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Lockheed Martin expects to be ‘on every mission to Mars,’ CEO says

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The race to Mars is on and a new generation of space companies are providing a challenge to incumbents.

Lockheed Martin is one of several legacy companies working to be a part of future Mars missions, while SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk are pushing to begin colonizing Marsas early as 2022. Despite the newcomers, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson is undaunted in her outlook for the company’s future in space.

“In terms of being the first to Mars, we have been on every Mars mission for it from the very first one,” Hewson told CNBC. “I think we will continue to be on every mission to Mars.”

After the successful maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, Musk told reporters he wants “a new space race.” Falcon Heavy — more powerful than any other rocket available and at a fraction of the price of any competitor — can launch payloads as far as “Pluto and beyond,” Musk has said. But SpaceX is continuing work on its BFR program, which the company hopes will become the backbone of its Mars program.

Hewson pointed to two of Lockheed Martin’s ongoing projects for NASA as backing for her declaration that the company will remain on any future Mars missions: the InSight lander and the Orion deep space capsule. The former is set to launch this May, while the latter awaits its first flight aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2020.

Insight will assesses “the environment of Mars,” Hewson noted, while Orion is not anticipated to make the trip to Mars until after several SLS flights. The deep space capsule will fly uncrewed until at least 2022, when the second SLS mission is expected to take four astronauts around the Moon.

“Someday, it’ll be going to Mars,” Hewson said of Orion.

In the same manner as Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Feb. 15, she offered a measure of praise to the new commercial ventures in space, which received a record amount of private investment last year.

“The new entrants into that over the last several years have helped to raise a lot of the excitement and innovation and I think that’s great for the space program,” Hewson said.

“It’s great for attracting talent into the space programs that we’re working on,” Hewson added.

—CNBC’s Morgan Brennan contributed to this report.

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What is monero? New cryptocurrency of choice for cyber criminals

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When the FBI successfully breached a crypto wallet held by the Colonial Pipeline hackers by following the money trail on bitcoin’s blockchain, it was a wake-up call for any cyber criminals who thought transacting in cryptocurrency automatically protected them from scrutiny.

One of the core tenets of bitcoin is that its public ledger, which stores all token transactions in its history, is visible to everyone. This is why more hackers are turning to coins like dash, zcash, and monero, which have additional anonymity built into them.

Monero, in particular, is increasingly the cryptocurrency of choice for the world’s top ransomware criminals.

“The more savvy criminals are using monero,” said Rick Holland, chief information security officer at Digital Shadows, a cyberthreat intelligence company.

Created in 2014

Monero was released in 2014 by a consortium of developers, many of whom chose to remain anonymous. As spelled out in its white paper, “privacy and anonymity” are the most important aspects of this digital currency.

The privacy token operates on its own blockchain, which hides virtually all transaction details. The identity of the sender and recipient, as well as the transaction amount itself, are disguised.

Because of these anonymity features, monero allows cyber criminals greater freedom from some of the tracking tools and mechanisms that the bitcoin blockchain offers.

“On the bitcoin blockchain, you can see what wallet address transacted, how many bitcoin, where it came from, where it’s going,” explained Fred Thiel, former chairman of Ultimaco, one of the largest cryptography companies in Europe, which has worked with Microsoft, Google and others on post-quantum encryption.

“With monero, [the blockchain] obfuscates the wallet address, the amount of the transactions, who the counter-party was, which is pretty much exactly what the bad actors want,” he said.

With monero, they’re obfuscating the wallet address, the amount of the transactions, who the counter-party was, which is pretty much exactly what the bad actors want.

Fred Thiel

CEO, Marathon Digital Holdings

While bitcoin still dominates ransomware demands, more threat actors are starting to ask for monero, according to Marc Grens, president of DigitalMint, a company that helps corporate victims pay ransoms. 

“We’ve seen REvil…give discounts or request payments in monero, just in the past couple months,” continued Holland.

Monero was also a popular choice on AlphaBay, a massive underground marketplace popular up until it was shut down in 2017.

