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Global NotPetya Malware Attack Reaches Africa

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The “Petya” cyber attack has hit Africa, South Africa’s 702 Radio has reported. According to the media outlet, several companies in the country could have suffered from the attack that started in Ukraine earlier this week. The malware has hit several organisations in Europe and America, and is now being felt in Africa as well as in some parts of Asia.

How Petya Works

The ransomware targets networks belonging to large organisations and companies. In most cases, it attacks machines that run on Microsoft Windows. Just like WannaCry, Petya leverages the EternalBlue vulnerability in order to infect system files.

After rapidly infecting them, the malicious program starts to install. Then, it forces the machine to reboot and attacks Window’s vulnerabilities in order to encrypt all files. When it cannot compromise the computer through the weakness, Petya attacks Windows administrative tools. It then demands that victims pay $300 worth of bitcoin. The note on the dashboard has a Bitcoin address where victims are supposed to send the money. After settling the ransom, victims are required to send an email requesting a 12 character digital key for decryption.

Petya Reincarnate?

‘Petya’ is not the real name, because the ‘original Petya’ hit back in March 2016. After the first few reports, many users thought it was a reincarnation of the old version and thus named it ‘Petya’. Later, Kaspersky Lab redubbed it ‘NotPetya’. Other names that the malware has gained include Pneytna and Petna. Romanian’s security firm BitDefender named it Goldeneye. By then, the name ‘Petya’ had already gone viral. ‘NotPetya’ is the name widely used to refer to this attack.

Another WannaCry?

The NotPetya attack is barely two months after WannaCry hit several companies in Africa. After the NSA had warned that WannaCry was exploiting EternalBlue to attack Microsoft’s products, the company reiterated by announcing a fixing update for all Windows versions. But few users have updated their operating systems.

EternalBlue is a hacking weapon widely believed to have been created by the NSA. A secret group called the Shadow Brokers leaked it online in early 2017. According to Symantec, both WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware exploited the vulnerability. The agency traced the WannaCry attackers to North Korea.

But Maya Horowitz from the Threat Intelligence says

“Unlike other ransomware types, Petya does not encrypt files on infected machines one by one. Instead, it locks up the entire hard disk drive.”

Antivirus Response

Symantec and Kaspersky are some of the leading antivirus companies that claim to detect and protect devices against ‘Petya’ infections. The companies urge their users to update the security software for the new provision. Also, Microsoft in March fortified their Window’s security tools to patch the ExternalBlue vulnerability.

According to The Register Newspaper, some advanced Windows users have already discovered that the NotPetya outbreak looks for the C:\Windows\perfc.dat read-only file. It does not install on PCs where the file is present, but instead, it spreads out to other computers within the network.

Spreading Like Mushroom in Fall

As The Guardian quotes Proofpoint’s Ryan Kalember, the malware “has a better mechanism for spreading itself than WannaCry.”

Barely a few days after being reported in Ukraine, ‘NotPetya’ is moving fast to other parts of the world. It has disrupted large corporations in Europe and the United States. Companies such as WPP advertising company, Saint-Goban and Russia’s oil and steel leaders Rosneft and Evraz are some of the victims. Others include the DLA Piper law firm, Heritage Valley Health System and AP Moller-Maersk. It is also believed to have brought operations at Indias largest container port, JNPT, to a standstill.

On Wednesday, the ransomware was reported to have hit South African companies. The country’s Radio 702 announced that some local firms could have been infected.

What to Do If Affected

The NotPetya ransomware infects computers and then reboots to install it. During the installation, the malicious software starts to encrypt your files. Victims and researchers say that after the attack, the malware takes an hour before rebooting. So, @HackerFantastic on Twitter came up with a clever way of protecting files. The user tweeted;

‘If machine reboots and you see this message, power off immediately! This is the encryption process. If you do not power on, files are fine.’

If you switch off your computer while it is rebooting, you can stop the encryption process. Although the machine may still end up getting infected, your files will be safe.

If it is too late and the PC is already encrypted, then you will get a note demanding that you pay the ransom. There’s no need wasting your time and money paying the ransom. The attacker’s web provider has blocked the ‘support’ email address provided by the attackers. This means that you cannot contact them to send the key to unlock your files.

Instead, take the device offline, format the hard disk and then reinstall all your files from a previous backup. It is wise to back up files regularly to circumvent such attacks.

Who Is Behind NotPetya?

After the first few hits, pundits noted that the attack was too substandard to have come from expert criminals. In fact, some even claimed that the hacker could be an amateur trying to take advantage of a leaked cyber weapon.

The first indication was that the bitcoin address provided was the same for every victim. In other serious hacking encounters, hackers indicate customised addresses for each target. In addition, the malware has only one email address which serves as ‘customer care service’. The suspension of the email address by the provider shows how shoddily the attack had been planned.

