Profanity May Be The Cause Of Crypto Trading Firm Wintermute’s $160 Million Hack

Wintermute, a London-based cryptocurrency firm that trades billions of dollars’ worth of digital assets daily, lost $160 million in a hack early on Tuesday. Founder and CEO Evgeny Gaevoy says he learned of the hack a few minutes after it took place, around 6:00 AM London time.

An hour later, he announced the theft on Twitter without saying how it happened. All told, the hacker stole about $120 million worth of Wintermute’s “stable coins” including USDC and USDT, $20 million worth of its bitcoin and ether and another $20 million worth of lesser-known cryptocurrencies.

Gaevoy explained to Forbes that, although the investigation is still ongoing, the hack likely originated with a service called Profanity, which generates “vanity addresses” for digital cryptocurrency accounts to make them easier to work with. Otherwise, crypto accounts are roughly 30-character strings of varied letters and numbers.

Last week, a blog post by another crypto firm revealed a security vulnerability with Profanity’s code. The gist of the problem: someone with enough computing power can generate all the possible keys or passwords created for a Profanity vanity address. Then they can scan the associated accounts to see how much money they hold and steal the funds.

Wintermute had been using Profanity not to create easy-to-remember names for digital accounts, but to lower its trading transaction costs, since that’s another feature of Profanity’s service, Gaevoy says. When Wintermute learned of the vulnerability last week, they took steps to technologically “blacklist” their Profanity accounts, shielding them from being liquidated.

However, due to their own “human error,” one of the 10 accounts didn’t get blacklisted, according to Gaevoy, which probably resulted in the $160 million heist. These trading accounts were part of Wintermute’s “decentralized finance” or DeFi business, where it makes rapid trades on decentralized exchanges like Uniswap and Sushi Swap that aren’t controlled by a single entity.

Since the DeFi ecosystem is young, highly experimental and designed to be more openly accessible than traditional finance, it doesn’t have the same safeguards that centralized exchanges like Coinbase has. “You don’t have any circuit breakers. You don’t have any two-factor authentication to help store your keys,” Gaevoy says.

In 2021, DeFi hacks totaled $1.3 billion, according to research by security firm Certik. Analytics firm Chainalysis estimates that North Korea-linked groups stole $1 billion from DeFi protocols in the first eight months of 2022. Some tried and true security practices in crypto, such as using external hardware wallets or “multi-sig” applications that need to be digitally signed by multiple parties before a transaction is approved, can’t be used for the type of automated trading Wintermute does.

“You need to sign transactions on the fly, within seconds,” says Gaevoy. So they had to invent their own tech tools and security protocols. “Ultimately, that’s the risk we took. It was calculated.” DeFi has been a flourishing part of Wintermute’s business in prior years. “It didn’t work out this year,” he admits.

The Wintermute CEO has some leads on who the hacker might be, and he’s investigating them “both internally and with the use of external partners.” He’s hoping that the hacker will become a “white hat” who returns most of the funds, and he’s now offering a 10% bounty, or $16 million, if the hacker gives back the remaining $144 million. He tweeted that Wintermute “would prefer to resolve this in a simple way, but the window of opportunity to do so is closing fast due to the high profile of this exploit.”

Despite the new $160 million hole in its balance sheet, Gaevoy says Wintermute is on sound financial footing, with more than $350 million in equity. “We are one of the very few crypto-native proprietary trading firms that can actually take this punch,” the CEO says. For a couple hours after the hack, the company paused its OTC trading desk, where it facilitates large trades between other parties. But that has resumed to its normal operation.

I lead our fintech coverage at Forbes and also cover crypto. I edit our annual Fintech 50 and 30 Under 30 for fintech, and I’ve written frequently about leadership and corporate

Source: Profanity May Be The Cause Of Crypto Trading Firm Wintermute’s $160 Million Hack

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Critics by  

As per 1inch’s findings, the private keys linked to vanity addresses could be calculated with brute force attacks. A hacker managed to steal $3.3 million worth of cryptocurrencies from several Ethereum addresses generated with the “Profanity” tool. The funds were drained even after the decentralized exchange aggregator 1inch warned users about discovering a severe vulnerability putting millions of dollars at risk.

