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Biden prepared to take additional steps after Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack

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Fuel holding tanks are seen at Colonial Pipeline’s Linden Junction Tank Farm on May 10, 2021 in Woodbridge, New Jersey.

Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Monday that his administration was prepared to take additional steps as the energy sector grapples with a colossal cyberattack targeting one of the largest fuel pipelines in the nation.

On Friday, Colonial Pipeline paused its operations and notified federal agencies that it had fallen victim to a ransomware attack.

The assault, carried out by the criminal cyber group known as DarkSide, forced the company to shut down approximately 5,500 miles of pipeline, leading to a disruption of nearly half of the nation’s East Coast fuel supply. Ransomware attacks involve malware that encrypts files on a device or network that results in the system becoming inoperable. Criminals behind these types of cyberattacks typically demand a ransom in exchange for the release of data.

The Department of Energy is leading the federal government response in coordination with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense. A spokeswoman for FireEye Mandiant confirmed to CNBC that the U.S. cybersecurity firm was working with Colonial Pipeline after the incident.

Biden said that since the attack that struck the jugular of America’s pipeline system, he has received regular briefings on the matter. The president said that his administration does not have intelligence to support claims that Moscow directed the ransomware attack. He added that he would still discuss the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“So far there is no evidence from our intelligence people that Russia is involved although there is evidence that the actor’s ransomware is in Russia, they have some responsibility to deal with this,” Biden said from the White House.

The Kremlin has previously denied claims that it has launched cyberattacks against the United States.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. economy as Vice President Kamala Harris stands by in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2021.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

Earlier Monday, White House national security officials described the attack as financially motivated in nature. Biden administration officials, however, would not say if Colonial Pipeline agreed to pay the ransom.

“Typically that’s a private sector decision,” Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technologies, told reporters at the White House when asked about the ransom payment.

“We recognize that victims of cyberattacks often face a very difficult situation and they have to just balance often the cost-benefit when they have no choice with regards to paying a ransom. Colonial is a private company and we’ll defer information regarding their decision on paying a ransom to them,” Neuberger said.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber & Emerging Technologies Anne Neuberg speaks about the Colonial Pipeline outage following a cyber attack during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2021.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

She added that the FBI has previously warned victims of ransomware attacks that paying a ransom could encourage further malicious activity.

Colonial Pipeline did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Earlier on Monday, the DarkSide group described its actions as “apolitical” in a statement provided to CNBC by Cybereason.

“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives,” the group wrote.

“Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society. From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future,” the statement added.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Defense Department was monitoring the nation’s fuel supply following concerns that Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown could trigger shortages of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Kirby said there were currently no known shortages posed to the U.S. military.

Deputy national security advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall told reporters at the White House that the administration did not forecast a fuel shortage.

Colonial Pipeline wrote in a statement Monday afternoon that it hopes to restore service by the end of the week.

“Actions taken by the Federal Government to issue a temporary hours of service exemption for motor carriers and drivers transporting refined products across Colonial’s footprint should help alleviate local supply disruptions and we thank our government partners for their assistance in resolving this matter,” the statement added.

The Colonial Pipeline attack comes as the Biden administration works to pass a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan aimed at addressing, in part, America’s critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.

“Unfortunately, these sorts of attacks are becoming more frequent. They’re here to stay. And we have to work in partnership with businesses to secure networks to defend ourselves,” Commerce Secretary Gina Marie Raimondo told the CBS Sunday program “Face the Nation.”

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort right now. And we are working closely with the company, state, and local officials to make sure that they get back up to normal operations as quickly as possible, and there aren’t disruptions in supply,” she said, adding that investing in infrastructure is a top priority for the administration.

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China plans to send its first crewed mission to Mars in 2033

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A Long March-7 Y3 carrier rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on May 29, 2021 in Wenchang, Hainan Province of China.

Yuan Chen | VCG | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — China plans to send its first crewed mission to Mars in 2033 as it continues to boost its space ambitions in a battle with the U.S.

The world’s second-largest economy is planning regular crewed missions to the Red Planet.

Wang Xiaojun, head of the state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, outlined the country’s Mars plans for the first time this month at a space conference in Russia, according to the academy.

It comes just weeks after China landed a remote-controlled rover called Zhurong on Mars, making it the only country after the U.S. to do so.