But recent findings project to something bigger than just an attack from a cyber-criminal. In an interview with the Krebs on Security, online safety expert Nicholas Weaver said that Petya is a “deliberate, malicious, destructive attack or perhaps a test disguised as ransomware.” This is because the malware’s code has been modified to ensure that any changes made to a computer’s files are irreversible. This makes it different from regular ransomware.

Although it is not clear enough, security researchers say that the attack is a destructive malware that may be targeting Ukrainian government institutions, but masquerading as a mere ransomware. One of those who hold this view is pseudonymous researcher Grugq, who acknowledges that this malware is different from the old version of Petya. Grudg notes that Petya “was a criminal enterprise for making money.”

The pundit draws the difference between the old Petya and the new NotPetya. “The new is definitely not designed to make money. This is designed to spread fast and cause damage, with a plausibly deniable cover of ransomware,” he adds.

On his blog, Grudg also notes that the payment method was too unrealistic, and no serious hacker could code such a thoughtful malware only to blow up the payment plan. He points out that it would be careless for a malicious coder to indicate a single traceable payment address and lockable email address. The blogger also finds it stupid that the hacker requires victims to email them for the computer’s 60-character unlocking key. According to Grudg, this is the same as ‘send a personal cheque to Petya Payments, PO Box … ’

Why Ask Ransom in Bitcoins?

Most ransomware attacks demand payment in the form of bitcoins. The hackers result to the cryptocurrency due to its pseudo-anonymity. Cyber attackers are smart, and they understand that using their bank accounts or credit cards will get them arrested in no time. Hence, to remain unknown, Petya attackers demand that $300 be paid to their bitcoin address.

Like WannaCry before it, Petya is a wakeup call for African organisations to take cyber security seriously. A number of government authorities are already helping companies to stay safe. In a press statement, the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) outlines the online security measures that organisations and individuals ought to take. A similar statement has been issued by Nigerian authorities.

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5 Reasons Why Online Casinos Should Adopt Cryptocurrencies

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Online casinos are at the forefront of technological innovation in the gambling industry, while cryptocurrencies are arguably the most innovative payment solution on the Internet. 

In this article, we will discuss the top five reasons why online casinos should consider adopting cryptocurrencies as a payment method. 

Access to More Markets

Online casinos heavily rely on online payment platforms such as PayPal and Stripe. Despite the fact that online casinos are available in all areas with Internet connectivity, not all Internet users are able to use these platforms. 

Payment platforms such as PayPal and Stripe are not available in all jurisdictions. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Ghana, for example, are not supported by PayPal. What’s more, some countries have low debit card and credit card penetration, making it difficult for customers from such markets to use online casinos.

Cryptocurrency payments are available worldwide and present an important use case for internet casinos that want to reach an entirely new market of prospective bettors who are unaccounted for by payment platforms. By supporting cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, online casinos stand a chance of reaching new users from markets without popular online payment platform support or penetration.

Access to a New Community of Bettors

The cryptocurrency community has grown exponentially over the last few years with big businesses built around the cryptocurrency ecosystem and its users.

Bitcoin Accepted

With a total cryptocurrency market capitalisation of $266 billion, online casinos that support cryptocurrencies could reach a new community of bettors who prefer to use digital currencies over other payment methods. 

The cryptocurrency community is riding a huge wave of momentum. Many companies that have strategically placed themselves in the ecosystem have seen exponential growth as a result. Online casinos that add cryptocurrency payments could also benefit from the momentum of a rapidly growing online economy.

Lower Fees  

Online gambling providers are generating healthy profits according to market statistics and predictions. However, these platforms could increase profits further if less of their revenue was lost to payment platform fees. 

Bank cards and online payment platforms charge a percentage for all transactions. Fees for cryptocurrency transactions, however, are usually far less and are generally paid by the user. By adding cryptocurrencies, online casinos could accept payments faster and incur lower on fees.

Currently, small merchants pay between two to four percent per credit card transaction, which often involves additional “hidden fees.” Cryptocurrency transaction fees are comparatively low and do not include hidden fees.  

No Chargeback Fraud

Chargeback fraud, also known as friendly fraud, occurs when a consumer makes an online purchase with their credit card and then demands a chargeback from the issuing bank after receiving the purchased goods or services.

Cryptocurrencies offer online merchants protection from chargeback fraud. Unlike credit card payments where transactions can be disputed even after they have been charged, cryptocurrency transactions are final.

For online gambling providers who accept exclusively cryptocurrency payments, chargeback fraud is a thing of the past. 

