A couple of big [unnamed] US tech companies were scammed out of $100 million

The Department of Justice just unsealed an indictment against a Lithuanian scammer who managed to trick two American tech companies into wiring him $100 million. The scammer, 48-year-old Evaldas Rimasauskas, did so by masquerading as a prominent Asian hardware manufacturer, according to court documents, and tricking employees into depositing tens of millions of dollars into bank accounts in Latvia, Cyprus, and numerous other countries. Rimasauskas was first indicted back in December, but the DOJ only unsealed the documents after arresting the man last week.

What makes this remarkable is not Rimasauskas’ particular phishing scam, which sounds rather standard in the grand scheme of wire fraud and cybersecurity exploits. Rather, it’s the amount of money he managed to score and the industry from which he stole it.

The indictment specifically describes the companies in vague terms. The first company is “multinational technology company, specializing in internet-related services and products, with headquarters in the United States,” the documents read. The second company is a “multinational corporation providing online social media and networking services.” Both apparently worked with the same “Asia-based manufacturer of computer hardware,” a supplier that the documents indicate was founded some time in the late ‘80s…

What’s more important is that representatives at both companies with the power to wire vast sums of money were still tricked by fraudulent email accounts. Rimasauskas even went so far as to create fake contracts on forged company letterhead, fake bank invoices, and various other official-looking documents to convince employees of the two companies to send him money.

Rimasauskas has been charged with one count of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and aggravated identity theft…

I can’t believe someone as detail-oriented as this dude appears to be didn’t plan on leaving home and establishing another identity on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. Did he think no one would come looking for the $100 million? At least move someplace without an extradition agreement with the USofA.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

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AT&T, Verizon join UK firms pulling ads from Google, YouTube over hate-group, terrorist content

❝ The U.K. advertising backlash against Google is spreading to the United States. Mobile carriers AT&T and Verizon, Enterprise car rental and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline are among the major ad buyers acting to distance their brands from the offensive and extremist content that saturates YouTube.

Following an eruption of brand association concerns in the U.K. that prompted the Guardian newspaper, European mobile carrier O2, British Royal Mail, Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, Transport For London, the BBC, Domino’s Pizza, Hyundai Kia, McDonald’s, L’Oreal, Toyota and Volkswagen to pull ads from Google and/or YouTube specifically, a series of global brands have also jumped to pull their ads in America.


Do your online shopping with Aryan purity

❝ AT&T is pulling all advertisement from Google apart from paid search placement, a move that affects not only YouTube but millions of other websites that participate in Google’s ad network…

A spokesperson for Verizon said it was also pulling ads, noting that “Verizon is one of the largest advertisers in the world, and one of the most respected brands. We…blah, blah, blah.”

❝ Google declined to comment on the pulled ads, but offered a statement “we’ve begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear…”…

❝ The original investigation by The Times detailed why brands are concerned, noting that Google’s algorithms placed ads for Mercedes E-Class “next to an ISIL video praising jihad that has been viewed more than 115,000 times.”…

Hey. Google’s coders are at least as talented as the geeks working for the Russian GRU and the US NSA. They can come up with algorithms that search folks out by the color of their pubic hair and how many toes they wish they had. I find it unlikely or even difficult for Google to be put-off by the size of the task needed to change the situation they’ve wandered into.

No doubt profit-optimization got them there. It had better work to motivate solutions, now.

The Feds have no idea how to grow decent pot

❝ The only marijuana researchers can legally obtain for studies looks like something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe after walking on a grassy field.

This is not an exaggeration. Take a look at this photo, courtesy of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies:

This is the marijuana that researchers were sent for a study looking at whether pot can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

❝ Due to federal prohibition and regulations, all of the marijuana used for US research is provided by one facility at the University of Mississippi through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But researchers have complained for years that the quality of marijuana that NIDA supplies is terrible — typically far below what you can get from state-legal medical or recreational marijuana markets or even the black market.

The photo above exemplifies this. The marijuana looks like it’s made up more of leaves and stems than the actual bud you’re supposed to smoke. As anyone who’s ever smoked pot can tell you, you’re typically supposed to throw out the leaves and stems — meaning what you see in the photo is basically garbage to the typical user. Usable pot is supposed to look chunkier and laced with crystals that are high in THC (which is what gets you high).

❝ Here’s an example of higher-quality pot, taken before the stems are fully removed:

It ain’t just aesthetics, folks. The questions of usability, effectiveness, say, as a product to be used to wean Americans off opioids – are relevant.

