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Report: Malware Targets Israeli Fintech Firms Working in Crypto, Forex Trading

According to a cybersecurity company, Israeli fintech companies are being targeted by malware.

Israeli fintech companies that work with forex and crypto trading are being targeted by malware, according to a blog post from threat research department Unit 42 of cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks published on March 19.

Per the report, Unit 42 first encountered an older version of the malware in question, Cardinal RAT, in 2017. Since April 2017, Cardinal RAT has been identified when examining attacks against two Israel-based fintech companies engaged in developing forex and crypto trading software. The software is a Remote Access Trojan (RAT), which allows the attacker to remotely take control of the system.

The updates applied to the malware aim to evade detection and hinder its analysis. After explaining the obfuscation techniques employed by the malware, the researchers explain that the payload itself does not vary significantly compared to the original in terms of modus operandi or capabilities.

The software collects victim data, updates its settings, acts as a reverse proxy, executes commands, and uninstalls itself. It then recovers passwords, downloads and executes files, logs keypresses, captures screenshots, updates itself and cleans cookies from browsers. Unit 42 notes that it witnessed attacks employing this malware targeting fintech firms that engaged in forex and crypto trading, primarily based in Israel.

The report further claims that the threat research team discovered a possible correlation between Cardinal RAT and a JavaScript-based malware dubbed EVILNUM, which is used in attacks against similar organizations. When looking at files submitted by the same customer in a similar timeframe to the Cardinal RAT samples, Unit 42 reportedly also identified EVILNUM instances.

The post further notes that also this malware seems to only be used in attacks against fintech organizations. When researching the data, the company claims to have found another case where an organization submitted both EVILNUM and Cardinal RAT on the same day, which is particularly noteworthy since both those malware families are rare.

EVILNUM is reportedly capable of setting up to become persistent on the system, running arbitrary commands, downloading additional files and taking screenshots.

As Cointelegraph recently reported, a Google Chrome browser extension tricking users into participating in a fake airdrop from cryptocurrency exchange Huobi claimed over 200 victims.

Also, a report noted last week that cybercriminals are reportedly favoring unhurried approaches in attacks made for financial gains, with cryptojacking as a prime example of this shift.

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United Arab Emirates’ Financial Authorities Host Crypto Asset and Fintech Forum

The United Arab Emirates Banks Federation and the Abu Dhabi Global Market hosted a joint forum on crypto assets and fintech.

The United Arab Emirates Banks Federation (UBF) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) hosted a joint forum on crypto assets and fintech, the UAE’s official news outlet Emirates News Agency reported on March 17.

Per the report, the event was held in ADGM in collaboration with the UBF Compliance Committee and aimed to bring together industry specialists to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing fintech and crypto assets.

At the start of the meeting, ADGM also shared its regulatory objectives and the main features of its crypto asset policy and surveillance tools.

Moreover, the overall topics discussed at the forum reportedly ranged from ADGM’s crypto assets regulations and supervisory approach to how banks and financial regulators can jointly develop processes and procedures to ease crypto asset regulatory risks. The report also quotes UBF Chairman Abdul Aziz Al-Ghurair as saying:

“Given the rapid emergence of new FinTech such as cryptocurrencies and other crypto assets, it is essential that we develop frameworks and regulations that govern these technologies and developments.”

Al-Ghurair also noted the local aspiration to become one of the foremost international hubs for finance and how keeping up with the technological change is necessary to achieve this objective.

The UBF is a non-profit organization that represents 50 member banks that operate in the country. ADGM is an international financial center located in the UAE’s capital city.

As Cointelegraph reported in February, the UAE Ministry of Finance also announced that it planned to discuss the development of blockchain and digital assets in the country’s economy at the 7th World Government Summit.

During the same month, six commercial banks from Saudi Arabia and the UAE joined a digital currency project after the authorities of both the countries announced an agreement to cooperate on the creation of a cryptocurrency in January.

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SEC’s Finhub to Host Public Forum on Blockchain, Digital Assets in May

The U.S. SEC has announced that the agency will host a fintech forum focusing on DLT and digital assets in May.

United States regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced that it is hosting a public forum on distributed ledger technology (DLT) and digital assets this May. The news was revealed in an SEC press release today, March 15.

The commission’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (Finhub) has organized the event — dubbed the Fintech Forum — which will take place on May 31, 2019. The press release reports that the forum will include industry experts as panelists and is “designed to foster greater communication and understanding around issues involving DLT and digital assets.”

According to the announcement, topics to be covered during the forum include initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency platforms, “DLT innovations, and how these technologies impact investors and the markets.”

The agency reports that the forum is the second in the Fintech Forum series, the first taking place in November 2016.

