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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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Israeli Bank Policy Should Not Have Shut Down Bitcoin Mining Firm’s Account, Court Rules

A judge in Tel Aviv has delivered a mixed verdict as part of a case involving Israminers and Union Bank.

An Israeli court has ruled in favor of a Bitcoin (BTC) mining company after a local bank closed its account over money laundering concerns. Israeli daily business news outlet Calcalist reported the development on March 17.

Israminers, which sued Bank Igud (the Union Bank of Israel Ltd.) in May 2018, had faced problems with cash flow due to the bank blocking deposits which it said was against its terms.

Following a lengthy appeals process, a Tel Aviv district court judge argued that the bank’s policy on cryptocurrency clients was too broad, and should not include automatic rejections.

“I believe that the sweeping policy, which does not distinguish between different types of activity, scope of activity and different types of customers — in the field of digital currencies — is unreasonable,” Calcalist quoted judge Limor Bibi as saying.

At the same time, however, Bibi said banks were within their rights to refuse deposits which originated from cryptocurrency trades.

The episode continues the patchwork regulatory attitude to cryptocurrency trading as it impacts the legacy banking system. As Cointelegraph has reported, various banks have taken issue with servicing businesses and private investors who trade cryptocurrency.

Often, the hostile stance contradicts other activities at the same bank: United Kingdom-based Barclays, for example, also shut down accounts prior to developing a relationship with major cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase to conversely speed up deposits and withdrawals.

In the case of Union Bank, it would appear senior executives had benefited from education in the emerging sector, with local startup Bit2C conducting a seminar on its workings last November.

Earlier this month, a dedicated committee from Israel’s securities regulator issued final recommendations for governing the cryptocurrency economy, something which could see banks’ treatment become more uniform in future.

“The committee recommends considering adjustment of the existing regulation to create more suitable regulatory infrastructure for this trading activity in order to better cope with the risks incurred in this activity,” an accompanying report explained.

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Neema CEO: Marshall Islands Digital Currency Needs Work to Satisfy US Regulatory Concerns

The Marshall Islands’ government upcoming digital currency still needs work in order to placate U.S. financial regulators.

The Marshall Islands’ government upcoming digital currency, which will be launched in partnership with Israeli startup Neema, still needs work in order to placate United States financial regulators. English-language Israeli media The Times of Israel reported on the currency’s progress on March 9.

While the release of the coin, dubbed the Sovereign (SOV), is scheduled for later this year, The Times of Israel notes that the U.S. regulators are concerned about a possible negative impact on the existing banks in the country, as well as potential for money laundering.

More precisely, the article mentions that every SOV account will be fully identified and buyers will be checked against the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control.

Barak Ben Ezer, Neema’s CEO, also notes that they are in the process of preparing an SOV initial coin offering. He said that the goal is “being ready to launch once positive momentum is back to the markets,” and added:

“It will be done once all stakeholders are convinced that SOV is ready, risks have been mitigated, and momentum is building.”

As Cointelegraph reported in a dedicated analysis, the Marshall Islands currently use the U.S. dollar as its legal tender and are “highly dependent on receiving and spending U.S. grants,” totaling around $70 million each year in assistance. Once released, the SOV would circulate alongside the dollar as a legal tender.

In September last year, the International Monetary Fund warned the Republic of the Marshall Islands about the risks of adopting a cryptocurrency as a second legal tender, urging the country to abandon the plans.

The plan to launch the SOV is controversial enough that president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands Hilda Heine faced a vote of no confidence in November last year. Still, Heine narrowly remained in office by one vote.

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Israel Securities Authority Publishes Final Recommendations on Crypto Regulation

Israeli securities regulators published their final recommendations for crypto regulation, offering to create a platform for trading cryptocurrencies.

The Israel Securities Authority (ISA) has published its final report on cryptocurrency regulations, local financial newspaper Globes reports Thursday, March 7.

A special committee formed in 2017 to develop proper regulations for cryptocurrencies has presented its report to ISA chairperson Anat Guetta. Commenting on the recommendations, Guetta said that they were designed both to develop the crypto sector and protect the rights of investors. She further added that the technology is “here to stay” despite the fact that excitement in the industry has cooled.

The ISA recommends imposing disclosure requirements for crypto offerings that qualify as securities and states that such offerings should be controlled in a similar manner to crowdfunding.

