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Bitcoin: Hackers’ ‘Anonymous’ Currency

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An illustration photo shows a Bitcoin (virtual currency) paper wallet with QR codes and a coin
  • Bitcoin: Hackers’ ‘Anonymous’ Currency

The perpetrators of the global cyberattack that caused havoc in 150 countries demanded “ransom” money in bitcoins, but experts believe the anonymity that the virtual currency affords is not necessarily impenetrable.

Bitcoin, heavily-coded electronic tokens that take their name from software first put online in February 2009 by several software designers using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, essentially allow those who possess them to remain anonymous.

The message that flashed up on hundreds of thousands of screens infected by the WannaCry virus over the last few days demanded payment of US$300 (€275) in Bitcoin, saying: “Ooops, your files have been encrypted!”

It warned that if payment was not made within three days the price would double, and if none was received within seven days the locked files would be deleted.

“Bitcoin is digital cash. The transactions are totally anonymous and non-refundable. However they are totally traceable, Nicolas Debock of London-based Balderton Capital that specialises in virtual currencies said.

“All the transactions are stored in databases called blockchains. It’s anonymous but anyone can monitor a bitcoin address and see how the money moves,” Debock said.

“No-one can take the money off those who hold it, but it is possible to follow in detail the activity on the account.”

That is the problem for investigators, according to Pierre-Antoine Gailly, who compiled a study on bitcoin and other cyber currencies for French state body CESE in 2015.

“Bitcoin doesn’t need a bank so this monetary flow escapes any supervision and any checks,” he told AFP. “The accounts don’t have a physical address or a bank address and they are not stored centrally – anonymity comes before anything else.”

‘RANSOM NOT THE POINT’

The extent of the damage caused to computers around the world, the number of victims and the sheer number of companies concerned is likely to push international investigators and national security agencies to investigate the bitcoin address to which any ransom money has been paid.

Adding to the complexity of tracking the hackers, the holders of bitcoins can use services available on the so-called dark web known as “tumblers” which can offer an additional layer of anonymity.

“The tumbler divides the bitcoin amounts into thousands of tiny pieces, spreads them around to millions of different addresses and carries out lots of transactions,” said Manuel Valente, the manager of a Bitcoin-selling service in Paris.

“Within a week, all of the bitcoins can be put on a new address with the aim of covering (the holder’s) tracks. It is essentially money-laundering of bitcoins. And people offer this kind of service on the dark web.”

Clement Francomme, the director-general of Utocat, a software company that specialises in blockchains, said collecting ransoms was perhaps not the hackers’ real aim.

“The idea was perhaps to show the rest of the world that they have pulled off a really, really big coup. With an attack like that, they’re going to gain notoriety in the international hacking fraternity.

“They probably don’t have any desire to spend the bitcoins, knowing they are being monitored. Their real aim is to use their reputation to sell other services.”

And Francomme warned: “This team has made a show of force and I suppose there will be another attack before very long.”

European police agency Europol said Tuesday it was too early to say whether North Korea was involved in the massive cyberattack.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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Jumia’s Gross Merchandise Value Drops 13 Percent in Q1 2021 Despite Lockdown

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Jumia, Africa’s leading online marketplace, recorded a 13 percent decline in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) from €189.6 million in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020 to €165.0 million in the first quarter of 2021.

This was despite Amazon, Alibaba and other global e-commerce companies posting high GMV due to the surge in online orders because of ongoing movement restrictions in most nations.

Annual Active Consumers rose by 6.9 percent to 6.9 million in the quarter under review, up from 6.4 million in the same quarter of 2020, the leading e-commerce stated in its financial statements.

Orders grew by 3 percent year on year to 6.6 million from 6.4 million posted in the corresponding quarter of 2021.

Gross profit expanded by 10.9 percent from €18.4 million in Q1 2020 to €20.4 million in Q1 2021. While gross profit after fulfillment expense rose by 149.5 percent to €6.2 million, up from €2.5 million achieved in Q1 2021.

Sales and advertising expense moderated to €8.1 million in the quarter under review, representing a decline of 9.1 percent from €8.9 million posted in Q1 2020.

Technology and content expense stood at €6.9 million in Q1 2021, below €7.2 million in Q1 2020. G&A expense, excluding SBC improved from €24.4 million decline posted in Q1 2020 to €20.3 million decline in Q1 2021.

Adjusted Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) also improved by 24.2 percent to a €27 million decline in Q1 2021 from €35.6 million.

Similarly, operating loss improved by 23 percent from €43.7 million posted in Q1 2020 to €33.7 million in Q1 2021.

Commenting on the company’s performance Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec, Co-Chief Executive Officers of Jumia, said “Our first quarter results reflect solid progress towards profitability. The drivers remain consistent: selective and disciplined usage growth, gradual monetization and continued cost discipline. The first quarter of 2021 was the sixth consecutive quarter of positive gross profit after fulfillment expense, which reached €6.2 million, more than doubling year-over-year, while Adjusted EBITDA loss contracted by 24% year-over-year, reaching €27.0 million”.

