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Quantum Dawn V, SIFMA cyber-doomsday exercise, adds global scope



Traders work at the New York Stock Exchange on October 2, 2019.

Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images

This week, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) held the fifth in a series of exercises meant to simulate a catastrophic cybersecurity event in the banking sector, known as “Quantum Dawn.”

The exercise offers an important yearly insight into what the financial services industry sees as its biggest risks and how it envisions a major cyber disaster unfolding.

This year was the first Quantum Dawn exercise that incorporated participants from outside the U.S., including Europe and Asia. The scenario was a targeted ransomware attack with impacts on major banks across the globe, starting with the U.S. and moving across Asia and the UK.

Ransomware has caused significant issues to major corporations, notably with two major attacks in 2017 known as WannaCry and NotPetya The fictional scenario outlined by SIFMA highlights what would happen if such an incident targeted the biggest financial institutions, taking critical parts of the global financial system offline.

A global malware attack

Around 800 participants from large banks, regulators and other financial firms from 12 countries joined the simulated cyberattack by conference call starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, said Thomas Price, a managing director at SIFMA. Other rganizations established to share cyber threat information also participated, including SIFMA’s counterparts in Asia and Europe.

The fictional event centered around a big unnamed U.S. company — one of the “systemically important financial institutions” designated as “too big to fail” by regulators. After the close of the stock market, the institution was attacked by malicious ransomware and knocked offline, Price said. The initial scenario was followed by a number of questions and discussion of rules around public disclosure of the incident, and how the wider financial industry would coordinate and share information, he said.

While the U.S. scrambled to deal with the first big outage, the same disruptive malware picked off another huge institution in Asia, also taking it offline.

Then a third institution in the U.K. was hit. 

At this point, Price said, “This scenario is impacting major institutions across the globe. Markets are highly volatile. So how do we respond to it?” Price said representatives from the Bank of England and HM Treasury participated in describing their role in the escalating, global attack.

The scenario ended with the ransomware migrating back to the U.S., where it impacted a financial market utility — one of the organizations responsible for facilitating payment and settlement activity in the U.S. Here, the participants described how mitigation efforts could help keep funds flowing and accounts settling.

Despite the imagined technical nature of a rapidly accelerating financial cyberattack, Price said participants were primarily focused on communications. This included how those companies communicate internally to their own executives and employees and externally to their clients, he said.

SIFMA will work with research firm Protiviti, a risk and compliance consulting firm, to see how the participating organizations performed. They expect to publish a public report with observations and recommendations on closing any gaps discovered during the event.

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TikTok transparency report shows it removed 49 million videos



TikTok removed over 49 million videos for content violations in just six months, according to the company’s latest transparency report, published Thursday. 

Less than 1% of all videos published on the platform are removed for content violations, TikTok said, in what is its second transparency report. 

India, where the app was banned last week, had 16.5 million videos removed, which is roughly four times more than any other country. 

The U.S., which is “looking at” banning the app, had the second most videos removed with 4.6 million. Pakistan ranked third (3.7 million), the U.K. was in fourth (2 million), and Russia was in fifth (1.3 million).  

Globally, the main reason for removal was “adult nudity and sexual activities,” with one in four of the deleted videos removed for this reason in December. 

Other reasons included alcohol and drug taking, violence, self-harm or suicide. Less than 1% of the videos removed violated TikTok’s polices on hate speech, integrity and authenticity, and dangerous individuals and organizations. 

Of the videos removed, TikTok said 89.4% were taken down before they received any views. 

TikTok refused to disclose how many were taken down by human moderators and how many were removed by the company’s software. 

Owned by China’s ByteDance, the short video app said that it had 500 requests from governments and law enforcement agencies in 26 countries during the second half of 2019. That’s up 67% on the first half of the year, when it received 298. 

India, which was TikTok’s largest market in terms of user numbers, made 302 requests, and TikTok shared data in 90% of those cases. The U.S. made 100,  and TikTok shared data in 82% of those cases. Elsewhere, Japan made 16, Germany made 15, Norway made 10, and the U.K. made 10. 

“Any information request we receive is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency to determine, for example, whether the requesting entity is authorized to gather evidence in connection with a law enforcement investigation or to investigate an emergency involving imminent harm,” TikTok said in the report. 