The event — which is open to the public — is set to take place at the SEC’s headquarters in Washington D.C., the announcement notes.  

As previously reported, Finhub was created in fall 2018 with the aim of facilitating the agency’s engagement in fintech-related fields, including DLT and digital assets.

This week, the SEC also announced that Finhub will host a series of local peer-to-peer meetups across the country with the aim of engaging more actively with the crypto and wider fintech community. The first scheduled meetup is set to take place in the San Francisco area on March 26, at the SEC’s regional office, before extending to other offices across the country.

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US CFTC Chair: Blockchain and Crypto Are Two Key Phenomena Transforming Today’s Markets

Chairman Giancarlo says blockchain and cryptocurrencies are two key phenomena that are transforming today’s markets.

United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo has said the agency’s fintech innovation hub LabCFTC is the regulator’s internal stakeholder in a landscape of exponential technological change and market evolution.

Giancarlo made his remarks during his last appearance as CFTC chairman before the 44th Annual International Futures Industry Conference on March 14, in an address entitled “Improving the Past, Tackling the Present, and Advancing to a Digital Market Future.”

Giancarlo is expected to be replaced this year by the U.S. president’s nominee for the CFTC chairmanship, Heath Tarbert, assuming the latter’s confirmation.

In his remarks, Giancarlo identified “the disintermediation of traditional actors and business models” as a key factor that challenges existing regulatory models, isolating blockchain and cryptocurrencies as two key phenomena that are transforming today’s markets.

To respond to the challenge that this exponential change poses for federal regulators, the chairman noted that a cornerstone of the CFTC’s approach was the establishment of its own internal stakeholder: LabCFTC.

According to Giancarlo, LabCFTC —  which launched two years ago — has had over 250 separate interactions with both big and small innovators, conducting lab hours across the U.S. and internationally.

The chairman stressed that the lab is not a regulatory sandbox and does not exempt firms from CFTC rules, but rather aims to provide an “internal and external technological focus.” He said:

“Internally, it means explaining technology innovation to agency staff and other regulators and advocating for technology adoption. Externally, that means reaching out and learning about technological change and market evolution, while providing a dedicated liaison to innovators.”

Among its activities, Giancarlo highlighted the lab’s fintech cooperation agreements with global regulators — in London, Singapore and Australia — as well as its publishing of technology primers and public feedback solicitations.

Giancarlo notably aligned the hub’s creation and work as part of a nationwide trend across agencies, stating that “every US federal financial regulator has either created or is creating a program similar to LabCFTC.”

Aside from the Lab, the chairman noted that the CFTC is embracing market-based solutions for innovation, as with its authorization of Bitcoin (BTC) futures, and is striving to become a quantitative regulator — one that is “able to conduct independent market data analysis across different data sources, including decentralized blockchains and networks.”

As previously reported, LabCFTC’s two fintech educational primers have been devoted to virtual currencies (October 2017) and smart contracts (November 2018). In December, the lab solicited public and industry comments on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain as part of its evaluation of prospectively authorizing Ethereum futures contracts.

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German Financial Regulator Issues Paper on Blockchain Securities Regulation

The German Ministry of Finance is pushing for the regulation of blockchain-based securities.

The German Federal Ministry of Finance has published a key issues paper on the treatment and regulation of blockchain-based securities, according to a ministry announcement on March 8.

In the paper initially released on March 7, the regulator discusses the introduction of regulations for electronic securities and the issuance of crypto tokens. The document stipulates that the regulation of electronic securities should be technology-neutral, which means that they could be based on blockchain, or distributed ledger technology (DLT).

The issuance of crypto tokens purportedly will not be subject to existing market regulations since crypto tokens do not represent securities, investment or other financial instruments according to the Securities Trading Act. However, initial coin offering (ICO) of crypto tokens is put up for discussion in the paper as investing in crypto tokens purportedly poses risks for investors.

The announcements reads that, before proposing a draft bill on the subject, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection and the Federal Ministry of Finance should come up with a comprehensive picture of the measures outlined in the key issues paper. The measures purportedly aim to strengthen the role of Germany as one of the leading fintech countries.

Recently, the chief executive body of the German government, the Cabinet of Germany, revealed that the country’s blockchain strategy will be introduced by mid-2019. The Cabinet stated that they will undergo an online consultation process prior to introducing the blockchain strategy. The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy are reportedly preparing the strategy, with the expectation that other relevant ministries will contribute at a later time.

Earlier today, Cointelegraph reported that Germany’s justice and finance ministries proposed to launch a state-run register to boost the use of blockchain to regulate the sector and protect investors from possible abuses. The guidelines also propose easing existing requirements, which assume that financial instruments must have tangible counterparts that can be purchased by investors.