“Our strategy to increase our exposure to everyday product categories continues to yield positive results, enhancing the relevance of our marketplace for consumers. We are making further inroads in payment and fintech with 37% of Orders in the first quarter of 2021 completed using JumiaPay. Last but not least, we have raised over $570 million over the past six months, strengthening our balance sheet and increasing our strategic flexibility.

“We are confident we have all the right ingredients to continue to build a growing business across both our e-commerce and fintech activities.”

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Google Wins Cloud Deal From Elon Musk’s SpaceX for Starlink Internet Connectivity

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Google announced on Thursday its cloud unit has won a deal to supply computing and networking resources to SpaceX, Elon Musk’s privately held space-development company, to help deliver internet service through its Starlink satellites.

SpaceX will install ground stations at Google data centers that connect to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, with an eye toward providing fast internet service to enterprises in the second half of this year.

The deal represents a victory for Google as it works to take share from Amazon and Microsoft in the fast-growing cloud computing market.

Investors are counting on Google’s nascent cloud business to boost growth in the event that its advertising business slows down. While Google’s cloud business delivered only 7 percent of parent company Alphabet’s total revenue in the first quarter, it grew almost 46 percent year over year, compared with growth of 32 percent for Google’s advertising services.

It’s also an unusual type of deal for Google — or any other cloud provider — as it relies heavily on Google’s internal network that connects data centers, rather than simply outsourcing functions like computing power or data storage to these data centers.

“This is one of a kind. I don’t believe something like this has been done before,” said Bikash Koley, Google’s head of global networking. “The real potential of this technology became very obvious. The power of combining cloud with universal secure connectivity, it’s a very powerful combination.”

“They chose us because of the quality of our network and the distribution and reach of our network,” said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google’s cloud group.

In SpaceX’s case, there is no need for cell towers. Instead, customers’ devices will communicate to satellites, and then the satellites will link up to Google data centers. Inside those data centers, customers can run applications quickly using Google’s cloud services, or they can send the information on to other companies’ services that are geographically nearby, enabling low latency so there’s minimal lag. Data then comes right back through the Google data centers to satellites, and then down to end users.

The deal could last seven years, according to a person who declined to be named discussing confidential terms.

Starlink’s service might be valuable for consumers living in places with limited internet access, as well as businesses and government organizations running projects in remote areas, Kurian said. He anticipates that having Starlink draw on Google’s cloud network will lead organizations to deploy applications inside Google’s cloud to take advantage of high speeds.

Under the partnership, SpaceX will place its Starlink ground stations within Google data center properties, which can help the service support businesses requiring cloud-based applications.

Starlink is in the process of launching its satellite broadband internet service, which can reach customers without ground-based connections and is one of several space-based systems.

“Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect,” said SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell.

“We are proud to work with Google to deliver this access to businesses, public sector organizations, and many other groups operating around the world.”

Urs Hoelzle, senior vice president at Google Cloud, said the tie-up would help ensure “that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running.”

This new capability for enterprise customers is expected to be available in the second half of 2021, the companies said in a joint statement.

SpaceX is seeking regulatory approval for broadband service for both consumers and businesses around the world from thousands of satellites.

Google is not the only cloud provider to be working with Starlink. In October, Microsoft said it was working with SpaceX to bring Starlink internet connectivity to modular Azure cloud data centers that customers can deploy anywhere. SpaceX would still rely on Google data centers in that scenario, a person familiar with the matter said. (Data would travel from the customer’s Azure modular data center through the Starlink satellite to Google’s data center and then out to other cloud services — and return in the opposite direction. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Initially, SpaceX will deploy the ground stations at Google data centers in the U.S., but the company wants to expand internationally, the person said.

SpaceX is one of the world’s most valuable privately held start-ups, having raised money at a $74 billion valuation in February, CNBC reported. Google invested $900 million in SpaceX in 2015. SpaceX has launched over 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, and last week the company said more than 500,000 people have ordered or made a deposit for the internet service.

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Chinese Smartphone Giant Xiaomi Shares Gains Over 6 Percent After U.S. Agrees to Remove it From Blacklist

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The U.S. has agreed to remove Xiaomi from a blacklist that would have barred Americans from investing in the Chinese smartphone maker.

Shares of Chinese tech giant Xiaomi rallied as much as 6.5 percent after the news, before paring some gains.

In January, the administration under former President Donald Trump designated Xiaomi as one of several “Communist Chinese military companies” or CCMC.

This meant the world’s third-largest smartphone maker was subject to a November executive order restricting American investors from buying shares or related securities of any companies given this designation by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Xiaomi brought a legal challenge against the U.S. Department of Defense.

In March, a U.S. court granted Xiaomi a preliminary injunction against the Trump-era order, saying the company would “suffer irreparable harm in the form of serious reputational and unrecoverable economic injuries.”

And on Tuesday, the DOD agreed that a “final order vacating” Xiaomi’s designation as a CCMC “would be appropriate,” according to a court filing.

Xiaomi and the DOD will “negotiate over the specific terms of the order” and provide the court with a “joint proposed order” on or before May 20.

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