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By Ian Pratt, co-founder and President of Bromium

Ian Pratt

Ian Pratt

Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that financial services organisations are the most common victims of cybercrime, with 24% of all data breaches occurring within this sector. Reducing the scale of this problem is far from easy, as much of the financial services industry continues to rely on detection-based security to defend against attacks. This approach means financial services firms are constantly one step behind hackers when it comes to cyber security, and the gap is only getting bigger. We have seen that the vast majority of malware hashes are seen for a matter of just seconds before the code changes, and most malware is only seen once – even with AI and automation, detection software simply can’t keep up. In fact, with so many malware variants available at the fingertips of cyber criminals, detecting every malicious program is not just impractical – it’s mathematically impossible.

While the security industry is struggling to find a way to detect every possible threat that the banks might come up against, Alan Turing’s famous proof of the halting problem demonstrated this can’t be done over 80 years ago. In 1936, Turing showed that no standard algorithm can predict an outcome for every possibility without sinking into a logical paradox. In other words, there is no program that can predict a yes/no outcome (or even won’t halt/will halt or safe/malicious) for every possibility, because the algorithm can easily be contradicted. Like casting out a net that tries to cover absolutely everything, it will get tangled in itself. On the other hand, if the net isn’t cast widely enough, there will always be something that is missed. As we’ve seen from the recent high-profile security breach at Tesco Bank that saw £2.5 million stolen from 9,000 customer accounts, the consequences of an attack slipping below the radar can be all too painful in the financial services industry.

In the red with mutating malware

This problem, all too familiar to the security pros tasked with protecting the banks from the threat of cybercrime, has been compounded by the rise of polymorphic malware. Polymorphic malware is designed to avoid signature-based detection software, as the code is automatically transformed each time it is delivered, so attacks can’t be traced back to a single piece of malicious software. To put the problem this creates into perspective, researchers at Columbia have shown there are many more possible strains of polymorphic malware than there are atoms in the universe. No amount of computing power can search the possibilities.

This is not a fight that the financial services industry, or indeed any other sector can win. We have to accept that computers are more like us than we think, and cannot reliably distinguish the good from the bad. Those trying to keep the banks’ systems secure need to dig themselves out of this reactive rut and look at how to build proactive defences, without relying on detection-based algorithms. To provide an effective line of defence, security technology should be focused on what it can defend: the user’s environment for individual workers within the bank. From application sandboxes to white-listing and behaviour analysis, the industry has the groundwork in place. But these solutions often come at a price – sacrifices to performance and user flexibility that affect productivity.

Virtualisation has been around for some time, but in an attempt to protect the user without compromising on performance, companies are starting to look at using virtualisation technology to secure their organisations. Microsoft, for example, recently announced that it plans to protect Edge browser users using its Hyper-V virtualisation technology.

Tipping the balance by letting malware run

Advances in modern CPU architectures have made it possible to create micro-VMs (virtual machines) that sit on the endpoint, and granularly isolate each user task in an individual, disposable virtual environment. These micro-VMs operate at the hardware level, meaning they can be created and destroyed in milliseconds for every task the user performs – from opening up an email attachment containing a seemingly legitimate financial report, to clicking on a link that takes them to a malicious landing page.

Because every new task is isolated in its own micro-VM with access to just the resources required for that task, when malware executes it cannot impact the underlying physical machine, or any of the other tasks in their own micro-VMs. The malware is unable to access other data, nor persist on the machine or access other systems on the enterprise network – it has nothing to steal and nowhere to go. This kind of micro-virtualisation could be the answer that banks are looking for, as users are protected by the CPU before malware is even detected. As such, cybercriminals can’t use their most successful tactics, such as phishing attacks, to gain a foothold on bank workers’ terminals from which they can leapfrog onto other systems to steal sensitive account information or capture logins to secure systems.

