Tuesday, 16 May 2017

2017, Who Can You Trust?

Baltic Dry Index. 994 -20     Brent Crude 51.96

“For a long time it puzzled me how something so expensive, so leading edge, could be so useless. And then it occurred to me that a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a perfect match.”

Bill Bryson

One unintended consequence of the big global ransom attack whoever made it, it showed up the folly of government’s and banksters ever abandoning allowing transactions in cash. Knockout the electronic payments system, and whole economies without cash, will instantly grind to a halt. With no alternative means of payment, buyers and sellers are reduced to barter, theft, or no transactions at all. Call it the one and only good thing to come out from the hackers. Money is simply too important to be left to banksters, bent politicians, and their experts, the dismal science economists.

Below, the latest information and disinformation about the attack. Spin and conditioning the public in full operation. Windows operating system anyone? Not to worry, no animals at the NSA or Microsoft were hurt in the making of this fiasco. Shame about all the missed hospital operations, pain, and deaths though.

If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid.

John Maynard Keynes

Cyberattack Is Blunted as Governments, Companies Gain Upper Hand

by Jordan Robertson and Rebecca Penty
15 May 2017, 10:58 GMT+1
Governments and companies around the world began to gain the upper hand against the first wave of an unrivaled global cyberattack, even as the assault was poised to continue claiming victims this week.

More than 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries have so far been infected, according to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency. The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre said new cases of so-called ransomware are possible “at a significant scale.”

"For now, it does not look like the number of infected computers is increasing," said a Europol spokesman. "We will get a decryption tool eventually, but for the moment, it’s still a live threat and we’re still in disaster recovery mode."

At Germany’s national Deutsche Bahn railroad, workers were laboring under "high pressure" Monday to repair remaining glitches with train stations’ electronic departure boards, a spokesman said.

French car-maker Renault SA, which halted production at some factories to stop the virus from spreading, said 90 percent of factories worldwide had now resumed operations, according to a spokesman Monday.

A new version of the ransomware may have also been spreading over the weekend. Matt Suiche, founder of United Arab Emirates-based cyber security firm Comae Technologies, said around 10,000 machines have been infected by the second variation of the malware.

The malware used a technique purportedly stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency. It affected the U.K.’s National Health Service, Russia’s Ministry of Interior, China government agencies, Deutsche Bahn, automakers Nissan Motor Co. and Renault, PetroChina, logistics giant FedEx Corp., and other company and hospital computer systems in countries from Eastern Europe to the U.S. and Asia.
----- In China, the malware affected computers at “several” unspecified government departments, the country’s Cyberspace Administration said on its WeChat blog Monday. Since that initial attack, agencies and companies from the police to banks and communications firms have put preventive measures in place, while Qihoo 360 Technology Co., Tencent Holdings Ltd. and other cybersecurity firms have begun making protection tools available, the internet overseer said.
China National Petroleum Corp., which owns PetroChina, reported that some of its 21,000 gas stations had seen their digital payment systems disabled by the attack and resorted to accepting cash. More than 80 percent of the stations had been reconnected to the network as of noon on May 14, the company said. Several Chinese universities had also been hit by the attacks, according to local media reports.

The WannaCry Ransomware Hackers Made Some Real Amateur Mistakes

Mon May 15, 2017 | 9:46pm EDT
The WannaCry ransomware attack has quickly become the worst digital disaster to strike the internet in years, crippling transportation and hospitals globally. But it increasingly appears that this is not the work of hacker masterminds. Instead, cybersecurity investigators see in the recent meltdown a sloppy cybercriminal scheme, one that reveals amateur mistakes at practically every turn.

As the unprecedented ransomware attack known as WannaCry (or Wcrypt) unfolds, the cybersecurity community has marveled at the inexplicable errors the malware’s authors have made. Despite the giant footprint of the attack, which leveraged a leaked NSA-created Windows hacking technique to infect more than 200,000 systems across 150 countries, malware analysts say poor choices on the part of WannaCry’s creators have limited both its scope and profit.

Those errors include building in a web-based “kill-switch” that cut short its spread, unsavvy handling of bitcoin payments that makes it far easier to track the hacker group’s profits, and even a shoddy ransom function in the malware itself. Some analysts say the system makes it impossible for the criminals to know who’s paid the ransom and who hasn’t.

