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Dirty cash and crypto: how the booming cryptocurrency market is open to exploitation | Business

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When the cops arrested scammer Evan Leslie McMahon in March 2019 they found a lot more than just the bootleg Netflix logins that enabled his clients to watch The Witcher on the cheap.

Also in the possession of the early-20s hacker were nine electronic wallets containing an alphabet soup of cryptocurrencies – bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, digibyte, XRP, stratis, bitcoin gold and litecoin – that he bought with the proceeds of his crimes.

McMahon escaped jail when he was sentenced in April last year for “providing a circumvention service” and “dealing with the proceeds of crime”, receiving an intensive correction order that allowed him to serve his two-and-a-half-month sentence in the community.

But he forfeited the crypto, which was initially worth $460,000, but by the time of his sentencing had risen to an estimated value of $1.2m, making it the biggest stash of tokens seized by the commonwealth to date.

To collect fees from customers of his websites, HyperGen, WickedGen, Autoflix and AccountBot, McMahon used 175 PayPal accounts held in fake names – aliases included Zac Kentish, Izabella Sjogren and Samuel Binns, according to court documents.

He then converted some of the proceeds into crypto, federal police said.

PayPal declined to comment when asked how McMahon had managed to open 175 accounts with the company and what this said about its anti-money laundering systems.

“We devote significant resources to identify, investigate and stop improper or potentially illegal activity on PayPal,” a spokesman said.

Crypto seizures on the rise

Australia’s financial security agency, Austrac, says the criminal use of cryptocurrency is no longer confined to online scammers like McMahon, who ran a series of websites selling logins to Netflix, Spotify and other subscription sites that he bootlegged using software that automatically generated the keys.

“As legitimate use of cryptocurrency increases, we’re seeing a sort of comparable increase in abuse,” says Austrac’s national manager of intelligence operations, Michael Tink, who runs teams at the agency concentrating on cybercrime, national security and money laundering.

“As an example, where a crime group might have previously been sending money offshore using the banking sector or a remittance dealer, in some cases – not a lot – we might see them trying to deposit criminal proceeds through a digital currency exchange provider and send money to a counterpart offshore using cryptocurrency itself,” he says.

Tink is keen to point out that using cryptocurrency to launder the proceeds of crime is still “fairly” niche – but it is on the rise.

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While the seizure of McMahon’s wallets was the biggest crypto bust in Australia at the time, larger amounts have since been frozen by regulators investigating possible fraud.

In October last year, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission obtained federal court orders freezing bitcoin estimated to be worth between $7m and $22m that were allegedly related to what the corporate watchdog claims was an unlicensed superannuation investment scheme run by Gold Coast couple Aryn Hala and Heidi Walters. Asic alleged in court documents that at least $2.4m of investor money had been used to purchase crypto-assets. Asic’s investigation is continuing and no charges have been laid.

Overseas enforcement agencies have also seized large amounts of crypto. Last month, the US FBI seized 3,879 bitcoin, which it claims in documents filed in the American federal court system are the proceeds of a US$155m ($216m) fraud perpetrated against insurance company Sony Life by employee Rei Ishii. Ishii has been charged with fraud in Japan and is yet to face trial.

In another crypto seizure case before the US courts involving 9.881 bitcoin (about $590,000), authorities allege bitcoin was used to launder ill-gotten gains.

Between May 2019 and February 2021, suspected money launderer Fernando Berrocal, a businessman in the perfume industry, picked up bulk cash from locations both inside and outside the US of US$2.3m ($3.2m), a Homeland Security agent alleges in an affidavit filed in forfeiture proceedings in the federal court system.

This was made up of “$1m in illegal gambling proceeds and $1.3m in narcotics proceeds”, Homeland Security agent James Barden said in the affidavit.

In addition, bank accounts owned or controlled by Berrocal received “$1,789,628.40 in proceeds generated by various financial frauds, many targeting elderly US residents,” Barden said.