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Crypto Skeptic Massachusetts Secretary Creates Fintech Advisory Group

The Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is reportedly creating a fintech advisory group.

The office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which oversees the state’s securities regulator, has reportedly formed a fintech advisory group, banking trade publication American Banker reports on March 7.

The office of Secretary William Gavin has reportedly formed a group comprising representatives from Eastern Bank in Boston, a blockchain firm called Arwen, academics and legal experts, and other firms. The group will focus on developments in the fintech industry, including digital currencies. Gavin said:

“This working group includes key players from a broad spectrum of the fintech community, ranging from innovation hubs to startups to financial institutions. This collaboration will help advise securities regulators on meeting the novel demands of this rapidly growing space.”

Sharon Goldberg, the CEO of Arwen, told American Banker that the purpose of the group was not simply to crack down on offending companies, but to provide clarity to businesses operating in the fintech space:

“I personally wouldn’t be doing this if all that was going to come out of it was more enforcement action. Enforcement actions are fine, but we first need to know what the rules are.”

Goldberg added that companies can incur significant expenses in ensuring that they are not breaking the law, stating, “[It] is very difficult because you’re afraid you’re breaking a rule and you may not actually know what that rule is.”

Ethan Silver, the chair of the broker-dealer practice at Lowenstein Sandler, reportedly said that many fintech firms hire teams of lawyers and consultants in order to make sure they are not breaking any laws accidentally.

Secretary Gavin has been vocally critical of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC). In December 2017, he stated that Bitcoin is a bubble which will ultimately become a “worthless product.” Gavin also said that blockchain is a nascent technology which is “subject to changes, errors, or criminal activity” and that Bitcoin is “fertile ground for investment scams and other financial fraud.”

In March 2018, Gavin issued consent orders requiring the permanent suspension of five initial coin offerings (ICO), citing that the firms are selling unregistered securities. The Massachusetts Securities Division ordered the ICO issuers to send rescission letters to investors and to refund them within 45 days of the order.

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Chinese IT Giant Tencent and University of Hong Kong Collaborate on Fintech

The Tencent Financial Academy signed a memorandum of cooperation with the University of Hong Kong to foster fintech research.

Tencent Financial Academy, a subsidiary of Chinese IT giant Tencent — signed a memorandum of cooperation with the University of Hong Kong on March 6 for joint research and development projects related to financial technology. Chinese media outlet QQ reported about the deal on March 7.

The collaboration reportedly involves joint research and development of fintech projects between the financial technology and blockchain lab of the department of computer science at the University of Hong Kong in cooperation with Tencent. According to the article, the University of Hong Kong will also launch a fintech course in its bachelor program in September this year.

For four years, Tencent’s subsidiary will also be offering internship opportunities to University of Hong Kong students and providing workshops, guest lectures and corporate visits. According to QQ, the Tencent Financial Academy was established in June 2018 to search for financial and technology talents needed in modern finance.

As Cointelegraph reported in October last year, the Chinese Financial Blockchain Shenzhen Consortium (FISCO), led by multinational telecommunication company Huawei and Tencent, announced its coinless blockchain FISCO BCOS.

More recently — in February — Ripple has announced the latest new partners in its global University Blockchain Research Initiative, which include universities in the United States, China, Singapore and Brazil.

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Bahrain Invites Indian Firms to Facilitate Fintech Development in Region

Bahrain has invited Indian companies to its fintech sandbox in a bid to promote new technologies in the region.

Bahrain has invited Indian companies to its fintech sandbox in a bid to facilitate the development of blockchain technology in the region, The Economic Times reported on March 3.

Bahrain has reportedly proposed a range of opportunities to Indian companies as their key market in the fields of blockchain, digital assets, open banking, and remittances in an effort to boost fintech growth in the country.

Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) Senior Manager Dalal Buhejji reportedly said that some Indian companies applied for the Bahraini fintech sandbox last December, while EDB also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Maharashtra government to develop a framework for the joint promotion of fintech on both markets. Buhejji added:

Central Bank of Bahrain has put in the right ecosystem to support growth and innovation. We have seen different new regulations coming out recently to support open banking, crypto asset trade regulation and draft regulation on robo advisory.”

The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) launched the regulatory sandbox to allow blockchain and crypto companies to work in the country, pending formalized regulations, in February of this year. The initiative is set to enable firms “to test their solution on a limited number of users, with a limited number of transactions,” as well as to expedite new companies’ entrance into the market.

Later that month, Bahraini Shariah compliant cryptocurrency exchange Rain first completed the CBB’s Regulatory Sandbox. The exchange reportedly passed a Shariah compliance certification, which was led by a leading Sharia consultancy and audit firm licensed by the CBB , the Shariyah Review Bureau.