An attack of this magnitude involving so many missteps raises plenty of questions while delivering a sobering reminder: If actual cybercriminal professionals improved on the group’s methods, the results could be even graver.

Mon May 15, 2017 | 9:46pm EDT

Researchers see possible North Korea link to global cyber attack

Cyber security researchers have found technical evidence they said could link North Korea with the global WannaCry "ransomware" cyber attack that has infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries since Friday.

Symantec (SYMC.O) and Kaspersky Lab said on Monday that some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programs used by the Lazarus Group, which researchers from many companies have identified as a North Korea-run hacking operation.

"This is the best clue we have seen to date as to the origins of WannaCry," Kaspersky Lab researcher Kurt Baumgartner told Reuters.

Both firms said it was too early to tell whether North Korea was involved in the attacks, based on the evidence that was published on Twitter by Google security researcher Neel Mehta. The attacks, which slowed on Monday, are among the fastest-spreading extortion campaigns on record.

The research will be closely followed by law enforcement agencies around the world, including Washington, where President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser said on Monday that both foreign nations and cyber criminals were possible culprits.

The two security firms said they needed to study the code more and asked for others to help with the analysis. Hackers do reuse code from other operations, so even copied lines fall well short of proof.

U.S. and European security officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that it was too early to say who might be behind the attacks, but they did not rule out North Korea as a suspect.

FireEye Inc (FEYE.O), another large cyber security firm, said it was also investigating a possible link.

"The similarities we see between malware linked to that group and WannaCry are not unique enough to be strongly suggestive of a common operator," FireEye researcher John Miller said.

The Lazarus hackers, acting for impoverished North Korea, have been more brazen in pursuit of financial gain than others, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank, according to some cyber security firms. The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment.
Mon May 15, 2017 | 9:46pm EDT

Ransomware attack again thrusts U.S. spy agency into unwanted spotlight

An unprecedented global cyber attack that infected computers in at least 150 countries beginning on Friday has unleashed a new wave of criticism of the U.S. National Security Agency.

The attack was made possible by a flaw in Microsoft's Windows software that the NSA used to build a hacking tool for its own use - only to have that tool and others end up in the hands of a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers, which then published them online.

Microsoft Corp President Brad Smith sharply criticized the U.S. government on Sunday for "stockpiling" software flaws that it often cannot protect, citing recent leaks of both NSA and CIA hacking tools.

"Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage," Smith wrote in a blog post. "An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen."

Some major technology companies, including Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook Inc , declined comment on the Microsoft statement.

But some other technology industry executives said privately that it reflected a widely held view in Silicon Valley that the U.S. government is too willing to jeopardize internet security in order to preserve offensive cyber capabilities.

The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.

----"NSA should be embarrassed – they’ve had a lot of damaging leaks," said James Lewis, a former U.S. official who is now a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Still, he said, "Microsoft needs to admit that the 20th century is over, it's a much more hostile environment, and that hobbling the NSA won’t make us any safer."

Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. government created an inter-agency review, known as the Vulnerability Equities Process, to determine whether flaws should be shared or kept secret.

White House cyber security coordinator Rob Joyce, who previously worked in the NSA's elite hacking squad, told a Reuters reporter in April that the Trump administration was considering how to "optimize" the Vulnerability Equities Process, but he did not elaborate.

Microsoft Faulted Over Ransomware While Shifting Blame to NSA

Security patches for some popular older versions of Windows were only available if companies paid
by Dina Bass
There's a blame game brewing over who's responsible for the massive cyberattack that infected hundreds of thousands of computers. Microsoft Corp. is pointing its finger at the U.S. government, while some experts say the software giant is accountable too.

The attack started Friday and has affected computers in more than 150 countries, including severe disruptions at Britain's National Health Service. The hack used a technique purportedly stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency to target Microsoft's market-leading Windows operating system. It effectively takes the computer hostage and demands a $300 ransom, to be paid in 72 hours with bitcoin.