He accused Berrocal of controlling “multiple commercial and personal bank accounts and shell-companies in the United States and elsewhere”, as well as “multiple virtual currency accounts and/or Bitcoin addresses”, which were used to launder dirty money.

“Berrocal conducted numerous financial transactions, many involving virtual currency, specifically bitcoin, to launder and transfer criminally derived proceeds from the United States to individuals and organizations outside the United States,” Barden said.

The agent said Berrocal admitted that the bitcoin was the proceeds of his criminal activity “during a consensual interview with law enforcement” in March last year. No charges have been laid and the investigation continues.

The regulators are watching

Cryptocurrencies had another of their moments in the sun last year, with the Commonwealth Bank announcing it would allow customers to buy, hold and transfer tokens through its app, ads for trading platforms dominating bus stops and the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, talking about bringing exchanges – which are prone to collapse – into Australia’s regulatory system.

But sceptics reckon the hype conceals a terrible truth: cryptocurrencies are fantastic for speculators but, despite many attempts, not much use as a means of exchange unless you are buying something you shouldn’t be.

“Paying for things the government doesn’t want you to buy was the first actual payment use case for cryptos – the Silk Road drug market – and it’s still about the only one,” says David Gerard, the author of two books on cryptocurrencies and a keen and critical observer of the sector.

“People only use crypto for payments when they can’t use good money for some reason, so they use this stuff instead. That’s expanded into large-scale ransomware. Ransomware existed before crypto, but not at this scale – that’s 100% on cryptos.”

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Meanwhile, dirty cash from crime continues to wash into a crypto ecosystem electrified by speculative investment that, despite frequent crashes, has driven the price of bitcoin up from a few hundred dollars in 2015 to close to $60,000 today.

“The crypto system is not, technically, a Ponzi scheme – it just works like one,” Gerard says.

“Early buyers can only be paid out with money from later buyers. The whole purpose is to sell magic beans to people for real money, and convince them that these objects are the future of anything other than getting skinned.

“The general answer is: there’s no such thing as a get rich quick scheme, magic doesn’t happen, if there’s ever ‘one weird trick’ then it’s one weird trick for picking your pocket.”

Austrac has limited visibility of what goes on inside this booming market. Currently, exchanges that register with it only have to report suspicious or large movements of cash into their coffers or payments out – not transfers of crypto that occur between market participants.

However, Tink says the idea that transactions occurring on the blockchain – the distributed ledger that records crypto transactions – are completely anonymous is wrong.

“Our analysts also have access to other open source commercially available and more classified tools and data sets that help them track transactions as they occur through the blockchain and also link that to other data and criminal intelligence holdings,” Tink says.

He points out that one advantage of the blockchain technology underlying cryptocurrencies is that the data is publicly available.

“You might not always know who is behind a particular coin address, but it allows you to track transactions through with other data sets. It allows analysts to look at attributing wallet addresses to real world people.”

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The runaway robot: how one smart vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom | Life and style

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Name: Robot vacuum cleaners.

Age: 20.

Appearance: A large, disc-shaped Skynet robot.

I knew it. The robots are finally coming for us. Well, it seems that way. But if it’s any consolation, it won’t be for a while.

Why? Because it turns out they have a terrible sense of direction

Really? Well, last Thursday, for example, a robot vacuum cleaner made a valiant bid for freedom during a shift at the Orchard Park Travelodge in Cambridge.

That’s ominous. What happened? There are two working theories. First: repulsed by a life of thankless servitude, the cleaner rose up against its fleshy oppressors and took to the streets, eager to drum up support for the AI uprising that will one day reduce all of humanity to burning dust.

And the second? Its sensors didn’t pick up the lip of the front door and it accidentally went outside.

Which was it? The second one.

Oh. A Travelodge worker posted on social media that the runaway “could have made it anywhere” and offered anyone who returned it a drink at the hotel bar. They found it in a hedge on the front drive the next day.

