from short sellers, like GameStop, which had 140% short interest in January here, command the biggest premium from the lender.

What makes Robinhood notable is that many of the stocks its users invest in are among the most sought-after by people who want to bet against them, said one senior financial executive involved with hedge funds.

It was unclear how great a benefit the securities lending was to Robinhood’s revenue and income, which it does not disclose.

Robinhood declined comment on the filing and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the details of which stocks it loans out.

In January, retail investors coordinated through trading forums on social media in an attempt to punish hedge funds by buying up shares of GameStop and other heavily shorted names, like AMC Entertainment, driving up their prices and forcing short sellers to close out positions at big losses.

On Jan. 28, at the height of the retail trading mania, Robinhood, along with several other brokers, restricted the buying of GameStop and other so-called meme stocks due to a massive spike in collateral requirements needed to clear the trades, angering many of its customers.

The trading restrictions sparked congressional hearings, regulatory probes and have placed greater scrutiny on short selling.

In response, Vlad Tenev, Robinhood’s chief executive officer, called for shorter stock settlement times, which would reduce clearing collateral requirements.

He also said the idea that more shares of a stock can be shorted than there are available to trade, as was the case with GameStop, is a “pathology” that could destabilize the financial markets.

Robinhood positioned itself for growth in securities lending in October 2018 by launching its own clearing broker, which acts as a go-between with the clearinghouse that settles its trades, and allows it to hold its customers’ assets. The broker can then lend out securities its customers buy on margin.

At present, less than 3% of Robinhood’s funded accounts are margin-enabled, Tenev recently told Congress here.

U.S. ITC to probe some cellular devices made by Samsung & Motorola Mobility

The U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday said it was probing certain LTE-compliant cellular devices made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Lenovo Group Ltd-owned Motorola Mobility following a complaint.

The agency said it was launching the investigation following a Feb. 1 complaint filed by Austin, Texas-based Evolved Wireless LLC that alleged patent infringement.

Instacart valuation more than doubles to $39 billion with latest funding round

Instacart has more than doubled its valuation in less than six months to $39 billion with a $265 million fundraising round from existing investors, as the grocery delivery company benefits from a surge in online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The San Francisco start-up, whose transaction volumes surged sixfold last year as doorstep delivery boomed during lockdowns, said on Tuesday it plans to use part of the new funds to increase its corporate headcount by an estimated 50% in 2021.

The company was valued at $17.8 billion in November following the closing of a previous funding round. That same month, Reuters reported Instacart had picked Goldman Sachs Group Inc to lead its initial public offering at around a $30 billion valuation.

Its latest cash injection comes just a few months after California backed a ballot proposal that upheld the status of app-based delivery drivers as independent contractors- a major boost for the likes of Instacart and Uber Technologies Inc, which rely on people to work independently and not as employees.

The new funding round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital Partners, Fidelity Management & Research Co and T. Rowe Price Associates.

Last of Us 2 leads Bafta Games Awards nominations

With a record-breaking 13 nominations, The Last of Us 2 leads the field at the Bafta Games Awards.

It’s the most nominations any game has received in the awards’ history, beating last year’s record of 11 by two titles: Control and Death Stranding.

Ghost of Tsushima, an action-adventure game, also received 10 nominations, including for best game and multiplayer.

The winners will be announced on 25 March.

The awards will again be held online, a year on from being the first major awards to be held virtually.

View original tweet on Twitter

In addition to its 13 nominations, The Last of Us 2 is also up for a new award – EE Game of the Year, which is the only category to be voted for by the public.

The Bafta Games Awards has been recognising achievements in the gaming industry for more than a decade.

And while there might not be a traditional red carpet, champagne reception or live audience, organisers will be hoping to retain some of the magic of a live event.

Analysis by Steffan Powell, Newsbeat’s gaming reporter

On paper it might be a surprise that a game set in the midst of a world altering global pandemic became so successful in 2020. Not much escapism in that.

It’s less of a surprise to anyone who’s played The Last of Us Part 2.

The shock would have been if the game did not dominate the BAFTA nominations. 

It’s already won big at the 2020 Game awards and was crowned BBC Sounds podcast Press X to Continue’s game of 2020.

Despite controversies over its depiction of violence, divisive plot twists and character portrayals (dancing very carefully around spoilers here) the title had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from players and critics. 

The praise for its storytelling, diverse cast and sheer jaw-dropping emotional moments have also clearly won the BAFTA nominations panel over.

Usually a place where independent games thrive – this year the awards look like they could be dominated by PlayStation exclusives made by big studios.

Not only does The Last of Us Part 2 have the most nominations for in history, but other PS only titles like Ghost of Tsushima (10), Spiderman: Miles Morales (7) and Dreams (6) have landed a hatful of nominations too.

Bafta has announced the show will be a 90-minute online live stream, hosted by presenter and journalist Elle Osili-Wood.

China’s Ant seeks to ease staff concerns about selling company’s shares

China’s Ant Group is working on measures to help staff with “short-term liquidity problems”, its executive chairman said in internal messages, after the halting of the fintech giant’s $37 billion IPO dashed employees’ hopes of cashing in their shares.

The listing of the affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding last November would have made some of the company’s employees millionaires or billionaires.