Wang said the first step in China’s plans is to use robots to explore Mars to sample its surface and help select a place to build a base. The next stage would be to send astronauts up to Mars to build a base station there. Then China wants large-scale Earth-to-Mars cargo missions.

China has earmarked 2033, 2035, 2037, 2041 and 2043 for such missions and said it will explore technology to fly astronauts back to Earth.

A roundtrip to Mars would have a flight time of “hundreds of days,” the academy said.

The revelation of China’s Mars goals come after a string of successful space missions. China has begun construction of its own space station and earlier this month sent the first astronauts up there. It was the first time China sent a crewed mission to space since 2016.

Earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to the astronauts, congratulating them and highlighting how the country’s space ambitions are supported from the top. Space is an area China wants to lead as part of a broader technology battle with the U.S.

NASA says it plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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JPMorgan Chase ‘strongly’ urges all U.S. employees to get vaccinated ahead of office return

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JPMorgan Chase is `strongly’ urging all its U.S. employees get the Covid-19 vaccine, warning that the jab may eventually be mandatory for workers, according to a memo sent late Wednesday.

The bank is now requiring all U.S. workers to log their vaccination status in a software portal by June 30. Those who are vaccinated don’t need to wear masks, socially distance or log their health status on a daily basis when they return to office life; those who aren’t vaccinated need to wear masks and are encouraged to take weekly Covid tests, JPMorgan said.

“We strongly urge all of our employees to be vaccinated because we think it protects you, your friends and family, your fellow employees, and the community at large,” the bank said in the memo, signed by its entire operating committee led by CEO Jamie Dimon.

“We also believe that the more employees who are vaccinated, the safer our offices will be for everyone,” JPMorgan said. “In the future, we may mandate that all employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination consistent with legal requirements and medical or religious accommodations.”

JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets with almost 260,000 employees globally, is taking a more gradual approach to vaccine enforcement than smaller rival Morgan Stanley. Earlier this week, Morgan Stanley announced that only vaccinated employees and clients could enter offices starting July 12.

At JPMorgan, while employees can choose to keep their vaccination status private, it means they must continue all the precautions, including social distancing, of the pre-vaccine era.

And the unvaccinated are still expected to return to assigned office locations, along with all other U.S. employees, by July 6. Bloomberg reported the memo earlier.

Here is the memo:

Dear colleagues,

In our country today, we all should feel extremely grateful and fortunate that we are starting to see the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. Given the availability and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and other improved health indicators in the U.S., we are now taking steps to properly prepare for returning to the office in a safe and productive way. We are doing this because we believe that human interaction, spontaneous learning and creativity are so important to the way we run our company and serve our clients.

We want to be very specific about what we expect and what the requirements are related to working in the office.

I.        We need all U.S. employees — it is now mandatory — to log into and enter responses in the JPMC COVID-19 Vaccine Record Tool by June 30. If you don’t, your manager will follow-up with you individually until a response is received. We need you to enter this information so that we can properly prepare for and manage returning to the office in a very detailed way, and by location.

There are three possible answers to the question we will ask you:

a.       I am vaccinated

b.       I am not vaccinated

c.       I choose not to share my vaccination status with JPMorgan Chase (it is fine not to tell us, but you must respond)

   II.        If you have been vaccinated, have entered your data into the Tool, and have uploaded your COVID-19 vaccination card, you will no longer need to wear a mask or social distance in most locations in accordance with our current practices, and you will no longer be required to complete the Daily Health Check beginning July 6. (Note: U.S. Branch employees should continue to follow State-by-State Face Covering Guidance.)

  III.        If you indicate that you are unvaccinated or select the “I choose not to share my vaccination status with JPMorgan Chase” option, we still expect you to return to the office. You will be strongly encouraged to test for COVID-19 weekly and will also have to continue to wear a mask, complete the Daily Health Check and practice social distancing when in the office in accordance with our current practices.

  IV.        We strongly urge all of our employees to be vaccinated because we think it protects you, your friends and family, your fellow employees, and the community at large. We also believe that the more employees who are vaccinated, the safer our offices will be for everyone. In the future, we may mandate that all employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination consistent with legal requirements and medical or religious accommodations.