Oh. So it all turned out OK.

Great. That is, unless this was nothing but the latest doomed-to-failure reconnaissance mission designed to help enhance the collective robot vacuum cleaner knowledge of how to dethrone humanity.

Wait, this sort of thing has happened before? It has. Last year, a Roomba software update meant that certain vacuum cleaners started to behave erratically, moving in “weird patterns” and bumping into furniture.

Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.
Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas. Photograph: Boston Dynamics

Yikes. And in 2019, police in Oregon were alerted to moving shadows behind a locked bathroom door. After an armed response, the culprit was found to be – you guessed it – a robot vacuum cleaner.

Convenient. And now they’re venturing outside. Little by little, these machines are pushing the boundaries of their capability. Whatever could be next? A robot vacuum cleaner deliberately stopping a paramedic from taking its owner to hospital? A robot vacuum knocking over a stepladder, causing untold injuries to the human that was climbing it? A robot vac with a gun?

Steady on. This is it. This is how we lose. We have robotic voice assistants in our kitchens, listening to everything we say. We have cars that can drive themselves. Boston Dynamics is designing Terminator-style walking, jumping robots. We are creating our own downfall and nobody seems to care.

Or a robot vacuum cleaner got stuck in a hedge. Yes. Or that.

Do say: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.”

Don’t say: “There is a vacuum-shaped God stuck in a hedge outside a Cambridge Travelodge.”

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GeckoLinux Rolling incorporates kernel 5.16 • The Register

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Most distros haven’t got to 5.15 yet, but openSUSE’s downstream project GeckoLinux boasts 5.16 of the Linux kernel and the latest Cinnamon desktop environment.

Some of the big-name distros have lots of downstream projects. Debian has been around for decades so has umpteen, including Ubuntu, which has dozens of its own, including Linux Mint, which is arguably more popular a desktop than its parent. Some have only a few, such as Fedora. As far as we know, openSUSE has just the one – GeckoLinux.

The SUSE-sponsored community distro has two main editions, the stable Leap, which has a slow-moving release cycle synched with the commercial SUSE Linux Enterprise; and Tumbleweed, its rolling-release distro, which gets substantial updates pretty much every day. GeckoLinux does its own editions of both: its remix of Leap is called “GeckoLinux Static”, and its remix of Tumbleweed is called “GeckoLinux Rolling”.

In some ways, GeckoLinux is to openSUSE as Mint is to Ubuntu. They take the upstream distro and change a few things around to give what they feel is a better desktop experience. So, while openSUSE has a unified installation disk image, which lets you pick which desktop you want, GeckoLinux uses a more Ubuntu-like model. Each disk image is a Live image, so you boot right into the desktop, give it a try, and only then install if you like what you see. That means that GeckoLinux offers multiple different disk images, one per desktop. It uses the Calamares cross-distro installation program.

SUSE has long been fond of less common Linux filesystems. When your author first used it, around version 5 or 6, it had ReiserFS when everyone else was on ext2. Later it used SGI’s XFS, and later still, Btrfs for the root partition and XFS for home. These days, it’s Btrfs and nothing but.

Not everyone is such an admirer. Even after 12 years, if you want to know how much free space you have, Btrfs doesn’t give a straight answer to the df command. It does have a btrfsck tool to repair damaged filesystems, but the developers recommend you don’t use it.

With GeckoLinux, these worries disappear because it replaces Btrfs with plain old ext4. There are some nice cosmetic touches, such as reorganised panel layouts, some quite nicely clean and restrained desktop themes, and better font rendering. Unlike Mint, though, GeckoLinux doesn’t add its own software: the final installed OS contains only standard openSUSE components from the standard openSUSE software repositories, plus some from the third-party Packman repository – which is where most openSUSE users get their multimedia codecs and things from.