Running tasks in micro-VMs allows their behaviour to be monitored from outside the micro-VM, capturing a black-box flight recorder trace of their execution that can’t be erased by any malware running inside. The trace can be monitored for deviations from expected execution behaviour, thus indicating the presence of malware, even polymorphic malware. Full forensic data can be collected before the micro-VM is destroyed. This keeps banks one step ahead of their attackers, allowing a safe environment to collect intelligence on the latest hacking techniques being used against them and demonstrate that their customers’ finances are in safe hands.

Challenging the norm

By proving that the halting problem was ‘undecidable’ in computing terms, Turing demonstrated that an all-seeing algorithm that can predict anything cannot logically exist. The current approach to security is unworkable, and if banks continue to rely on detection-based software to keep the bad guys out of the digital vault, the hackers will continue to win. We don’t need ‘next gen’ detection software, we need to start again, and look at new technologies that won’t just turn the tide against cybercriminals, but will force hackers to meet on a battleground of our choosing.

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Exclusive: Portugal sees green hydrogen output by end-2022, $12 billion in investment lined up



Exclusive: Portugal sees green hydrogen output by end-2022, $12 billion in investment lined up 1

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal will start producing green hydrogen by the end of 2022 and already has private investment worth around 10 billion euros ($12 billion) lined up for eight projects that are expected to move forward, Environment Minister Joao Matos Fernandes said.

He told Reuters in a telephone interview there were also several “pre-contracts for the purchase and assembly of electrolysers” to produce the zero-carbon fuel made by electrolysis out of water using renewable wind and solar energy.

Such hydrogen is more expensive to extract than the heavily polluting conventional method of using heat and chemical reactions to release hydrogen from coal or natural gas, known as brown and grey hydrogen respectively.

Hydrogen is now mostly used in the oil refining industry and to produce ammonia fertilisers, but sectors such as steelmaking, transportation and chemicals are beginning to develop large-scale hydrogen applications to gradually replace fossil fuels as countries try to reduce pollution.

The European Commission has mapped out a plan to scale up green hydrogen projects across polluting sectors to meet a net zero emissions goal by 2050 and become a leader in a market analysts expect to be worth $1.2 trillion by that date.

“By the end of 2022, there will certainly be green hydrogen production in Portugal,” Matos Fernandes said. “Green hydrogen will, over time, allow Portugal to completely change its paradigm and become an energy exporting country.”

He said seven groups had submitted applications under Europe’s IPCEI scheme for common-interest projects to make part of a planned export-oriented “hydrogen cluster” near the port of Sines, from where hydrogen could be shipped to Rotterdam. Total investment there is estimated at some 7 billion euros.

A consortium including Portugal’s main utility EDP, oil company Galp, world’s largest wind turbine maker Vestas, among others, is behind one of the projects.

In Estarreja in north Portugal, local firm Bondalti Chemicals aims to invest 2.4 billion euros in a hydrogen plant.

Altogether, these envisage an installed capacity of over 1,000 megawatts (MW).

Matos Fernandes said Portugal was also negotiating with Spain the construction of a pipeline for renewable gases, including hydrogen, from Sines to France, crossing Spain.


Spain and Portugal also want to develop an ambitious cross-border lithium project taking advantage of the geographical proximity of their lithium deposits and aiming to cover the entire value chain from mining to refining, cell and battery manufacturing to battery recycling, he said.

Portugal is already a large producer of low-grade lithium mainly for the ceramics industry, but is preparing to make higher-grade metal used in electric car batteries.

A much-awaited licensing tender for lithium-bearing areas that has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic should take place by the year-end, Matos Fernandes said.

He promised the tender would address environmental concerns by local communities and there would be no lithium mining “at any cost”.

The minister also said Portugal would use its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union to finalise a landmark law that would make the bloc’s climate targets irreversible and speed up emissions cuts this decade, expecting it to be approved in the first half of 2021.

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and David Evans)


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Under fire in EU, AstraZeneca CEO says ‘hopefully’ will meet vaccine supply goals



Under fire in EU, AstraZeneca CEO says 'hopefully' will meet vaccine supply goals 2

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot said on Thursday he hoped to meet the European Union’s expectations on the number of COVID-19 vaccines the company can deliver to the bloc in the second quarter, after big cuts in the first three months of the year.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has been under fire in the EU for its delayed supplies of shots to the 27-nation bloc, which ordered 300 million doses by the end of June.