V.        Finally, beginning July 6, we expect all U.S. employees to move to a regular schedule, in your assigned office location, subject to occupancy limits and as directed by your manager. In many cases this may be five days each and every week, and for others it will mean a minimum of 50% of your workdays will be in the office, due to occupancy limits. We are aware that some teams are piloting a hybrid approach that varies by job, such as three days in the office or 50% rotations, but we want each of you back regularly so that we can test the effectiveness of these models as quickly as possible.

Over the past month it has been terrific to see more of you safely returning to our U.S. offices, and we have been pleased to hear from many of you that our workspaces are better than ever. You’ve commented on the health and safety protocols we’ve put in place, the new technology we’ve rolled out and, most importantly, how good it feels to see your colleagues in person.

We look forward to seeing more of you very soon.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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Fierce competition as UAE digital bank Zand prepares for launch

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Buena Vista Images | Stone | Getty Images

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Dubai-based digital bank Zand will attempt to attract customers with competitive deposit rates and a digital-first product lineup when it launches later this year, challenging traditional bank rivals as Covid-19 drives a wave of digital adoption in the Gulf.

“We think there is a huge opportunity,” Zand CEO Olivier Crespin said during a CNBC moderated panel session at the Open Banking Ecosystem Summit hosted by QnA International on Monday.

“We are onboarding friends and family on both the retail and corporate side, and we should be ready to go to market in the next couple of months,” added Crespin, who said interest in the Sheikhdoms newest bank had been “very strong” ahead of its official launch date, which is still subject to final administrative and licensing requirements.

Zand plans to be the first fully independent digital bank in the UAE, with a remit to service both retail and corporate customers. Emaar Properties founder Mohamed Alabbar, the developer behind The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, has invested in the company and will serve as chairman.

Other domestic and international backers are yet to be disclosed.

Zand will offer interest rates of “around 2%” on deposits according to Crespin, as it seeks to attract users and compete in the crowded UAE market, where 48 banks already cater to a population of around 10 million people. 

For example, major local incumbents such as First Abu Dhabi Bank and Emirates NBD offer 0.020% and 0.2% respectively on a standard website advertised savings account. Rates are dependent on a multitude of factors, and a proper like-for-like comparison can’t be considered fair until details of Zand’s product offering are released to the public. 

Zand will offer cards, loans, accounts and personal financial management products “comparable to N26 or Revolut” for new retail customers, Crespin said, drawing a comparison with some of Europe’s established neobanks. “We’re also focusing on the corporate side, where we are going to work primarily on supply chain finance,” he added. 

The launch comes as Covid-19 accelerates the adoption of digital services across the Gulf region. Demand for financial technology products among its young and mobile enabled population is rising, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Regional competition

In the UAE, Emirates NBD has already launched digital retail bank Liv and separate digital business bank E20 — leveraging its banking license, large customer base and established brand credibility. Liv claims to have 400,000 users. 

Other banking incumbents have chosen to partner with financial technology platforms as a means to grow their digital presence. Large international digital banks such as Revolut have also signaled an intention to enter the region, promising currency and crypto exchange services, person-to-person payments, and advanced personal finance analytics beyond the standard offering.

The rising competition underscores the challenge for Zand — a start-up that will need to compete on product, service and back-end technology, while still being subject to the same capital requirements and regulations as its traditional bank rivals. 

“The challenge is being able to combine two DNAs — the DNA of banking, which is about risk management, financial expertise and compliance with regulation, and the DNA of digital, which is about customer centricity, better leverage of analytics and the latest technology,” said Crespin, who previously held roles at BNP Paribas, Citi, and DBS Bank. 

Local reaction

Zand will be put to the test when it finally launches, according to big bank executives who also joined Monday’s panel discussion.

“I think it’s a great development,” Bernd van Linder, CEO of Commercial Bank of Dubai, told CNBC. “The challenge that Zand puts to the banking sector, and one that I embrace and look forward to, is to make sure that we become as agile as fast and as innovative as (Zand) will be.”

However, he said: “The big challenge for the digital banks … is to make money while you compete with lots of incumbents that have already developed their digital proposition, and who know how to make money on the back of lending.”

“The competition is going to be fierce,” Boutros Klink, CEO of Standard Chartered Middle East, told CNBC when asked about digital-first rivals in the region. “It’s exciting, and we need to do what we need to do to stay ahead of the curve,” he added.

“Some will survive, and some will fail, without a doubt.”

 

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