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Iranian Crypto Ransomware Threat Will Rise in Today’s Geopolitical Climate, Report Predicts

Iran-based malware that demands a digital ransom in cryptocurrencies is on the rise and will further escalate in the present geopolitical climate, according to a report published by global management consulting firm Accenture on August 7.

After two years of analysis, Accenture Security iDefense predicts that emerging trends in the Iranian cyber threat landscape will intensify as the country is forced into a defensive and economically straitened position in the wake of the U.S. exit from the Obama-era Iran nuclear accord this spring.

With the US set to imminently to reimpose tough economic sanctions, Accenture has warned that the ransomware it has found “could have been created by government-backed actors or Iranian criminals, or both,” as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) further reports.

Accenture has tracked five new types of ransomware — some of which demand “staggering” crypto ransoms — that its analysis has traced back to hackers in Iran based on samples that contain messages in Farsi as well as other clues pointing to Iranian computer systems.

“WannaSmile” —- a zCrypt variant that Accenture discovered in November 2017 — asks for a 20 Bitcoin (BTC) payment in a Farsi ransom note and also advertises local Iran-based payment processors and exchanges through which victims can acquire the cryptocurrency.

Another sample, “Black Ruby,” has been programmed to spare computers with an Iranian IP address, but otherwise encrypts and scrambles the target’s files, as well as infects the machine with a resource-hungry Monero (XML) miner. The ransom for so-called Black Ruby, which Accenture discovered in February 2018, is $650 in BTC.

The report says that the increase in ransomware activity suggests that Iran-based actors are “financially motivated to target global organizations by using ransomware and cryptocurrency miners for financial gain,” although it notes that

“Based on current Iranian policy, the feud may not lead to any disruptive or destructive cyberattack against the United States or European counterparts in the near future.”

Accenture’s report adds that the Iranian government might instead target its neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel —as they supported the U.S. decision to pull out of the nuclear agreement.

Jim Guinn, head of Accenture’s industrial cybersecurity business, told the WSJ that stealth crypto-mining attacks — also known as cryptojacking — have already caused “significant issues in some oil and gas facilities in the Middle East,” estimating that “millions of dollars of compute cycles have been hijacked over the past 12 months and continue to be hijacked every day.”

Amid the geopolitical fallout, economic turmoil in Iran has seen some citizens turn to crypto in an attempt to protect their funds. As of May, Iranians were estimated to have siphoned $2.5 billion out of the country in crypto, notwithstanding the central bank’s move to ban local financial institutions from dealing in crypto earlier this spring.

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Consulting Giant Accenture’s New Patent Reveals Plans for Blockchain Logistics Innovation

Consulting giant Accenture has plans to use blockchain to upgrade its logistics network, a patent application published July 26 reveals.

According to the document published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the corporation wants to follow in the footsteps of various major players in leveraging blockchain to secure, speed up and increase the efficiency of logistics movements.

“A device may receive an indication that a product has arrived at a destination. The product may have been shipped by an entity to the destination,” the patent’s abstract begins, elaborating:

“The device may perform an analysis on the product to determine an attribute of the product. The device may perform a comparison of information identifying the attribute of the product and information included in an encrypted record, for the product, of a blockchain, to verify the attribute of the product.”

The move marks a further step in Accenture’s increasing interest in blockchain, this month having also announced an aerospace supply chain tool in partnership with French multinational aerospace firm Thales.

In March meanwhile, Accenture linked up with global logistics operator DHL to work on a blockchain implementation for pharmaceutical supply chains.

It is also not the first time Accenture has applied for a blockchain-related patent. In September last year, the company gained mixed reactions to its so-called “editable blockchain” application, with some sources claiming the concept ran contrary to the essential ethos of immutability that the technology represents.

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Accenture May Use Blockchain to Track the Quality of Shipments

Professional consulting giant Accenture Global Solutions may be considering using blockchain to streamline and automate shipping logistics.

