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Trump threatens to slap retaliatory tax on European cars as trade war talk heats up

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President Donald Trump threatened to hit car exports from the European Union with a retaliatory tax, an apparent response to European officials threatening policy changes of their own in the wake of newly announced tariffs on steel and aluminum.

In a post on Twitter, Trump cited a “big imbalance” between the two countries, said if the 28-nation bloc insisted on imposing punitive taxes on U.S. goods, America would strike back on European car exports.

“If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a tax on their cars which freely pour into the U.S.,” the president said on Twitter.

That could spell trouble for car manufacturers like Volkswagen and BMW, two of the most popular European brands sold in the U.S. The German luxury car maker also manufactures many of its cars in America, shipping billions of dollars worth abroad.

In 2016, the EU shipped more than 6 million cars abroad, and the U.S. — its largest market by far — absorbed more than 1 million of those, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Trump’s hasty decision to impose tariffs on steel imports has stoked talk of a brewing trade war, roiling both the political establishment and the global economic order. The move also prompted E.U. trade chiefs to weigh hitting a broad array of U.S. imports with a 25 percent tax, Reuters reported this week.



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Bitcoin (BTC) soars after Musk says Tesla could accept the crypto again

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Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX speaks at the 2020 Satellite Conference and Exhibition March 9, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Win McNamee | Getty Images

Bitcoin’s price surged Sunday evening stateside after Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the electric vehicle maker could accept bitcoin transactions again in future.

As of 11:09 p.m. ET Sunday, Bitcoin surged 10.2% to $38,903.23, according to data from Coindesk. Since the start of the year, bitcoin has surged more than 30%, though its current price is way off the all-time high of $64,829.14 hit in April.

Those gains came after Musk said Sunday that Tesla will resume allowing bitcoin transactions “when there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend.”

Teslas halted car purchases with bitcoin in mid-May, citing concerns over the climate impact of cryptocurrency mining.

Crypto mining requires massive amounts of energy to fuel powerful computers — bitcoin mining consumes more energy than entire countries such as Finland and Belgium, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.

The latest development marks yet another example of large market moves following comments by the Tesla CEO and billionaire.

Hundreds of billions of dollars were wiped off the cryptocurrency market after Musk tweeted in May about Tesla’s suspension of car purchases using bitcoin. Musk’s past tweets have also been linked to moves in the stock market — ranging from so-called meme stocks such as GameStop, to the investor of viral song “Baby Shark.”

Bitcoin under environmental spotlight

The environmental impact of bitcoin mining has come under intense scrutiny.

As part of its crackdown on bitcoin, China’s Inner Mongolia region — a major bitcoin mining hub — in late-May proposed punishments for companies and individuals involved in digital currency mining. It came after Chinese Vice Premier Liu He said it is necessary to “crack down on Bitcoin mining and trading behavior” to prevent the “transmission of individual risks to the social field.”

Elsewhere, Iran’s government in announced in May a ban on the mining of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies until Sept. 22, after officials said blackouts in the country’s capital of Tehran and several other large cities were in part due to the energy-intensive activity.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal and Natasha Turak contributed to this report.

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Microsoft executive says workers slept in data centers during lockdown

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System administrator Alexander Landmann carries a server in the computer centre of Deutsche Bahn in Berlin on Oct. 22, 2020.

Britta Pedersen | picture alliance | Getty Images

Microsoft employees slept in the software company’s data centers during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, an executive said on Wednesday.

While many top technology companies directed their employees to work from home after Covid showed up in the U.S. in 2020, some employees were so important that they had to work on site. That was the case for a select few who worked at the locations containing the servers for online services like Microsoft Teams, as well as public-cloud infrastructure powering third-party customers’ applications.

“I heard amazing stories about people actually sleeping in data centers,” Kristen Roby Dimlow, corporate vice president for total rewards, performance and human resources business insights, said during a conversation with Morgan Stanley analysts Josh Baer and Mark Carlucci. “In certain countries there was huge lockdown, and so we would have our own employees choose to sleep in the data center because they were worried they’d get stuck at a roadblock, trying to go home.”

Generally data centers are not places where people sleep. Aisles can be hot from air coming off of servers, and cold because of air conditioning to prevent machines from overheating. A Microsoft spokesperson would not say where employees slept in data centers or how many did it.

The company changed several aspects of work at its data centers because of the pandemic, Noelle Walsh, corporate vice president for the company’s Cloud Operations and Innovation group, said in an interview with CNBC in April.

Employees were allowed to work from home if they felt anxious about coming to data centers, Walsh said. If people didn’t want to take the bus, the company provided transportation to and from data centers and even allowed people to stay in hotels, she said.

“We had to in some cases go to shift work, day and night, to get the work done within the same schedule,” Walsh said.

WATCH: Why data centers were the top real estate sector of 2020

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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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