Increased Publicity

Cryptocurrencies have one of the biggest communities online, full of passionate people who are always happy to propagate positive news, such as the addition of cryptocurrency as a payment method at an online casino store. Additionally, online platforms that accept cryptocurrency as a means of payment also receive extra coverage from cryptocurrency media.

This additional publicity comes in handy for online casinos due to the saturated nature of the industry, which requires platforms to leverage every opportunity that puts them ahead of the competition.

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Is Nigeria Likely to Formalise Remittances and Become the Third-Largest Inbound Market Worldwide?

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IMTC AFRICA 2019

Nigeria is the sixth-largest recipient of remittances in the world with an estimated volume of nearly $25 billion a year. This estimate for remittances flow doesn’t account for the informal market, that even if it is shrinking, as most analysts believe, it adds approximately $10 to $15 billion a year to the formal number. That places remittances for Nigeria at around $40 billion. If this were to be true, then it would squarely place the country as having the third-largest volume of remittances in the entire world, ahead of the Philippines and Mexico with highly formal markets.

IMTC AfricaIn a blog post published by remittance expert Hugo Cuevas-Mohr, he discussed the volume of remittances to Nigeria and the importance of achieving more accurate figures and the success in formalising the remittance market in Nigeria. These are also key topics that will be extensively examined at IMTC AFRICA 2019, a conference that will take place in Lagos on September 24-26 at the EKO Hotel. IMTC is the leading gathering for international money transfer, cross-border payment, and Fintech companies around the world and has chosen Nigeria as the site of its biannual African event to help in the innovation, formalisation, and transparency of remittances in the country.

Why Formalisation is Necessary

Parallel markets, or informal markets, are notorious for skewing a country’s volume, revenue, and wealth statistics; in an age where data is glorified, it is clear to see why this is such a problem. Countries are valued and respected based on their stats, and if Nigeria’s stats are not reflecting the true volume of remittances, then their significance is being missed.

The Nigerian Naira is traded at different rates on the parallel market than on the official market. For instance, as of August 6, the Central Bank of Nigeria valued 1 USD at 306 NGN (Niara), whereas the parallel markets revealed that 1 USD was actually trading at 360 NGN. Such a large discrepancy in the exchange rate reveals just a portion of the issues taking place. If the parallel market exchange rates are correct, then it is extremely unlikely that Nigeria will be successful in curbing the informal market. 

Nigeria’s parallel markets have been prevalent for some time now, but the issue became serious in 2016 when the Central Bank of Nigeria, to curb the informal market, limited the number of legal money transfers to only three International MTOs: Western Union, MoneyGram, and Ria. This subsequently forced all other MTOs to call upon CBN to allow more MTOs to be licensed, jumping to more than 60 in three years. Has the strategy from CBN been successful?

Mr. Cuevas-Mohr states in his blog: “The remittance market in terms of companies abroad serving the Nigerian Diaspora is growing now at a fast pace as remittance volumes to the country increase, partly due to organic growth and partly due to more funds being channeled through official channels.”

Leon Isaacs, IMTC AFRICA 2019 Co-Chair, and an expert in remittances will discuss extensively at the conference the findings that his surveys and data gathering work is revealing. Other topics to be discussed at this trendsetting event will be the impact of Payment Service Banks and Fintechs on remittances, the role of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the importance of strong compliance and risk management and the importance of MTO partnerships with local banks and Fintechs to help to formalise remittances.

Nigeria And the Mobile Industry

man with mobileAnother pressing topic at the conference is that of the mobile industry. In a recent development, the Nigerian government is allowing mobile companies to directly offer financial services. Previously, mobile companies were required to form rigid agreements with banks to offer financial services in the country. These new companies will be known as Payment Service Banks (PSBs), similar to how India enables mobile companies to offer such services.

This is massive news for the world of remittances as PSBs can give their unbanked customers, and generally to all low-income residents, the opportunity to manage mobile money as the digital ecosystem grows. It can also impact the government’s financial inclusion initiatives. The impact of the PSBs in the remittance market is hard to predict but everybody will be watching. Mr. Cuevas-Mohr said: “It will take time to see the impact to the market of Telcos being allowed finally to offer themselves financial services, and remittances.”

As many MTOs participating at the IMTC AFRICA 2019 conference in Lagos have expressed, the event comes at the best time for the industry in Africa. Filled with a compliance course, an innovation forum, panel discussions, keynote speakers, roundtables, and ample time to network with industry leaders, the event will be a gathering of the Who-is-Who in the field of African remittances.

The article was contributed by David Cullinan. 

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South Africans Can Now Invest in Crypto-Asset Bundles

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South Africans can now invest in crypto-asset bundles thanks to Revix, a digital asset management platform incorporated in the UK. Revix aims to expose investors to 80 percent of the cryptocurrency market through bundles.