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith blamed the NSA's practice of developing hacking methods to use against the U.S. government's own enemies. The problem is that once those vulnerabilities become public, they can be used by others. In March, thousands of leaked Central Intelligence Agency documents exposed vulnerabilities in smartphones, televisions and software built by Apple Inc., Google and Samsung Electronics Co.

The argument that it's the NSA's fault has merit, according to Alex Abdo, staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Still, he said Microsoft should accept some responsibility.

"Technology companies owe their customers a reliable process for patching security vulnerabilities,'' he said. ``When a design flaw is discovered in a car, manufacturers issue a recall. Yet, when a serious vulnerability is discovered in software, many companies respond slowly or say it’s not their problem.''

Microsoft released a patch for the flaw in March after hackers stole the exploit from the NSA. But some organizations didn't apply it, and others were running older versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports. In what it said was a  “highly unusual“ step, Microsoft also agreed to provide the patch for older versions of Windows, including Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

In 2014, Microsoft ended support for the highly popular Windows XP, released in 2001 and engineered beginning in the late 1990s, arguing that the software was out of date and wasn't built with modern security safeguards.  The company had already been supporting it longer than it normally would have because so many customers still used it and the effort was proving costly. Security patches would be available for clients with older machines, but only if they paid for custom support agreements.
Disclosure, in late March on my laptop, Windows on closure attempted to do a massive 51 segment update that went hopelessly wrong, and then "reversed." Over the next several days, on start-up, it attempted loading the updates unsuccessfully and then reversing them, greatly slowing my computer and efficiency. After trying all online MS fixes unsuccessfully, I contacted MS online support. Over almost a week of various attempts at fixing Windows, I was passed up to “level two” help, who uninstalled Windows and reinstalled one of their versions of Windows 7, 64. 
A similar problem reappeared about two weeks later with unable to load two “critical updates,” and the MS online support resolved the issue by again downloading new files from their databases. Coincidence or not?  MS agents were excellent, positive, polite and helpful throughout. Their support agents were a great credit to MS at all times.  But in the light of recent events, did others also have trouble with loading “critical” updates, uninformed by MS just how critical these updates were? Over now to the USA tort bar.
In other news, Uncle Sam tools up for the America First wars.
Mon May 15, 2017 | 7:42pm EDT

New U.S. trade envoy says to meet lawmakers on NAFTA, attend APEC meet

New U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer started work on Monday, vowing to help reverse a "dangerous trajectory" of U.S. trade and making plans to meet with lawmakers over the NAFTA trade deal and attend a Pacific trade ministers conference in Vietnam.

Lighthizer, a veteran trade lawyer and deputy USTR during the Reagan administration, was sworn into office by Vice President Mike Pence, capping months of delays and filling the last open seat in President Donald Trump's cabinet.

Lighthizer will be one of three key leaders on trade policy, working alongside Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade and industrial policy adviser Peter Navarro.

All three have vowed to help shrink chronic U.S. trade deficits through stronger enforcement of U.S. trade laws and to negotiate deals that boost U.S. exports without leading to jobs and factories migrating overseas.

"When my grandchildren, who are here today, talk to their grandchildren, they will say that President Trump permanently reversed the dangerous trajectory of American trade, put America first and made our farmers, ranchers and workers richer and the country safer," Lighthizer said. "I hope I can make some small contribution to that accomplishment."

Lighthizer, 69, will be the principal U.S. negotiator in talks expected to start later this year to revamp the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

On Tuesday, he will start two days of meetings with members of key trade-related panels in Congress, a spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee said. The meetings are required before USTR can formally launch the formal renegotiating process with a 90-day consultation period.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also said Lighthizer will attend the May 20-21 meeting of trade ministers from the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in Hanoi, Vietnam.
“The trouble with programmers is that you can never tell what a programmer is doing until it’s too late.”

Seymour Cray

"I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone."

Bjarne Stroustrup

Crooks and Scoundrels Corner

The bent, the seriously bent, and the totally doubled over.
Today, saving Noble, the next M F Global? The trouble is that in commodities houses that hit the skids, the top traders tend to disappear to the competition fast. No one wants to exit Lehman style, in a cloud of media publicity, clutching a black garbage bag of possessions, like a prisoner exiting jail.