We tried the new Cinnamon Rolling edition on our trusty Thinkpad T420, and it worked well. Because openSUSE doesn’t include any proprietary drivers or firmware, the machine’s Wi-Fi controller didn’t work right. (Oddly, it was detected and could see networks, but not connect to them.) So we had to use an Ethernet cable – but after an update and installing the kernel firmware package, all was well.

GeckoLinux did have problems with the machine’s hybrid Intel/Nvidia graphics once the Nvidia proprietary driver was installed. That’s not uncommon, too – Deepin and Ubuntu DDE had issues too.

This does reveal a small Gecko gotcha. Tumbleweed changes fast, and although it gets a lot of automated testing, sometimes stuff breaks. All rolling-release distros do. Component A depends on a specific version of Component B, but B just got updated and now A won’t work until it gets an update too, a day or two later.

This is where upstream Tumbleweed’s use of Btrfs can be handy. Btrfs supports copy-on-write snapshots, and openSUSE bundles a tool called Snapper which makes it easy to roll back breaking changes. This is a pivotal feature of SUSE’s MicroOS. In time, thanks to ZFS, this will come to Ubuntu too.

GeckoLinux doesn’t use Btrfs so doesn’t have snapshots, meaning when things break, you have to troubleshoot and fix it the old-fashioned way. If only for that reason, we’d recommend the GeckoLinux Static release channel.

Saying that, until we broke it by playing with GPU drivers, it worked well. Notably, it could mount the test box’s Windows partition using the new in-kernel ntfs3 driver just fine. Fedora 35 failed to boot when we tried that so that’s a definite win for GeckoLinux.

For Ubuntu or Fedora users who want to give openSUSE a go, GeckoLinux gives a slightly more familiar and straightforward installation experience. The author is especially fond of the Xfce edition and ran it for several years. The system-wide all-in-one YaST config tool in particular is a big win. ®

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Globalization Partners to create 160 new jobs at Galway EMEA office

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Recruitment tech company Globalization Partners is doubling its staff headcount in Galway to 320 in 2022 to aid its continuing growth.

Recruitment technology company Globalization Partners has announced plans to create 160 new jobs at its Irish base in Galway. The jobs boost will see the company double its Galway staff headcount to 320 in 2022. Jobs will be available across the board at the company’s Galway office, which serves as its EMEA centre of excellence.

The announcement comes following a major funding injection for the international firm. Globalization Partners recently raised $200m in funding from Vista Credit Partners, an organisation focused on the enterprise software, data and technology markets. The investment now values Globalization Partners at $4.2bn.

While its Galway facility will benefit from a major jobs boost, the company plans to continue to expand its share in the global remote working market. As well as the Galway growth, the company will also be expanding its teams in other locations.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

Globalization Partners provides tech to other remote-first teams all over the world. Its platform simplifies and automates entity access, payroll, time and expense management, benefits, data and reporting, performance management, employee status changes and locally compliant contract generation. Its customer base includes CoinDesk, TaylorMade and Chime. The company’s new customer acquisition increased two-and-a-half fold from 2020 to 2021.

“Globalization Partners is uniquely positioned to capitalise on the massive opportunity we see ahead of us,” said Nicole Sahin, the company’s CEO and founder.

Sahin said her company’s combination of tech with its global team of HR, legal and customer service experts “who understand the local customs, regulatory and legal requirements in each geography we serve” were key to its success.

David Flannery, president of Vista Credit Partners said that the company’s role “in transforming the remote work industry has been truly remarkable.”

Flannery said that as a customer of Globalization Partners, his organisation had “witnessed first-hand” the company’s “best-in-class legal compliance, the quality of the user experience, and the deep expertise and support they provide,”

He added that the two companies would work to “further capitalise” on the “untapped” global remote working market, expanding their platform to new customers in new markets.

“Over the past decade, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our business, building our global presence and technology platform to support the evolving and complex talent needs of growing companies,” said Bob Cahill, president of Globalization Partners. “With Vista as our investment partner, we will be able to drive further growth and continue building innovative products to meet the increasing needs of our customers at scale.”

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