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Exclusive clubs called ‘DAOs’ are popping up online. What’s it all about? | Geoffrey Mak

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I have seen the light, and I was not convinced. This month, I was invited to a party hosted by Friends With Benefits, an exclusive club of artists and investors who have access to a private chatroom on Discord and parties in cities like Miami and New York. The image has a subversive sheen: techno DJs and venture capitalists in ripped designer jeans throwing secret raves. The club’s “manifesto” describes a “bright future” for the “ultimate cultural membership” where “prosperity is abundant” and “data and payments are fluid”, just like gender.

Friends With Benefits was founded in 2020 by Trever McFedries who, after bringing the VR popstar Lil Miquela into the world, had higher ambitions than animating a robot to make out with Bella Hadid in an underwear commercial. “Capital as a weapon is intriguing to me,” said McFedries in a YouTube speech. Having seen Occupy “fail miserably” while GameStop “toppled a hedge fund in four days”, he set his sights on creating a DAO.

DAOs have, in the past year, been generating millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies on Ethereum, managing to strike upon a technological model uniquely primed to drive up the value of their assets. At its most basic, “DAO” – which stands for “decentralized autonomous organization” – describes an online community that meets on a chatroom server such as Discord, decentralized insofar as the administration puts community decisions up to a vote, which can be recorded and verified on the blockchain using unique “smart contracts” that everyone can see.

Not every DAO mints its own currency, but McFedries decided he wanted one. For his new DAO, Friends With Benefits, he established a native token called $FWB: a publicly tradable coin, minted on the Ethereum blockchain, that rises or peters in value like stocks.

Membership to the community would require purchasing 75 $FWB. Before FWB began, McFedries decided to mint only one million $FWB tokens, so he could cap supply and hype demand. When I first heard about Friends With Benefits this year, membership was already valued at $350. Today, it’s over $9,000.

$FWB’s value soared after Andreessen Horowitz invested $5m and Li Jin put in $10m into the community. It’s a “bull market”, in the words of the white shirt who prices the artist out of bohemia. One might question the very “decentralization” of a community’s governance that both establishes community rules and regulates its own currency, as if the president and the Federal Reserve were combined.

Most DAO evangelists will tell you that DAOs allocate voting power on community decisions to their members. But FWB, like most DAOs, grants one vote per token, instead of one vote per person. This is profoundly undemocratic. While $FWB tokens are also granted to members whose comments on Discord receive the most engagement, like gaining “likes” on Facebook, any investor can buy up their share of votes at any moment with a click.

The migraine-inducing difficulty in understanding the technological intricacies of DAO is built into its propaganda – the ignorant skeptics should trust the experts in the room who truly know what’s going on. They tell us that DAO is the beginnings of Web 3.0, pitched as the David against the Goliath of Web 2.0, which wrought monopolist platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. FWB is rare in the world of DAOs because it professes cultural pretensions. But most other DAOs are simply devoted to trading assets; Flamingo and PleasrDAO, for instance, were created to pool money for speculating on NFTs.

The most photogenic aspect of FWB is that its executive professionals can mingle with artists on its Discord server, the café to the Enlightenment philosophers. Except you can have this without a native token like $FWB. I happen to be a member of two collectively run servers – one is a community for critical analysis of art, tech, politics, and pop culture started by Berlin-based artists, and the other, started by a New York-based artist and internet researcher, is devoted to analysing internet culture and politics. These communities charge an affordable monthly subscription, cheaper than a bahn mi in Bushwick.

Here, capital is not used as a weapon, but the discussion is lively. We talk about the racial bias of artificial intelligence, debate the role of the professional managerial class, share pictures of our outfits. Anyone can join. None of this is particularly profitable’; a lot of us are a tad offbeat in real life and spend too much time on the internet. But it’s how I keep in touch with friends who don’t live in the city.

Yet elsewhere in cyberspace, we are told of a future with abundant prosperity on the blockchain, where capital is a weapon, and the proletariat can pine for an invite to party with Diplo. “My next paper is probably in praise of exclusivity,” McFedries said recently. And the findings will tell us a simple truth as old as it is new: that the future is bright for those who can afford it.



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Ubiquiti dev charged with data-breaching own employer • The Register

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A Ubiquiti developer has been charged with stealing data from the company and extortion attempts totalling $2m in what prosecutors claim was a vicious campaign to harm the firm’s share price – including allegedly planting fake press stories about the breaches.

US federal prosecutors claimed that 36-year-old Nickolas Sharp had used his “access as a trusted insider” to steal data from his employer’s AWS and GitHub instances before “posing as an anonymous hacker” to send a ransom demand of 50 Bitcoins.

The DoJ statement does not mention Sharp’s employer by name, but a Linkedin account in Sharp’s name says he worked for Ubiquiti as a cloud lead between August 2018 and March 2021, having previously worked for Amazon as a software development engineer.

In an eyebrow-raising indictment [PDF, 19 pages, non-searchable] prosecutors claim Sharp not only pwned his employer’s business from the inside but joined internal damage control efforts, and allegedly posed as a concerned whistleblower to make false claims about the company wrongly downplaying the attack’s severity, wiping $4bn off its market capitalisation.