Man Who Helped Bury Lehman Turns to Saving Troubled Trader Noble

by Jack Farchy
15 May 2017, 09:26 GMT+1
As Noble Group Ltd. investors head for the door, the embattled commodity trader has turned to a man whose resume is a roll-call of Asia’s highest-profile corporate collapses.

Paul Brough, a British-born former KPMG LLP executive, was appointed chairman of Noble last week as the company’s stock and bonds plummeted. The Hong Kong restructuring veteran’s most recent jobs include liquidating Lehman Brothers’s assets in Asia, running what emerged from the bankruptcy of plantation developer Sino-Forest Corp., and restructuring failed fishmeal supplier China Fishery Group Ltd.

Reviving Noble Group will be no easy trick after two turbulent years marked by falling commodities prices, losses, mounting debt and accusations of improper accounting. Its stock market value has shrunk to less than $600 million from more than $10 billion in 2010. The latest collapse came after Noble reported another loss for the first quarter.

"The situation of Noble is precarious: trading struggles, liquidity shrinks, liquidity costs are sky rocketing,” said Jean-Francois Lambert, a consultant and former head of global commodity trade finance at HSBC Holdings Plc. “This is clearly untenable."
The company’s shares have fallen more than half since the start of last week to their lowest in more than 15 years, while its bonds due in 2020 have lost 50 percent of their value, pushing the yield up to 40 percent on Monday.
Noble Group told investors that Brough’s first job after taking over from founder Richard Elman would be to conduct a "strategic review of the business.” Noble also said he will also "explore strategic alternatives,” often corporate-speak for finding a buyer for the business.
Noble isn’t in as desperate situation today as some of the other companies Brough has worked for. The commodities trader survived a near-death experience a year ago, when its bonds briefly traded at less than 50 cents on the dollar. At the end of the first quarter, it was sitting on roughly $1.5 billion in cash, which the company told investors on a conference call last week would be sufficient to cover its debts maturing next month.
Brough, 60, has been a non-executive director at Noble since 2015 and knows the company.
“If McDonalds were run like a software company, one out of every hundred Big Macs would give you food poisoning, and the response would be, ‘We’re sorry, here’s a coupon for two more.’ “

Mark Minasi
Technology Update.
With events happening fast in the development of solar power and graphene, I’ve added this section. Updates as they get reported. Is converting sunlight to usable cheap AC or DC energy mankind’s future from the 21st century onwards? DC? A quantum computer next?

Solar power tariff drops to historic low at Rs 2.44 per unit

By Kaavya Chandrasekaran  Updated: May 13, 2017, 12.01 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Solar power tariffs in India have plunged to a new low of Rs 2.44 per unit, continuing the free fall in the cost of green energy after Acme Solar Holdings and SBG Cleantech, the joint venture of SoftBank, Foxconn and Bharti Enterprises, won the latest auction for 500 megawatt of projects in Rajasthan.

Acme Solar won 200 mw with the record low bid, while SBG Cleantech bagged 300 mw quoting one paisa higher in the latest auction in which many Indian and international firms competed intensely.

The auction highlights India’s success in rapidly expanding renewable energy capacity at a low cost, and attracting ambitious bids from reputed companies from many countries including Japan, Taiwan, South Africa, France, Singapore, USA, and Finland in various auctions.

Solar tariffs have plummeted in recent weeks. The latest auction, conducted by the Solar Energy Corp of India for the Bhadla Solar Park, betters the previous record of Rs 2.62 per unit quoted just a few days ago by South African solar heavyweight Phelan Energy Group and local player Avaada Power. SBG Cleantech also won 100 mw in that auction for projects at the adjoining Adani Renewable Energy Park. Before that, the lowest tariff had been Rs 3.15 per kwH, arrived at during an NTPC auction of 250 mw at the Kadapa Solar Park in Andhra Pradesh on April 13 this year.
----With the latest auctions, solar tariffs have fallen well below those of power from thermal plants using new coal. “This tariff is less than coal,” said Kumar. “The average NTPC coal plant tariff is Rs 3.20 per kwH. Solar has a brighter future now.”
"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament]: 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

Charles Babbage

The monthly Coppock Indicators finished April

DJIA: 20,941 +149 Up. NASDAQ:  6,048 +190 Up. SP500: 2,384 +152 Up.

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