Bitcoin Africa talked to Revix’s co-founder Sean Sanders to better understand this new digital asset investment option.

Passive Crypto Investment Through Bundles

Bundles are cryptocurrency portfolios that expose an investor to a diversified number of cryptoassets at a low cost while reducing risk. These bundles are comprised of the top cryptocurrencies that are rebalanced each month to keep investments up-to-date with the changing market.

“The name Revix stands for ‘revolutionary index’ and we plan to shake up the cryptocurrency space by providing a secure and smarter way to invest in digital currencies. We are looking to broaden the appeal of cryptocurrencies by making the investment experience seamless. We target investors who are interested in crypto, but do not have the time or inclination to research every opportunity, work out the technicalities of investing, or properly understand the challenges of holding their assets,” said Sanders.

Revix uses diversification because it is difficult to forecast which cryptocurrencies will gain traction and which will not. By holding a diversified basket of assets, the investors’ risk declines while returns can increase.

Revix offers the following bundles:

  1. Top ten bundle: this bundle contains the top ten cryptocurrencies.
  2. Payment bundle: this bundle includes the top five largest cryptocurrencies focused on payments.
  3. Platform bundle: this bundle holds the five biggest platform-focused cryptocurrencies.
  4. Privacy bundle: this bundle comprises of the three largest privacy cryptocurrencies.

Sean Sanders and Louis Buys founded Revix in 2018 and held a launch on April 2019. The co-founders also raised R10 million during the first round of funding from Sabvest, an investment group listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

How Bundles Work

To get started on Revix, register and deposit funds in your preferred currency. Investors can begin with as little as R500. Once you have deposited funds, you can now choose a bundle and invest in it.

Revix

According to Sanders, Revix leverages proprietary technology to link investors to crypto exchanges with a smart price routing algorithm that looks for the best available price for investors.

“By connecting with global, liquid markets and using technology, we can get better prices than what has otherwise been available to local investors. Major factors for local investors are the currency devaluation and geopolitical risk hedges that cryptocurrencies offer. With a rand depreciating over the long term, moving into an asset class that is peer-to-peer, borderless, and uncorrelated to South African specific risks is attractive,” he told Bitcoin Africa.

Revix charges a one percent transaction fee when purchasing or selling a bundle. The platform also ensures that all fees incurred are displayed to the user. Investors’ funds are secured in cold storage across multiple-vaulted locations.

Why Invest in Crypto?

trading strategies you should knowSanders believes that investing in cryptoassets offers South Africans an opportunity to “see the birth and application” of blockchain technology.

“The world of cryptocurrencies is not coming, it is already here, and we have already seen this asset class increase by multiples compared to all other asset classes out there. I mean, cryptocurrencies are the top-performing asset class of the last decade which should not be overlooked,” Sanders asserted.

Rather than waiting to see how the technology pans out, Sanders advocates taking advantage of the opportunity at the present. However, he advises against investing your life savings in cryptocurrencies. All you need to experience crypto and the blockchain is a small portion of your wealth, he said.

Why South Africa?

Revix is offering its investment products in South Africa because the country enables businesses to build online platforms at low costs and the regulatory environment supports enterprises in the crypto scene.

Furthermore, South Africa has a pool of professionals with technical skills in the blockchain and computer science fields. This factor is attractive to companies in the blockchain and crypto industry like Revix.

“South Africa is a key market for us as the country has a diversity of people with vastly different demographics allowing us to test specific concepts and strategies and get customer feedback while managing scale,” Sanders stated.

The Revix platform is attracting a wide range of users such as fresh graduates, retirees, investors well-versed with traditional finance but who are only now learning about crypto, and investors who are unfamiliar with traditional finance but knowledgeable about crypto.

Advocating for Crypto Regulation

Revix

Revix’s Louis Buys and Sean Sanders

Although the regulatory environment in South Africa is crypto-friendly, Sanders thinks that more should be done to enable businesses like his to run more smoothly.

Since a clear regulatory guideline is missing, crypto businesses like Revix take longer to create relationships with banks because of the perceived risk and they operate unlicensed. Therefore, Sanders is welcoming local regulation because it will offer more protection to consumers, provide guidelines on how to treat this asset class, and encourage institutions to participate in this market.

Sanders is an entrepreneur in the crypto space and has established other startups besides Revix. In the past, he has worked for a VC firm and an investment management company. With regards to recent trends in the crypto space, Sanders believes that Facebook’s Libra coin will drive the adoption and acceptance of digital currencies globally.

The South African Reserve Bank announced earlier in 2019 that it is carrying out a central bank digital currency feasibility study while the South African Revenue Service announced cryptocurrency tax laws in 2018. These events could indicate that South Africa is taking positive steps towards recognising, accepting, and adopting digital currencies.

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