In January, the University of Bahrain announced that it would issue diplomas on a blockchain as part of an overall digitization strategy for mobile learners. To implement the initiative, the university reportedly employs the Blockcerts open standard in partnership with Learning Machine, a startup providing a system to issue verifiable official records using a blockchain-anchored format.

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Survey: Ripple Ranked One of Top Employers in San Francisco Bay Area

Ripple appears to be one of the best employers in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a recent survey by Good Place to Work.

Payment startup Ripple (XRP) has been ranked as one of the best employers in the technology industry in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a recent survey by research firm Good Place to Work (GPTW).

On the list of the best small to medium companies to work in the Bay Area prepared by GPTW, Ripple was ranked as the 17th top employer. 91 percent of employees reportedly said that Ripple is a great place to work at, with 95 percent of the surveyed claiming that they are proud to tell others they work there.

97 percent of the survey participants claimed that they are willing to give extra to get job done, 96 percent said that they are able to take time off from work when they think it is necessary, and 95 percent of the surveyed revealed that they are made to feel welcome when joining the company.

Out of 35 companies on the GPTW’s list, Ripple seems to be the only blockchain and digital currency-related firm. Tech news publication TechCrunch noted that companies have to pay for GPTW services like certification and ranking. In order to be eligible for the list, companies reportedly must allow GPTW researchers to observe the workplaces.

Furthermore, if a company cannot meet certain prerequisites, it purportedly cannot be certified and will not be mentioned on any lists.

Among the large companies list, GPTW ranked Big Four firms KPMG LLP and Deloitte as the 10th and 14th top employers, respectively, tech conglomerate Cisco as the 11th, software company Adobe as the 12th, and NVIDIA as the 17th.

To prepare the 2019 Best Workplaces in the Bay Area, GPTW reportedly conducted an anonymous survey of over 30,000 Bay Area employees, who responded to more than 60 questions. The poll covered such aspects as employees’ trust, reaching their full potential as part of their company, their daily experience, company’s value, as well as effectiveness of leaders.

Last month, Yoshitaka Kitao, CEO and representative director of Japanese financial services giant SBI Holdings, singled out Ripple and blockchain consortium R3 as reasons to remain optimistic about the future of the crypto industry. He said that the real demand for XRP use in cross-border remittances and settlement is already underway and will continue to burgeon.

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New York-Based Signature Bank to Offer Services to Fintech Firms in Bermuda

Signature Bank, a New York-based bank with its own blockchain platform, will offer financial services to fintech firms in Bermuda.

New York-based commercial bank Signature Bank will begin offering financial services to fintech firms in the island nation of Bermuda, local news daily the Royal Gazette reports on Feb. 28.

According to the Royal Gazette, banks in Bermuda have mostly avoided dealing with the fintech industry, which is in need of financial services. Bermudian Premier David Burt said:

“Signature Bank’s willingness to consider Bermuda-licensed businesses for banking services is a significant vote of confidence in and endorsement of Bermuda’s efforts to create a leading high standard regulatory regime for fintech business.”

A reported government announcement stated that Signature Bank “has agreed to provide a full range of banking services to companies that meet Bermuda and Signature Bank standards.” Signature Bank Vice-Chairman John Tamberlane said:

“We are impressed with the progress Bermuda has made to date on a regulatory front, and look forward to working with the Government of Bermuda to help promote growth and expansion of the fintech and digital asset industry in that country.”

Bermuda has overhauled its regulatory frameworks to accommodate crypto, blockchain and fintech businesses. In July 2018, the government amended the Banks and Deposit Companies Act 1999 to create a new class of bank for blockchain and fintech businesses. Premier Burt then said, “The fintech industry’s success globally depends on the ability of the businesses operating in this space to enjoy the necessary banking services.”

That same month, the government proposed new regulations for initial coin offerings (ICOs). The regulations required Bermudian ICO issuers to provide detailed information about the projects including “all persons involved with the ICO.” The government awarded its first certification under the new regime in October 2018.

Burt told the Royal Gazette today, “As a result of our business development and promotional efforts, 66 fintech companies have been incorporated in Bermuda.”

In December 2018, the Department of Financial Services of New York authorized a blockchain-based digital platform offered by Signature Bank called Signet. The bank’s CEO Joseph DePaolo told the Royal Gazette:

“Since launching at the start of the year, our blockchain based Signet system has on-boarded multiple clients who are using it to send each other millions of dollars, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. […] Currently, we are seeing trades in the millions some days and tens of millions other days, with the number of Signet clients in the triple digits.”