According to a document published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, the proposed system would determine certain types of attributes for objects being shipped and store that information on a blockchain. The proposed system will then track the objects as they are shipped from one location to another, using the data stored on the ledger to confirm the objects’ status and condition.

Devices participating in the network – which could be robots or unmanned aerial vehicles, for example – can check on the integrity of those shipments as they are transported to different locations, comparing their status to the information that’s already stored on the blockchain.

The information can also be tracked by driverless or other autonomous vehicles.

If an analyzing device verifies the identity of an item successfully by matching its attributes to what’s already described and stored on the blockchain, it will allow the item to continue its trip, whether that places it on shelves, onto a vehicle for further transportation or is incorporated into a further manufacturing process.

If the data from the current and previous stages doesn’t match, the device may order the system to return the product and halt the payment.

The system can also create alerts and messages for managers involved in the shipping process or government agencies that regulate the product. The system could even call for a manager meeting if necessary or request that an investigator check if a product was tampered or altered.

The application is Accenture’s latest show of interest in blockchain applications (and not its first effort to secure intellectual property related to the tech).

Last summer, Accenture and Microsoft launched a prototype of an identity-storage blockchain and is currently working with the World Economic Forum and the United Nations on projects concerning digital identity.

Accenture image via josefkubes / Shutterstock

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Boeing to Develop Blockchain-Enabled Unmanned Vehicles in New Partnership

Boeing is partnering with an artificial intelligence (AI) company to develop pilotless vehicles and other products using blockchain, it announced in a press release July 17.

Texas-based SparkCognition, a company which Boeing invested in in a $32 million funding round last month, will work with the aviation giant on a platform which will track unmanned air vehicles and allocate flight corridors.

As a byproduct of this development, the partnership “will also provide a standardized programming interface to support package delivery, industrial inspection and other commercial applications,” the press release explains.

A buoyant SparkCognition CEO Amir Husain said the aerospace industry will go towards the creation of a giant new market worth upwards of $3 trillion.

“[…] The urban aerial mobility opportunity will lead to the creation of the largest new market in our (lifetimes),” he added.

Coming just days before the UK’s annual Farnborough Airshow, Boeing’s is not the only plan to receive a timely announcement.

On Monday, Accenture announced it would use the event to debut a blockchain-based platform specifically targeting aircraft supply chains.

“We’re at a point in history where technological advances and societal trends are converging to demand bold solutions and a different way to travel,” Boeing’s CTO Greg Hyslop continued.

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Accenture, Thales to Debut Blockchain Tool for Aerospace Supply Chains

Dublin-based major consultancy firm Accenture has partnered with French multinational aerospace firm Thales Group to update aircraft supply chains using blockchain, according to a press release July 16.

Based on Hyperledger Fabric and set for its debut at the UK’s Farmborough Airshow July 21-22, the solution will use blockchain in tandem with Thales’ physically unclonable function (PUF) tool to “track, trace and authenticate aircraft parts and materials.”

“The aerospace and defense industry has one of the world’s most vast and complex supply chains,” John Schmidt, global managing director for Accenture’s Aerospace and Defense practice said, continuing:

“Blockchain technology offers a new, elegant and secure way for the industry to track and trace myriad components while deterring counterfeiting and improving maintenance capabilities.”

Schmidt added blockchain could soon be a “game changer” for aerospace, reiterating comments made in 2017 about the technology’s ability to guarantee authenticity.

Hyperledger Fabric has continued to see multiple implementations through 2018, many of which have come in the form of IBM Blockchain, a suite of services for that help enterprises implement so-called distributed ledger technology (DLT).

While some sectors of the global economy voice doubts about blockchain’s actual potential effectiveness for business, Accenture nonetheless remains buoyant. The firm released a report in June concluding that 86 percent of aerospace and defense companies will adoptt the technology within three years.