Criminal charges were filed overnight in an American federal court against Sharp, of Portland, Oregon. The indictment valued the 50 Bitcoins at $1.9m “based on the prevailing exchange rate at the time.”

US attorney Damian Williams said in a US Justice Department statement: “As further alleged, after the FBI searched his home in connection with the theft, Sharp, now posing as an anonymous company whistle-blower, planted damaging news stories falsely claiming the theft had been by a hacker enabled by a vulnerability in the company’s computer systems.”

Sharp is alleged to have downloaded an admin key which gave him “access to other credentials within Company-1’s infrastructure” from Ubiquiti’s AWS servers at 03:16 local time on 10 December 2020, using his home internet connection. Two minutes later, that same key was used to make the AWS API call GetCallerIdentity from an IP address linked to VPN provider Surfshark – to which Sharp was a subscriber, prosecutors claimed.

Later that month, according to the prosecution, he is alleged to have set AWS logs to a one-day retention policy, effectively masking his presence.

Eleven days after the AWS naughtiness, the indictment claims, he used his own connection to log into Ubiquiti’s GitHub infrastructure. “Approximately one minute later,” alleged the indictment, Sharp used Surfshark to ssh into GitHub and clone around 155 Ubiquiti repos to his home computer.

“In one fleeting instance during the exfiltration of data,” said the indictment, “the Sharp IP address was logged making an SSH connection to use GitHub Account-1 to clone a repository.”

For the rest of that night, prosecutors said, logs showed Sharp’s personal IP alternating with a Surfshark exit node while making clone calls. Although it was not spelled out in the court filing, prosecutors appeared to be suggesting that Surfshark VPN was dropping out and revealing “the attacker’s” true IP.

Ubiquiti discovered what was happening on 28 December. Prosecutors claimed Sharp then joined the company’s internal response to the breaches.

In January 2021 Ubiquiti received a ransom note sent from a Surfshark VPN IP address demanding 25 Bitcoins. If it paid an extra 25 Bitcoins on top of that, said the note, its anonymous author would reveal a backdoor in the company’s infrastructure. This appears to be what prompted Ubiquiti to write to its customers that month alerting them to a data breach. Ubiquiti did not pay the ransom, said the indictment.

Shortly after Federal Bureau of Investigation workers raided Sharp’s home, prosecutors claim he “caused false or misleading news stories to be published about the Incident and Company-1’s disclosures and response to the Incident. Sharp identified himself as an anonymous source within Company-1 who had worked on remediating the Incident. In particular, Sharp pretended that Company-1 had been hacked by an unidentified perpetrator who maliciously acquired root administrator access [to] Company-1’s AWS accounts.”

This appears to be referencing an article by infosec blogger Brian Krebs that was published that day, on 30 March 2021. He spoke “on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by Ubiquiti”, and El Reg (among many other outlets) followed up Krebs’ reporting in good faith. In that article, the “whistleblower” said he had reported Ubiquiti in to the EU Data Protection Supervisor, the political bloc’s in-house data protection body.

We have asked Krebs for comment.

Sharp is innocent unless proven guilty. He is formally charged with breaches of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, transmitting interstate threats, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. If found guilty on all counts and handed maximum, consecutive sentences on each, he faces 37 years in prison. ®

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Limerick’s Serosep crowned Irish Medtech Company of the Year 2021

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Other winners at the Irish Medtech Association awards included Alcon Ireland, West, Vertigenius, Luminate Medical, BioMEC, Jabil Healthcare, Cook Medical and Aerogen.

Limerick-headquartered business Serosep has been named Irish Medtech Company of the Year at a virtual conference hosted today (2 December) by The Irish Medtech Association with Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.

The Irish Medtech Association which represents the medtech sector in Ireland made the announcement at its annual Medtech Rising conference. This year’s awards ceremony was the first to feature new categories. Alcon Ireland won the Sustainable Medtech company of the Year, while West scooped the Best Medtech Talent Strategy Award.

According to the association’s director Sinéad Keogh, the annual awards ceremony offers the medtech community a chance to “recognise and celebrate the strength and importance of the industry in improving life.”

“The sector has remained resilient despite the challenges of the Covid pandemic, with over 42,000 people now working in the industry, across 450 companies,” she added.

The overall winner, Serosep, is a self-funded, family run business, which manufactures clinical diagnostic products at its base in Annacotty, Co Limerick. It serves more than 35 different countries spread over 5 continents. The company is 25 years in business and employs 114 people. Earlier this year, it announced a five-year contract to supply its gastroenteritis diagnostic system to Liverpool University Hospital. The company already supplies the NHS.

Serosep CEO and founder Dermot Scanlon, said he was “humbled” to receive the award, adding that the company’s innovative diagnostic test tools have “changed the way gastroenteritis is tested in clinical laboratories.”

“We are currently manufacturing in excess of one million tests in our state-of-the-art facility,” he said, explaining that the award would motivate the whole company to “continue forging ahead, achieving bigger and better things.”

Other award winners included:

Trinity College Dublin spin-out Vertigenius, winner of the eHealth Innovation of the Year Award. Vertigenius is a platform which aims to enhance clinical and patient engagement in the treatment of balance problems.