The final ISA report puts forth several main ideas for how to support the crypto industry in the country including the establishment of regulatory sandbox and the creation of a special platform to trade cryptocurrencies under enhanced regulation. The ISA is quoted by Globes:

“The committee recommends considering adjustment of the existing regulation to create more suitable regulatory infrastructure for this trading activity in order to better cope with the risks incurred in this activity.”

According to Reuters, the number of companies and the amount of money raised in Tel Aviv has fallen over the past decade, which is why the ISA is seeking to attract new investors and boost initial public offerings (IPOs).

The exact time frame for the implementation of these guidelines has not yet been set.

As Cointelegraph previously reported, Israel considered launching its own digital currency in 2017. However, in November 2018, a study group exploring the possibility of an “e-shekel” said that the country’s central bank should not issue its own digital currency.

In late 2018, a team that included representatives from the Bank of Israel issued a formal request for information about distributed ledger technology (DLT). According to the paper, the group believed that DLT could help renew and strengthen cooperation and coordination between regulators and the public.

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Israeli-Led Blockchain App Company to Make Extensive Layoffs While Restructuring

First Digital Assets will reportedly make significant adjustments to its staff size as a result of the current bear market.

Gibraltar-registered Israeli blockchain application platform First Digital Assets (FDA) will fire most its employees in a major restructuring process, the company confirmed to Israeli English-language news resource Globes on March 4.

FDA, which operates multiple spin-off companies in the blockchain space, will merge all but one of them into their parent company. Its research arm, One Alpha, will reportedly close entirely.

The latest company in the blockchain industry to perform a drastic cost-cutting exercise, FDA said tough market conditions lay at the heart of its decision.

“The cryptocurrencies market experienced an earthquake last year, which forces us to be brave and consider First Digital Assets’ various activities,” the company told Globes in a statement.

“We are… focusing on our liquidity activity, which continues to be fruitful, while at the same time channeling our development efforts to creating new solutions in blockchain, which we believe is the technology of the future.”

The company did not name the exact number of employees to lose their jobs as a result of the changes.

As Cointelegraph has previously reported, several well-known cryptocurrency industry entities have already reorganized their operations, downsizing certain areas to focus on more lucrative outlets.

In December, Bitcoin mining giant Bitmain led the trend, closing down its Israeli operations entirely with the loss of 23 jobs. Blockchain software technology company ConsenSys and cryptocurrency exchange Huobi subsequently deployed similar strategies.

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Circle Introduces Market Surveillance to Fight Insider Trading, ‘Pump and Dump’ Schemes

Circle plans to ensure it is protected against malicious trading schemes and on the right side of regulators.

Blockchain finance company Circle will use digital financial services company Nice Actimize’s market monitoring tools to fight manipulation, a press release confirmed on Feb. 27.

Nice Actimize, which forms a branch of Israeli enterprise software giant Nice Ltd., offers professional client tools in the areas of financial crime, risk and compliance.

Circle will use Actimize’s Cloud Markets Surveillance (CMS) to proactively prevent and detect malicious trading activity on its own platform, including insider trading, layering and even so-called pump and dump schemes.

“Adapting innovative technology solutions, such as the financial markets compliance solutions from Nice Actimize, to meeting the potential needs of regulators and protecting our assets brings this commitment full circle,” Circle’s head regulatory counsel and chief compliance officer, Robert Bench, commented in the press release.

As Cointelegraph reported, institutional platforms like Circle are actively seeking to quell concerns about manipulation on cryptocurrency markets.

Not just Nice, but also Nasdaq has seen success deploying its market surveillance technology in associated areas. In January, Nasdaq revealed that seven cryptocurrency exchanges currently use its market monitoring tech.

Last month ,meanwhile, trade security startup Solidus Labs announced it had raised $3 million to combat market manipulation.

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Report: Crypto Industry Giants Bitmain and Huobi to Layoff Staff

Cryptocurrency mining giant Bitmain and major crypto exchange Huobi have reportedly confirmed plans to lay-off staff.

Cryptocurrency mining giant Bitmain and major crypto exchange Huobi have reportedly confirmed plans to lay off staff amid the 2018 price rout of the crypto markets. Hong Kong English-language newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on the layoffs on Dec. 26.