RTFA for all the details and discussion.

Resistbot helps tell your Congress-critter how you feel


Don’t ever let our so-called president off the hook!

❝ In the weeks following the election of President Donald Trump, tips for how people can voice their concerns to public officials circulated on social media and on Google docs.

Now a group of techies wants to make reaching officials in Congress even easier. All you have to do is text. Called “Resistbot,” you’d be right to assume this app is meant to be a thorn in Trump’s side.

❝ “We will faithfully deliver any message our users send in, but the voice of the product is for the liberals and conservatives in opposition to the Trump administration,” wrote co-creator Jason Putorti, a designer for AngelList…

❝ This is a nonprofit side-project for those involved. Volunteering on the project in addition to Putorti is Eric Ries, CEO of startup Long-Term Stock Exchange…More than a dozen others, including about half a dozen employees of Twilio, are also helping out…

❝ …Resistbot faxes users’ texted messages to officials. Just type “resist” and hit send to 50409, and the automated bot will ask your name and your zip code. The zip code is used to determine who your public officials are. Then you type in your message.

The first message you send will go, by default, to your Senators. The bot is supposed to also help users send messages to Representatives after interacting more with the user, according to the app website.

The site says Resistbot creators have confirmed messages are actually received by congressional staffers.

I don’t care if I have to resort to semaphore flags. The point remains the same. Communicate your feelings to the official who is supposed to be representing the folks who elected her or him. As often required. Easily.

Will a New Glass Battery deliver on the End of Oil?


John GoodenoughCockrell School of Engineering

❝ Electric car purchases have been on the rise lately, posting an estimated 60 percent growth rate last year. They’re poised for rapid adoption by 2022, when EVs are projected to cost the same as internal combustion cars. However, these estimates all presume the incumbent lithium-ion battery remains the go-to EV power source. So, when researchers this week at the University of Texas at Austin unveiled a new, promising lithium- or sodium-glass battery technology, it threatened to accelerate even rosy projections for battery-powered cars.

❝ “I think we have the possibility of doing what we’ve been trying to do for the last 20 years,” says John Goodenough, coinventor of the now ubiquitous lithium-ion battery and emeritus professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas, Austin. “That is, to get an electric car that will be competitive in cost and convenience with the internal combustion engine.” Goodenough added that this new battery technology could also store intermittent solar and wind power on the electric grid.

❝ Yet, the world has seen alleged game-changing battery breakthroughs come to naught before…So, on whose authority might one claim a glass battery could be any different?

For starters, Donald Sadoway’s. Sadoway, a preeminent battery researcher and MIT materials science and engineering professor, says, “When John Goodenough makes an announcement, I pay attention. He’s tops in the field and really a fantastic scientist. So, his pronouncements are worth listening to.”…

❝ The new battery technology uses a form of glass, doped with reactive “alkali” metals like lithium or sodium, as the battery’s electrolyte…

They find, for instance, that the lithium- or sodium-glass battery has three times the energy storage capacity of a comparable lithium-ion battery. But its electrolyte is neither flammable nor volatile, and it doesn’t appear to build up the spiky “dendrites” that have plagued lithium-ions as they charge and discharge repeatedly and can ultimately short out, causing battery fires…

❝ Moreover, says…battery codeveloper Maria Helena Braga, a visiting research fellow at UT Austin and engineering professor at the University of Porto in Portugal, the glass battery charges in “minutes rather than hours.” This, she says, is because the lithium- or sodium-doped glass endows the battery with a far greater capacity to store energy in the electric field. So, the battery can, in this sense, behave a little more like a lightning-fast supercapacitor…

…Braga says, early tests of their technology suggest it’s also capable of perhaps thousands of charge-discharge cycles, and could perform well in both extremely cold and hot weather…And if they can switch the battery’s ionic messenger atom from lithium to sodium, the researchers could even source the batteries more reliably and sustainably. Rather than turning to controversial mining operations in a few South American countries for lithium, they’d be able to source sodium in essentially limitless supply from the world’s seawater…

❝ If Goodenough, Braga, and collaborators can ramp up their technology, there would clearly be plenty of upsides. Goodenough says the team’s anode and electrolyte are more or less ready for prime time. But they’re still figuring out if and how they can make a cathode that will bring the promise of their technology to the commercial marketplace.