“It’s almost like we’re seeing, at least from a cyber criminal perspective, a resurgence…in monero, because it has inherently more privacy than some of the other coins out there,” Holland said of monero’s recent rise in popularity among actors in the ransomware space.

Monero’s limitations

There are, however, a few major barriers when it comes to the mainstreaming of monero.

For one, it’s not as liquid as other cryptocurrencies – many regulated exchanges have chosen not to list it due to regulatory concerns, explained Mati Greenspan, portfolio manager and Quantum Economics founder. “It certainly isn’t enjoying as much from the recent wave of institutional investments,” he said.

In practice, that means that it’s harder for cyber criminals to get paid directly in the currency.

“If you’re a corporation and you want to acquire a bunch of monero to pay somebody, it’s very hard to do,” Thiel told CNBC. 

The digital currency could also be more vulnerable to regulation at its on-and-off-ramps, which is the bridge between fiat cash and crypto tokens. 

“I would wager to say the U.S. and other regulators are going to shut them [monero] down pretty hard,” said Thiel.

One way they could go about that: telling an exchange that if they list monero, they risk losing their license.  

But while the U.S. government can indeed keep monero at bay by marginalizing liquidity points, Castle Island Ventures founding partner Nic Carter believes that markets which allow peer-to-peer transfers of monero to fiat will always be hard to regulate. 

There’s also nothing to keep hackers within U.S. jurisdiction. Criminals could easily choose to carry out all of their transactions overseas, in places that aren’t subject to the kind of controls American regulators might put in place.

Bitcoin still rules ransomware

Cyber insurance is another reason why bitcoin is still the currency of choice for most ransomware attacks.

“Insurance is so important in this space, and insurers often refuse to reimburse a ransom payment if it’s been in monero,” said former CIA case officer Peter Marta, who now advises companies about cyber risk management as a partner with law firm Hogan Lovells. 

“One of the things that insurers will always ask for is what type of due diligence the victim company conducted, before making the payment…to try to minimize the chance that the payment goes to an entity on the sanctions list,” explained Marta. 

Traceability is more easily accomplished with bitcoin, given that its blockchain lays bare transaction amounts and the addresses of both the sender and recipients taking part in the exchange. There is also an established infrastructure already in place for officials to monitor these transactions.

Authorities keep lists of bitcoin wallets, which are tied to different sanctions regimes.

While monero does offer a greater degree of privacy over bitcoin, Holland points out that threat actors have mastered certain techniques to anonymize transactions in bitcoin, in order to obscure the chain of custody. 

He says that cyber criminals often turn to a mixing or tumbling service, where they can combine the illicit funds with clean crypto to essentially make a new type of bitcoin, at which point, they turn to currency swaps. 

“Just like you would do dollars to pounds…they may go bitcoin, to monero, then back to bitcoin, and then get a bitcoin ATM card, where they can just cash out dollars with it,” explained Holland.

So even though bitcoin’s blockchain is public, there are still ways to make it difficult for investigators to trace transactions to their ultimate destination. 

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Property group Alliance Global aims to become more sustainable

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A combination of a delicate natural environment and increasing poverty is encouraging the son of a billionaire business founder to improve their company’s sustainable and social efforts.

Property group Alliance Global is based in the Philippines, which — being an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands — is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change, as CEO Kevin Tan described.

“We’re located in a very unique and rather precarious geographic location,” Tan said. “Every year, we experience several calamities, ranging from simple tropical depressions to typhoons to even prolonged droughts and dry spells … In recent years, we have actually seen these occurrences happen more frequently, and with a much higher ferocity,” he added.

Founded by Tan’s father Andrew Tan in 1993, Alliance Global operates in real estate, hospitality and food, with assets including casino and hotel complex Resorts World Manila, and the world’s largest brandy distiller, Emperador. It is also the main McDonald’s franchise holder in the Philippines, via its Golden Arches Development Corporation.