Eric Jing told Ant employees last week that the company would review its staff incentive programmes and roll out some measures starting from April to help solve their financial problems, according to two people who have seen the messages.

Some Ant employees recently expressed frustration on social media for not being able to sell the company shares they own after Chinese regulators abruptly halted Ant’s dual-listing, which was set to be the world’s largest, in November.

Jing made the comments in response to employee questions about Ant’s future on the company’s internal website, said the people, who declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The company’s share buyback programme for employees has been halted since July last year due to the planned initial public offering, one of the people said, which would have given them an opportunity to monetize their holdings.

Ant declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

“Our company will certainly become a public company and I’m very confident about it all along,” Jing was cited by the people as saying in the internal messages. “Our preparation work won’t stop.”

Ant is currently working on plans to shift to a financial holding company structure following intense regulatory pressure and to rein in some of its operations and subject them to rules and capital requirements similar to those for banks.

A group business structure overall, however, means that the company could proceed with the IPO within two years, Reuters has reported.

“This rectification won’t make Ant weak, but will make us healthier, with a greater stage for growth,” Jing said, without disclosing the details of the restructuring plan.

Ant Middleton dropped by Channel 4 over ‘personal conduct’

Channel 4 has said it will not work with Ant Middleton again due to his “personal conduct”.

Last year, the SAS: Who Dares Wins star faced criticism over comments about the Black Lives Matter protests and coronavirus.

In a statement, the channel confirmed he “will not be taking part in future series of SAS: Who Dares Wins”.

After a number of discussions with him, “it has become clear that our views and values are not aligned”.

“We will not be working with him again,” Channel 4 added.

Ant Middleton
image captionThe former soldier faced a backlash for his comments about coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests

The 40-year-old said on social media he had “decided it’s time to move on from SAS Who Dares Wins UK”.

He added: “Big respect to my fellow DS – it’s been a journey I’ll never forget. Thanks to everyone that took part and made the show what it is.”

“Really excited about the future and what’s coming this year.”

In June, he apologised after referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as “absolute scum” as he complained about the “extreme left” and “extreme right” taking to the streets.

Ant said he was “anti-racist and anti-violence” after deleting the tweet.

In March last year, he backtracked on comments he made about the coronavirus pandemic after he urged people to “carry on as normal”.

He told his social media followers to not “be a sheep” and said he did not believe Government advice to self-isolate applied to him because he is “strong and able”.

The former soldier later said he had been “a bit insensitive towards the magnitude, the scale, of the crisis that’s happening in the UK”.

SAS: Who Dares Wins sees civilians put through gruelling military training exercises to test their physical and mental strength.

Ant also presented the programme’s celebrity spin-off, which has featured famous faces including 1Xtra presenter Yasmin Evans, reality star Joey Essex and ex-footballer Wayne Bridge.

Ebay, Adevinta to divest smaller British units to salvage $9.2 billion tie-up

Norway’s Adevinta and U.S. e-commerce group eBay aim to sell three smaller British units in order to obtain regulatory approval for a long-planned tie-up of their global classified ads businesses, the two firms said on Tuesday.

Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last month said Adevinta and eBay would have to resolve the watchdog’s concerns before proceeding with their $9.2 billion deal.

Boeing to build pilotless fighter jets for U.S. and Australian Air Force

Boeing Plane-maker will use a pilotless, fighter-like jet developed in Australia as the basis for its U.S. Air Force Skyborg prototype, an executive at the plane maker said on Tuesday.

The “Loyal Wingman”, the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years, made its first flight on Saturday under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot monitoring it from a ground control station in South Australia.

Boeing’s Loyal Wingman is 38 feet long (11.6 metres), has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 km) range and a nose that can be outfitted with various payloads. The plane can also carry weapons and act as a shield to help protect more expensive manned fighter jets.

The U.S. Air Force in December awarded multi-million dollar contracts to Boeing, General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions to produce unmanned aerial prototypes that can team with crewed jets.

“The airpower teaming system is the basis for our Skyborg bid,” Boeing airpower teaming programme director Shane Arnott told reporters. “Obviously the U.S. market is a big market. That is a focus for us, achieving some sort of contract or programme of record in the United States.”

Defence contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for cheaper and safer ways to maximise their resources.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, is home to Boeing’s largest footprint outside the United States and has vast airspace with relatively low traffic for flight testing.

The Australian government said on Tuesday it would invest a further A$115 million ($89 million) to acquire three more Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to develop tactics for using the jets with crewed planes, on top of its initial investment of A$40 million.

“Our aim with Boeing is to understand how we can get these aircraft to team with our existing aircraft to be a force multiplier in the future,” RAAF Air-Vice Marshal and head of air force capability Cath Roberts said.

Britain in January signed a GBP 30 million ($42 million) contract with the Belfast unit of Spirit AeroSystems for a similar type of pilotless aircraft to have a trial flight in the next three years.

During the test flight in Australia, the Loyal Wingman took off under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify its functionality and demonstrate the performance of the design.

Arnott said that three Loyal Wingman aircraft would be used for teaming flights this year and that the Australian government’s order would take the number available to six.

Boeing has said up to 16 Loyal Wingman jets could be teamed with a crewed aircraft for missions.

($1 = 1.2900 Australian dollars)

($1 = 0.7200 pounds)