Beijing-based Bitmain Technology, which has dominated the mining hardware manufacturing horizon this year, is quoted by SCMP as saying in a statement that it is undergoing “some adjustment to our staff this year”  — a statement reportedly prompted by Chinese social media coverage of looming layoffs at the firm. Bitmain reportedly stated:

“A part of [building a sustainable business] is having to really focus on things that are core to that mission and not things that are auxiliary. As we move into the new year we will continue to double down on hiring the best talent from a diverse range of backgrounds.”

As SCMP notes, the exact number of layoffs has not been disclosed, but a spokesperson for the firm has reportedly today denied that Bitmain could lay off over half of its employees, a suggestion first circulated in Chinese social media.

As reported earlier this week, several Chinese commentators have also claimed Bitmain has let go of its entire team of Bitcoin Cash (BCH) developers, some of which had reportedly only just recently joined the company.

Huobi Group has also reportedly confirmed plans — using similarly low-key language — to “optimize” its staffing by firing underachieving employees. The company — which operates from Beijing and oversees the Singapore-headquartered Huobi crypto exchange —  has nonetheless reportedly stressed it continues to onboard staff “for its core businesses and emerging markets.”

Even as exact figures for the planned layoffs remain elusive, SCMP notes that as of June 2018, Bitmain’s IPO filing revealed the firm employed a total of 2,594 full-timers —  including some 840 engineers. Huobi, according to SCMP, has a workforce of over one thousand.

SCMP cites an anonymous Bitmain employee as saying that the layoffs will cover the sweep of the company’s different divisions. The source did not, however, have knowledge of the number of planned job cuts.

Cointelegraph’s Chinese correspondent has meanwhile shared information from social media channel Maimai, a social media platform for employees that is used more often in China than LinkedIn.

Screenshot of Bitmain-related comments on social media channel Maimai

Screenshot of Bitmain-related comments on social media channel Maimai. Source: Maimai

According to one commentator’s claims, if Bitmain employees agree to leave immediately, the company will help them to pay social security in January 2019, with a salary deadline of January 10, 2019. In addition, two months’ salary will reportedly be compensated.

Another Maimai user, “Downstairs,” wrote that Bitmain has 3,200 employees and 1,700 redundancies.

Screenshot of Bitmain-related comments on social media channel Maimai

Screenshot of Bitmain-related comments on social media channel Maimai. Source: Maimai

Earlier this month, Bitmain had announced it was closing its development center in Israel and firing local employees, citing the “shake-up” of the crypto market in recent months.

Also within the past week, reports have surfaced that blockchain software technology firm ConsenSys is also reportedly making significant cuts to its staff. The unconfirmed reports align  with company CEO Joseph Lubin’s recent letter to staff in which he said the firm would act to streamline and toughen its business style to stay “lean and gritty” in a competitive market.

Even as major industry players restructure their businesses to weather straitened times, a Cointelegraph analysis found that jobs for blockchain developers remain one of the fastest-growing emerging roles in the United States.

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South Korean Internet Giant Kakao Invests in Blockchain Startup Orbs

Orbs, an Israeli blockchain startup, has received an investment from South Korea’s largest messaging app operator Kakao.

South Korea’s largest messaging app operator Kakao has invested in Orbs, an Israeli blockchain startup, Reuters reports Dec. 13.

The report states that Orbs did not disclose the size of the investment. Moreover, the startup reportedly explained that this investment “builds on its existing partnership with Kakao blockchain subsidiary Ground X.”

As Cointelegraph reported in October, Ground X released the testnet of its DApp platform Klaytn ahead of its scheduled release next year. The aforementioned partnership gave place to a collaboration “on blockchain applications and research and development projects.”

According to CrunchBase data, Kakao has raised a total of $1.5 billion in four funding rounds. In addition to KakaoTalk, arguably the Kakao’s most well-known project, the conglomerate includes mobile payment application KakaoPay and internet bank KakaoBank.

Orbs, according to its official website, is developing a “hybrid blockchain” that is interoperable with Ethereum (ETH).

Ground X is also involved in raising funds for Kakao’s own projects. As Cointelegraph recently reported, the subsidiary has already secured the majority of the $300 million Kakao is looking to raise to develop a token for its blockchain platform.