Alongside this, the country has a poverty problem: The World Bank estimates that there will have been 2 million more poor Filipinos in 2020 than there were in 2018 due to the coronavirus pandemic, per a June report — the country has a total population of 108 million.

And according to Tan, a shifting population is also putting pressure on resources. “(There is an) uneven sort of distribution of population growth towards the urban centers versus the rural centers of our country. And … it poses several challenges — among them is really this unequal distribution of economic opportunities,” he said.

The Philippines’ environmental and economic issues spurred Alliance Global to identify two goals: becoming carbon neutral by 2035 and creating 5 million jobs, either directly or indirectly, by the same date. “We decided we wanted to be … better corporate citizens,” Tan said. However, the pandemic meant that the firm extended its deadline for both from 2030. “Nothing could have prepared us for this. I have to admit, yes, of course we had to step back a bit, because we were on survivor mode for the most part of last year and even until today, we’ve had to recalibrate our entire business model. We’ve had to … reduce our costs,” Tan explained.

Alliance Global’s Emperador is the world’s largest brandy distiller.

Jay Directo | AFP | Getty Images

The firm’s net income reduced by 62% year-over-year to 10.3 billion pesos ($216 million) in 2020, although several of its businesses recovered during the fourth quarter. McDonald’s revenue went up 36% compared with the previous quarter, while liquor sales at Emperador rose 42% over the same period.

Making its alcohol operations more environmentally-friendly has been a focus for Alliance Global: At Emperador the firm uses biogas created from the distilling process to fuel its boilers. In turn, the boilers produce steam, which powers turbines and creates electricity. Around 30% of the company’s distillery operations are powered this way, while vineyards producing grapes for its Fundador brandy in Spain use a process called deficit irrigation, where only the areas that need water are given it.

When it comes to economic development, Tan said the company’s Megaworld “township” residential and office complexes are creating jobs. He singled out Iloilo, a development on the Philippines’ Panay Island, where there is a focus on business process outsourcing (BPO), a practice where firms contract some of their operations to external suppliers. Such BPO companies are growing — and they need office space, Tan said. “Traditionally, the BPO sector was dominated by health care, travel, and financial services. Because of the pandemic, new industries have been introduced to outsourcing, for example logistics, technology, and e-commerce,” he explained.

Alliance Global is also looking to reduce waste in its developments. “We collect all the plastics from all of our developments, from all of our communities, we put them together and … cement factories, they take this plastic and use it as fuel,” Tan said.

Tan claimed the firm now looks at a “triple” bottom line. “Profitability is obviously still very important … But when we look at things now, we look at … not just having a singular bottom line, but having a triple bottom line, and that now includes, of course, environmental sustainability, as well as our social impact.”

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Tesla will accept bitcoin when miners use clean energy

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Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla.

Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Sunday said the company will resume bitcoin transactions once it confirms there is reasonable clean energy usage by miners.

“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing bitcoin transactions.”

Musk was reacting to comments from Magda Wierzycka, CEO of South African asset manager Sygnia, who said that Musk’s tweets on bitcoin prices were “market manipulation” and should have triggered an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Tesla revealed in an SEC filing in February that it purchased $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and said it would begin accepting bitcoin as a payment method for its products.

However, the electric-car maker halted car purchases with bitcoin in mid-May due to concerns over how cryptocurrency mining, which requires banks of powerful computers, contributes to climate change.

Read more about cryptocurrencies from CNBC Pro

“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” Musk said in May.

On Sunday, Musk disputed Wierzycka’s allegations of market manipulation, explaining, “Tesla sold roughly 10% of its bitcoin holdings “to confirm BTC could be liquidated easily without moving market,” he said. During the first quarter, Tesla sold $272 million worth of “digital assets,” which helped it reduce operating losses by $101 million, the company revealed in its earnings statement.

Musk’s comments on social media about cryptocurrency often send prices soaring or plummeting, but appeared to have little immediate effect Sunday. Overall, bitcoin prices rose about 8% during the day.



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