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The year the tide turned on ransomware



The year the tide turned on ransomware

This year was rife with ransomware. 2021 witnessed the attack on IT software company Kaseya that knocked 1,500 organizations offline, the CD Projekt Red hack that saw threat actors make off with source code for games including Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3, and several high-profile attacks targeting big-name tech companies, from Olympus to Fujitsu and Panasonic.

It was also the year that hackers seized global attention by targeting critical infrastructure, hacking American oil pipeline system Colonial Pipeline, meat-processing giant JBS, and Iowa New Cooperative, an alliance of farmers that sells corn and soy, to name just a few.

After the attacks led to prolonged shutdowns, inflated oil prices, and ran the risk of food shortages, the U.S. government began to take notice — after years of inaction — and scored some rare wins in what once seemed like an unwinnable battle against the ransomware epidemic.

It began in April when the Department of Justice formed the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force. The move, which followed what the DOJ described as the “worst year” for ransomware attacks, aimed to prioritize the “disruption, investigation, and prosecution of ransomware and digital extortion activity.” The task force declared its first victory two months later when the DOJ announced it had arrested 55-year-old Latvian national Alla Witte and charged her for her role in “a transnational cybercrime organization” that was behind Trickbot, one of the most well-known and widely used banking trojans and ransomware tools.

An even bigger win came just days later when the DOJ announced it had seized $2.3 million in bitcoin that Colonial Pipeline paid to the DarkSide ransomware gang to reclaim its data. Since then, the U.S. government has offered a reward of up to $10 million for information that helps identify or track down leaders of the notorious ransomware group.

At the same time, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against the Chatex cryptocurrency exchange for facilitating ransom transactions, just weeks after taking similar action against the Suex crypto exchange.

The biggest win for the Task Force came in October with its disruption of the notorious REvil ransomware gang. Prosecutors announced they had charged a 22-year-old Ukrainian national linked to the gang that orchestrated the July ransomware attack against Kaseya, and said it had seized more than $6 million in ransom tied to another member of the notorious ransomware group.

The U.S. government’s efforts to target ransomware groups this year were applauded by many, particularly for its tactic of following the money. Chainalysis, a provider of blockchain transaction analysis software, lauded the Treasury’s action against Suex as a “big win” against ransomware operators, telling TechCrunch that dismantling the mechanisms for ransomware groups to cash out their cryptocurrency would be vital in slowing them down. Morgan Wright, chief security advisor at SentinelOne, said that without removing the main incentive — financial gain — ransomware gangs will continue to operate and expand.

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“Attackers will always have the advantage because they don’t have to follow the rules or the law. However, there are two approaches that could seriously impact the ability of transitional ransomware gangs to achieve their goals – removing the ability to use cryptocurrency for ransoms and machine speed responses to machine speed attacks,” said Wright.

The U.S. government also offered rewards for information on ransomware tactics, like the $10 million bounty for information on DarkSide, and the subsequent reward for intel on REvil. “With rewards this large, there’s a substantial incentive for these criminals to turn on one another. This action undermines trust across the ransomware as a service affiliate model,” Jake Williams, CTO at BreachQuest, told TechCrunch.

But some believe that while the government’s actions have undoubtedly scared off some, it’s unlikely to disincentive ransomware gangs that continue to reap the financial rewards.

“While I applaud law enforcement efforts to bring those responsible for ransomware attacks to justice, the likelihood of apprehension and jail time simply does not outweigh the large sums of money being made by these criminal groups,” said Jonathan Trull at Qualys, an IT security company. “Unfortunately, the battle against ransomware is an asymmetric one, meaning there simply is not enough law enforcement resources globally to deal with the volumes and complexity of investigations needed.”

Wright agreed, and was less than impressed by the U.S. government’s activity so far: “Arresting two people and recovering a few million dollars isn’t a victory over ransomware. This is more of a political statement to ’show’ something is being done about ransomware. $2.3m isn’t even worthy of a rounding error when you look at the billions of dollars already lost.”

Similarly, many believe that these tactics will unlikely be enough to fend off the growing threat of ransomware as we enter the new year, particularly as threat actors adapt their own. Experts believe that the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model — in which operators lease out their ransomware infrastructure to others in return for a percentage of the ransom proceeds — will continue to thrive in 2022, making it more difficult for law enforcement to track down operators.

Others expect multi-staged attack chains — the breaches that start with a phish and lead to data theft and eventually ransomware — to become more prevalent, which could enable hackers to infiltrate even the most well-protected network infrastructures.

The latter will likely lead to the U.S. government collaborating more closely with the private sector in 2022, according to Trull. “Law enforcement alone is not going to turn the tide, in my opinion. It will need to be a combination of enforcement actions paired with dedicated efforts to harden systems, develop, and operationalize backups of key data and systems, and effective response from the private sector.”

While it’s clear that more action is needed, the U.S. government is making progress. While a handful of prosecutions has been mocked by some, it’s clearly had an impact – particularly on ransomware groups’ ability to advertise and recruit potential partners. In the wake of this unwanted attention, ransomware was banned from several popular hacking forums, leading to one hacking group setting up a fake company to lure unwitting IT specialists into supporting its continued expansion into the lucrative ransomware industry.

“Ransomware gangs are less welcome on certain cybercrime forums than they once were,” said Brett Callow, a ransomware expert and threat analyst at Emsisoft.

Source: Tech


Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform



By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform



Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs



A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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