“We are working 24/7 to improve delivery and hopefully catch up to the expectations for Q2,” Soriot told EU lawmakers in a public hearing.

Under its contract with the EU, the company has committed to delivering 180 million doses in the second quarter.

Soriot did not mention the 180 million target, but said he was confident the company will be able to increase production in the second quarter using factories outside the EU that had no production problems, including in the United States.

He confirmed the company was trying to get 40 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the EU by the end of March, which is less than half the amount it promised for the quarter in its contract.

The EU, which has fallen far behind the United States and former member Britain in vaccinating its public, has repeatedly urged the firm to deliver more.

Lower-than-expected yields – the amount of vaccine that can be produced from base ingredients – at its factories hurt output in the first three months.

Asked about supplies to Britain, which relies on the same factories used by the EU, Soriot said the former EU member with a population of around 66 million was smaller, and noted that most doses produced in the EU were used to serve the EU which has a population of about 450 million.

Executives from rival drugmakers that have developed or are testing COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna Inc and CureVac NV were also part of the panel.

But most questions were directed at Soriot amid anger that the company has failed to deliver promised vaccine quantities to the bloc on schedule.

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said the company has experienced fluctuations as the U.S. biotech group ramps up output of its COVID-19 vaccine.

He said usually a company would stockpile product ahead of a launch, but it is shipping every dose it makes, leaving it without any spare inventory.

His comments came a day after the company increased its output target for this year and 2022 as it invests in additional manufacturing capacity.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason in London and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Susan Fenton, Bill Berkrot and Keith Weir)


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Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels



Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 3

By Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) – Airbnb’s quarterly results are likely to show the pandemic may have helped the home rental company lure leisure travelers away from big hotels during the global travel collapse of 2020.

Weary of being locked up in their homes for months, travelers hit the road and booked homes and cottages on Airbnb, while avoiding flights and downtown hotels, analysts said.

Airbnb accounted for 18% of the total U.S. lodging revenue in 2020, up from 11.5% in 2019, data from hotel analytics provider STR and vacation rental data company AirDNA showed.

It outperformed the hotel industry and online travel agents such as Expedia and thanks to its greater offer of ‘sun, ski, and suburban’ rental homes, Cowen & Co analysts said.

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 4

(Graphic: Airbnb grabs bigger share of U.S. lodging market in pandemic:

For an interactive graphic, click here:


In 2019, about 90% of Airbnb’s bookings came from leisure travels compared with about 20%-30% for large hotels chains, including Marriott and Hilton, that rely on business travel to grow their profits.

“Unfortunately, the hotel operators do not have as much supply in locations where people are willing to travel,” said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at AirDNA.

Lane said with mass vaccinations later in the year, the share of alternative accommodations including Airbnb will drop before continuing to grow at 2%-3% per year once normal travel patterns return.

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 5

(Graphic: Airbnb U.S. sales against top hotels:

For an interactive graphic, click here:


* The San Francisco-based company is expected to report gross bookings of $23.10 billion in 2020, down from about $38 billion a year earlier, according to the mean estimate of 12 analysts according to Refinitiv; gross bookings are seen rising by 50% in 2021.

* Analysts’ mean estimate for Airbnb’s full-year net loss is $3.52 billion, bigger than a loss of $674.3 million a year earlier. Full-year revenue is expected to drop 32% to $3.27 billion.


* Of 34 brokerages, 20 rate Airbnb’s stock “hold”, 12 “buy” or higher and two “sell” or lower

* Wall Street’s median 12-month price target for Airbnb is $156​, about 22% below its last closing price of $200.20.

* The company’s stock has nearly tripled since listing in December

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 6

(Graphic: Airbnb’s stock has nearly tripled since debut:

For an interactive graphic, click here:

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sweta Singh and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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