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Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange Turns to Blockchain for New Lending Platform

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) is teaming up with Accenture and The Floor, an Israeli fintech hub, to build a blockchain securities lending (BSL) platform aimed to allow direct lending of all financial instruments.

The BSL will act as a “one-stop-shop for all securities lending activities, permitting access to larger securities volumes within shorter time-frames, even operating in shorter-term positions,” a press release states.

With the use of distributed ledger technology from blockchain consortium Hyperledger, the platform is designed to reduce costs, increase security and provide more flexible lending activities. More specifically, the project is built on top of Hyperledger’s Sawtooth platform, with hardware-based Software Guard Extensions security provided by Intel.

Blockchain, the firms say, allows better data privacy between parties involved in transactions, as well as peer-to-peer transactions, smart contract functionality and the security of an immutable ledger.

Ittai Ben-Zeev, CEO of TASE, said:

“Blockchain technology will present a new level of safety for securities lending and will support growth for transactions based on this new platform. Without a doubt, TASE is now, more than ever before, a global financial innovation leader.”

For its role in the project, Accenture will work on the platform’s smart contracts development, as well as offering other services to support the BSL platform, including project management, systems integration, cybersecurity consulting, and others.

“We are very pleased to provide our expertise and capabilities in blockchain, capital markets and fintech ecosystems in order to facilitate this exceptional collaboration,” said Jacob Benadiba, managing director of Israel Accenture. “This project will help TASE create an innovative end-to-end solution that addresses their business, security and technological needs under an extremely powerful new paradigm.”

TASE image via Shutterstock

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Accenture Thinks the US Can Still Be a Blockchain Innovator

Is the U.S. government committed to testing blockchain solutions?

While some at last week’s D.C. Blockchain Summit say they suspect the government isn’t sincere, David Treat, a managing director and co-head of Accenture’s Global Blockchain Practice, believes this answer couldn’t be farther from reality.

Despite the sometimes heated rhetoric of the nation’s lawmakers on some of its more controversial applications, Treat believes government interest in the technology has produced “an unprecedented degree of participation and collaboration,” one that is an equal opportunity for Accenture. 

Perhaps predictably, Accenture wishes to capitalize on this by using its prior experience in developing government services to secure a central role in the U.S. government’s blockchain pursuits, particularly those related to digital identity.

The professional services company is currently working with partners such as the World Economic Forum and the United Nations on projects like the Known Traveler Identity Initiative and the ID2020 Alliance. They’re also speaking to people at whom the technology is directed – refugees, for instance.

But, according to Treat, digital identity projects must necessarily involve individuals and governments.

He told CoinDesk:

“Ultimately, it’s important that how we modernize digital identity satisfies all of the needs of what a nation-state needs as well as an individual, and we think the solution pattern we’re designing and starting to build really threads that needle and can satisfy both.”

While digital identity issues are a priority for Accenture, it also has its sights set on facilitating the government adoption of other blockchain applications.

According to Treat, Accenture welcomes the input of regulators in the development of its blockchain services. “The more they can come along with everyone else and be part of that innovation journey and modernize regulation, the better off we’re going to be,” he claimed. 

Despite this congenial attitude, Treat said in the interview that he wouldn’t go as far as calling himself “pro-regulation.” Rather,”pro-engagement with the regulatory community,” he clarified.

Image by Annaliese Milano for CoinDesk

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Anheuser-Busch Owner Pilots Blockchain for Shipping

The parent company of beer maker Anheuser-Busch has taken part in a blockchain pilot in a bid to test the tech for global shipping uses.

The company is part of a wider blockchain consortium that experimented with technology developed by consultancy firm Accenture. Other participants included shipping container firm APL, logistics company Kuehne+Nagel, and an unnamed European customs organization.

The pilot saw the companies involved use Accenture’s solution for 12 real-world shipments, all of which were sent to a different jurisdiction that each carried its own particular regulatory requirements. The results “confirmed that blockchain can reduce operating costs and increase supply chain visibility,” according to Accenture.