Governments requested content be removed on 45 separate occasions but TikTok did not comply with all of those. The bulk of the requests (30) came from India. 

“If we believe that a report isn’t legally valid or doesn’t violate our standards, we may not action the content,” TikTok said. 

The report states that TikTok did not receive any user information or content removal requests from China or Hong Kong. In fact, China doesn’t get mentioned in the report at all. That could be because ByteDance operates a clone of TikTok in China called Douyin so any government requests are likely to be filed there instead.

TikTok isn’t available for download in China and a spokesperson for the company wasn’t immediately available to clarify whether requests to Douyin would be in a separate report.

TikTok has launched “trust and safety hubs” in Dublin, Singapore and Mountain View, California, as part of an effort to provide a more local approach to content moderation. 

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German prosecutors probe Wirecard for money laundering



The lettering of the payment service provider Wirecard can be seen on a laptop screen

Silas Stein | picture alliance | Getty Images

German state prosecutors are investigating Wirecard for suspected money laundering, a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

“We are investigating suspected money laundering,” the spokeswoman told Reuters, saying the inquiry was directed at individuals from Wirecard. She said it followed a number of criminal complaints this year and last.

Wirecard declined to comment.

The implosion of what was seen as a German success story once worth $28 billion has caused major embarrassment with experts and politicians criticising what they see as a hands-off approach on the part of the authorities.

Wirecard filed for insolvency last month owing creditors almost $4 billion after disclosing a 1.9 billion euro ($2.1 billion) hole in its accounts that its auditor EY said was the result of a sophisticated global fraud.

Wirecard started out handling payments for gambling and adult websites and now processes payments for companies including Visa and Mastercard.

Some of the world’s biggest investors held its shares before a whistleblower said it owed its success to a web of sham transactions.

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Airborne transmission of coronavirus in restaurants, gyms and other closed spaces can’t be ruled out, WHO says



A member of Driving Force Crossfit Gym lifts a dumbbell during a socially distanced workout class on July 08, 2020 in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Johnny Louis | Getty Images

The World Health Organization published new guidance Thursday, saying it can’t rule out the possibility that the coronavirus can be transmitted through air particles in closed spaces indoors, including in gyms and restaurants.

The WHO previously acknowledged that the virus may become airborne in certain environments, such as during “medical procedures that generate aerosols.” The new guidance recognizes some research that suggests the virus may be able to spread through particles in the air in “indoor crowded spaces.” It cited “choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes” as possible areas of airborne transmission.

“In these events, short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out,” the United Nations health agency’s new guidance says. 

The WHO said in its guidance that while early evidence suggests the possibility of airborne transmission in such environments, spread by droplets and surfaces could also explain transmission in those cases.

“However, the detailed investigations of these clusters suggest that droplet and fomite transmission could also explain human-to-human transmission within these clusters,” the guidance says.

The WHO added that more research is needed to further investigate preliminary findings. The agency says the main mode of transmission is still believed to be through respiratory droplets.

The new guidance comes after 239 scientists from 32 different countries published an open letter earlier this week calling for the WHO and other health authorities to update their information on the coronavirus.

In an article entitled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19,” the group of scientists contend that the WHO needs to give more weight to the role of the airborne spread of Covid-19. 

On Tuesday, top WHO officials told reporters they were reviewing the latest evidence and collaborating with the broader scientific community to issue new guidance on what is currently known about whether and how easily the virus spreads by air. 

“The body of evidence continues to grow and we adapt,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said Tuesday. “We take this very seriously. We are of course focused on public health guidance.”

Some scientists have criticized the WHO for being slow to issue guidance on the latest research into the coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, a little over six months ago. The WHO has defended its guidance, saying that it’s transparent about its review process and applies healthy skepticism to research that has not been peer-reviewed.

On some days, the WHO reviews up to 1,000 publications, Swaminathan said Tuesday. A typical day might mean WHO researchers are combing through about 500 new studies on topics ranging from how the virus spreads to drugs to treat Covid-19.

If airborne transmission proves to be a major factor in the spread of the outbreak, it could have wide-ranging policy consequences. Masks may prove to be even more important in reducing infections, especially in indoor environments and even in areas where physical distancing is possible. Specially outfitted ventilation units could become the norm in indoor spaces, public health experts have said.

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