Luminate Medical, winners of the Emerging Medtech Company of the Year Award. The NUI Galway spin-out has developed a technology to prevent chemotherapy induced hair loss.

NUI Galway’s Biomechanics Research Centre (BioMEC) won the Academic Contribution to Medtech Award. The company’s technology integrates the latest in silico computational models to simulate the mechanical performance of implanted coronary stents.

Bray-based Jabil Healthcare scooped the Medtech Partner/Supplier of the Year Award for its new Covid-19 PCR testing device.

Cook Medical received the Women in Leadership Company initiative Award for its commitment to gender balance in the workplace.

The Covid-19 Response Recognition Award was awarded to Aerogen which has developed an inhaled vaccine station. The company’s products have been used on more than 3m critically ill people since March 2020, according to Enterprise Ireland’s head of life sciences, Deirdre Glenn. Aerogen won last year’s Medtech Company of the Year award.

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‘A lemon’: Coalition fights to keep Covidsafe app data under wraps | Australia news

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The Morrison government insists it is negotiating with the states about “future uses” for its troubled Covidsafe app despite it not being used during the outbreaks that prompted lockdowns in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The government is also refusing to release how many Australians continue to use the app, with one tech expert accusing the government of trying to avoid disclosing embarrassing data rather than admit it had failed to achieve its purpose.

Since vaccination rates reached more than 90% of the eligible population in most states, contact tracing is slowly being scaled back, with health authorities limiting the number of people contacted and asked to test and isolate.

Even when contact tracing played a critical role in reducing the number of cases, the app was of little assistance.

Almost none of the contacts were identified through the federal government’s CovidSafe contact tracing app despite well over 7 million people in Australia downloading it last year and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, declaring it the ticket out of lockdown.

Since launching in April last year, just 17 “close contacts” in NSW were found directly through the app that were not otherwise identified through manual contact tracing methods.

Guardian Australia has been engaged in a year-long freedom of information battle with the Digital Transformation Agency to reveal how many people continued to use the app after installing it.

This month the agency said releasing the information would hurt negotiations with the states over the app’s future uses.

“The Commonwealth is engaged in ongoing consultations and discussions with the states and territories on a framework around the use of Covidsafe data and data derived from Covidsafe data as a key tool for contact tracing,” DTA’s chief technology officer, Anthony Warnock, told the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in a letter provided to Guardian Australia.

When asked about these discussions, both NSW and Victoria said the app had not been used at all in 2021.

“To date, it has not been necessary to use the Covidsafe app with any case clusters in 2021,” a NSW Health spokesperson said. “NSW Health’s contact tracing team has access to a variety of information to contain the spread of Covid-19 and keep the community safe.”

The ACT also said the app had never been used in the capital and, as of September, Queensland said it had used the app twice, with one contact identified but no positive cases identified.

It’s also unclear what future uses the federal government is considering.

Electronic Frontiers Australia’s chair, Justin Warren, who has been involved in complex FOI battles with the government, suggested the only reason the the release of the information would be damaging was if it showed far fewer people continued to use the app.

“The DTA appears to be trying to argue that we can’t learn the truth about just how big a lemon the Covidsafe app is because then people might know it’s a lemon and act accordingly,” he said. “It’s clear to me that they wouldn’t try to make this argument if the app was useful.”

The app costs around $75,000 a month to run, and a spokesperson for the federal health department said there were “no plans” to shut it down until the health minister determined it was no longer required.

Experts in the tech community last year called for the app to be modified using the Apple-Google exposure notification framework, which would work similarly to the UK’s NHS app and alert people when they had been in contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case.

A study published in Nature in May about how effective the NHS app in England and Wales had been between September and December last year found that for every positive case who agreed to alert their contacts, one case was averted.

The government has long argued against switching to an NHS-style version of the app, arguing that it left it up to users to contact the health department and get tested and isolate, rather than giving contact tracers a list of those exposed to follow up.

But a ministerial brief prepared by the DTA in May 2020, released this week on the transparency website Right to Know, reveals that the government believed it would require massive changes to the app and privacy laws to accommodate the change.

“The app would need to be significantly redesigned and rebuilt,” the agency said. “The ENF cannot simply be embedded into the current app. The health portal would also need to be redesigned and rebuilt.”

The DTA warned that a new privacy assessment would need to be undertaken, legislation might need to be amended, all current users would need to download and re-register through the app, and contact data could not be transferred.

The briefing also noted that the alerts people received through the app “may cause alarm” if contact tracers were not involved in the process.

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But the agency said a change to the Apple/Google version would improve connectivity between devices and might encourage people who had hesitated to download the original app.

“Certain users who have avoided the app may perceive that the ENF provides stronger privacy protections through this largely decentralised non-government-controlled model.”

Victoria now automatically alerts people who were at high-risk venues through the Service Victoria app, and advises them to test and isolate, but does not do any further contact tracing except when someone tests positive.

NSW is planning to ditch QR code check-ins from all but high-risk venues from 15 December, or when the state reaches 95% of the eligible population having two doses of the vaccine.

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