“The next step is to verify that the cathode problem is solved,” Goodenough says. “And when we do [that] we can scale up to large-scale cells. So far, we’ve made jelly-roll cells, and it looks like they’re working fairly well. So I’m fairly optimistic we’ll get there. But the development is going to be with the battery manufacturers. I don’t want to do development. I don’t want to be going into business. I’m 94. I don’t need the money.”

Gotta love for-real researchers who would rather be exploring the inner space of new opportunities, qualitative discovery – instead of playing entrepreneur and building the next technology startup to an IPO.

Thanks, SmartAlix

Pic of the Day – Calistoga in the rain


Click to enlargeOm Malik

❝ I ended up in Calistoga to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I forgot my backpack at home and as a result am reduced to just one device – my phone. It is interesting to be forced to use a different, wider lens when you are used to a 50 mm lens.

❝ Made with the iPhone7Plus at the Calistoga Ranch, California. Edited with RNI Films app.

Om is living proof that journalists and geeks can both end up doing a damned good job at being human beings. Thoughtful, caring, constructive.

This is from a series of photos noted above – taken with his iPhone as an expedient. But, don’t be surprised by his skill and obvious talent. He’s done notable work with the iPhone as an exercise before.

Click this link through to the photos page of his blog. Click any of the images you like and you will move into the series that snap represents.

Would you buy your kid a doll that can be compromised by the NSA?

❝ It’s nice to have a friend who’s a good listener, but a doll called My Friend Cayla listens a little too well, according to German regulators who say the toy is essentially a stealthy espionage device that shares what it hears and is also vulnerable to takeover by third parties.

“Cayla ist verboten in Deutschland,” says Jochen Homann, the president of Germany’s Federal Network Agency…announcing a ban on the doll in Germany on Friday. His agency oversees electronic privacy as part of its telecommunications mandate; Homann also cites a special obligation to protect the privacy of children, calling them the most vulnerable members of society.

❝ The heart of the problem, Homann says, is that Cayla looks like an everyday doll and gives no notice that it collects and transmits everything it hears — in this case, to a voice-recognition company in the U.S. whose other customers include intelligence agencies.

❝ Nuance, the U.S. company in question, has said in response to similar criticisms that it “does not share voice data collected from or on behalf of any of our customers with any of our other customers.”

❝ The test question — “Can I tell you a secret?” — brought this reply: “Sure go ahead; be very quiet, though. I promise not to tell anyone; it’s just between you and me because we are friends.”

Regardless what the folks making a living off the doll tell you — Do you think the NSA asks permission from the people they bug?

With Trump as the censor-in-chief, federal workers communicate with self-deleting apps, strong encryption


Ethics? What ethics?

❝ After charges that the Trump transition team was trying to scare employees at the Department of Energy — by sending a request for an inventory of all agency employees or contractors who attended meetings or conferences on climate change — some civil servants who felt they needed to protect the long-term interests of their agency and nation took to covert methods of communication. And although…White House staffers are using an app called Confide, which deletes messages once they are read, President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are now going after federal workers who use similar tools of communication.

❝ …Career employees at the Environmental Protection Agency downloaded the encryption apps WhatsApp and Signal shortly after Trump was sworn into office to discuss how to handle a potential gutting of the agency. The apps make it harder for hackers to access conversations as encryption scrambles data and lets only a person with the correct passcode have access.

❝ While most civil servants stay in their jobs from one administration to the next, regardless of who’s in power, Trump has signaled with his picks for leading certain agencies that he seeks drastic change that could lead to deep cuts…

Dissenting bureaucrats have created new email addresses in order to discuss how to deal with Trump’s political appointees without drawing the White House’s wrath…

❝ Republicans, desperate to shut down embarrassing leaks, have now set their sights on the handful of civil servants who have turned to encrypted messaging apps…Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois…Smith and LaHood, who are chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and the vice chairman of the subcommittee on oversight on the Science, Space and Tech committee respectively, argued that the use of encrypted messaging circumvents federal record-keeping laws, and asked EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. to “determine whether it’s appropriate to launch a full-scale review” of EPA workers’ use of encrypted apps.

These two patent leather-politicians aren’t qualified to run a chicken coop much less scientific oversight. It’s obvious their only concern is shutting down any information which might get to the press. Political distortions, lies and fake news chosen to replace fact-based research and development may be acceptable to creation-science nutballs and other Trump chumps. The American public writ large just might resent wasting tax dollars on Republlican mumbo-jumbo.