Danillo Figueiredo, vice president of international logistics for AB InBev:

“We continually evaluate new technologies and innovations to enhance our operations to meet consumer needs and deliver the freshest beer. Blockchain technology will be transformational to our business and the world. It reduces mistakes, digitizes information and improves the supply chain process so we can focus on our core business of brewing the best beers for consumers.”

The pilot marks the latest effort to shift from a traditionally paper-based process to a wholly digitized one, using the tech as part of an effort to streamline the data-sharing process between different stakeholders.

Among the companies that have pursued similar applications are the Japanese shipping firm Mitsui OSK Lines, announced a partnership with IBM in a proof-of-concept that looks to streamline the global trade flow.

Last year, the Danish shipping giant Maersk completed its first live blockchain trial. Like Mitsui OSK, Maersk also worked with IBM, levering the open-source Fabric blockchain software.

Image Credit: Roman Tiraspolsky / Shutterstock.com

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DHL, Accenture Reveal Blockchain Prototype To Tackle Pharmaceutical ‘Tampering’

Logistics giant DHL announced it had partnered with Accenture and created a Blockchain-based supply chain prototype March 12.

In a joint press release, the two companies presented a trend report for Blockchain in tandem with what appears to be ongoing plans to introduce the technology to global pharmaceutical supply.

“DHL and Accenture created a blockchain-based serialization prototype with nodes in six geographies to track pharmaceuticals across the supply chain,” the release reports.

“The ledger tracking these medicines may be shared with stakeholders, including manufacturers, warehouses, distributors, pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors. Lab-simulations show how blockchain could handle more than seven billion unique serial numbers and 1,500 transactions per second.”

Permissioned Blockchains have formed a continuing area of interest for Accenture over the past year.

In September 2017, the company filed a patent for a so-called ‘editable Blockchain,’ allowing “enterprises to resolve human errors, accommodate legal and regulatory requirements, and address mischief and other issues, while preserving key cryptographic features.”

While the concept of manually altering Blockchain data sounds counterintuitive for a technology in which an immutable ledger lies at the heart of its effectiveness, the DHL scheme appears equipped to tackle issues endemic in the pharmaceutical industry such as “tampering.”

“We see especially exciting potential for blockchain in pharmaceuticals, which is why we focused our proof of concept with Accenture on the life sciences and healthcare industry,” Keith Turner, CIO at DHL Supply Chain commented.

“By utilizing the inherent irrefutability within blockchain technologies, we can make great strides in highlighting tampering, reducing the risk of counterfeits and actually saving lives.”

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WEF Trials Blockchain in Bid to Boost Air Travel Security

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is working with the Canadian and Dutch governments to pilot a digital identity project that focuses in part on blockchain.

The Known Traveller Digital Identity initiative is aimed at using technologies like blockchain and biometrics to improve the security around international air travel. A prototype, developed in collaboration with professional services firm Accenture, was unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

The idea behind the concept is to provide travelers with greater control over their identifying information by eliminating the need for a central database. Rather, travelers would rely on a “permission-based distributed ledger” that would allow for the transfer of information about a traveler’s background and where they’ve gone to, for example.

The WEF claims that the ledger’s use, if fully realized, would “enable pre-screening and facilitation fo compliant known travelers across borders.” At the same time, that would potentially free up resources for other purposes.

According to the group, an ever-swelling number of travelers – international travel is expected to climb to 1.8 billion people annually by 2013, per figures cited by the WEF – underlies the need for more efficient processes.

John Moavenzadeh, a member of the WEF’s Executive Committee, said in a statement:

“With travellers providing access to verified personal biometric, biographic and historical travel data at their discretion, they can assist authorities to undertake risk assessments and pre-screening in advance: essentially verifying their identities and providing secure and seamless movement throughout their journey using biometric recognition technology.”

According to a report that summarizes the project, it has not yet been decided whether or not the personal data will be stored on the blockchain directly.

Image via Shutterstock

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