It had previously advised users owning wallet addresses generated with the Profanity tool to transfer their assets to a different wallet.

1inch Security Report

In early 2022, 1inch contributors observed that Profanity used a random 32-bit vector to seed 256-bit private keys and suspected it could be unsafe. Upon further investigation, more suspicious activity was noted, signaling that Profanity wallets were compromised.

“The 1inch contributors checked the richest vanity addresses on popular networks and came to the conclusion that most of them were not created by the Profanity tool. But Profanity is one of the most popular tools due to its high efficiency. Sadly, that could only mean that most of the Profanity wallets were secretly hacked.”

According to 1inch, Profanity happens to be a popular and “highly efficient” tool with which users are able to create millions of addresses per second. However, the procedure used by Profanity to generate the addresses was not flawless either and was susceptible to attacks.

The security disclosure report published by 1inch last week also noted that the vulnerability may have enabled hackers to “secretly” steal millions of dollars from Profanity users’ wallets for years. The contributors are currently trying to determine all the compromised vanity addresses.

Soon after the warning, blockchain investigator ZachXBT notified the attack draining over $3 million in funds. Fortunately, his tweet helped a user save $1.2 million in crypto and NFTs from the hacker who had access to their wallet.

Profanity Devs Abandon Project

According to Tal Be’ery, ZenGo’s security lead and chief technology officer, the malicious entities could have been “sitting” on the vulnerability in an attempt to get their hands on as many private keys as possible of bug-ridden Profanity-generated vanity addresses before the vulnerability was detected. However, they cashed out after it was publicly exposed by 1inch.

Meanwhile, one of the Profanity developers, who goes by the pseudonym ‘johguse’ on Github, said that they have already “abandoned” the project a few years ago. The comment regarding the same read

“This project was abandoned by me a couple of years ago. Fundamental security issues in the generation of private keys have been brought to my attention. I strongly advise against using this tool in its current state. This repository will soon be further updated with additional information regarding this critical issue.”

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Accelerated Enterprise: The Key To Growth With A Hybrid Workforce

Most organizations have developed workflows to manage the processes that run their business for decades. But as more and more businesses cope with remote and hybrid work situations, these low-key workhorses are becoming critical engines of growth. They face a slew of challenges that modern programs may be able to solve through streamlining and automation.

A new report based on a survey of 505 C-level technology executives, conducted by Forbes Insights in collaboration with Adobe, shows that few organizations anticipate a full return to the 9-to-5 office. They expect their workforce to become a mix of remote, in-office or a hybrid of the two in the next two years.

Managing these environments brings with it the risk of higher information technology costs and cybersecurity threats, as well as process delays and the loss of employee collaboration and innovation. And that’s where workflow solutions such as employee- and customer-facing programs can help. Here’s a look at how executives are approaching these solutions—including the benefits of streamlining processes and the challenges to implementing them.

Adapting To A New Landscape

“All of a sudden half the workforce was remote, and we had to automate workflows for the purpose of business continuity,” says Holly Muscolino, research vice president of content strategies and the future of work at IDC. “We needed to be able to perform processes that hadn’t been possible to do remotely. Nice-to-have features became mission-critical.”

Forbes Insights survey respondents agreed: An overwhelming majority (86%) believe workflow software and implementation will be very important to succeed in managing a distributed, hybrid work structure, including 32% who say workflow solutions are critical to success.

More than three-quarters also say that employee-facing and customer-facing digital programs are important for increasing revenue, cyber security, operating efficiencies and productivity over the next two years. That’s a powerful recipe for business growth through digital transformation.

Streamlining Systems Integration

Digital workflows simplify processes by enabling disconnected systems to “talk” to one another.  “The primary purpose of a workflow system is integration,” says Tom Rodden, senior vice president and chief information officer at Varian Medical Systems. “When your workflow is well-designed, cross-application integration becomes seamless to your users.”

In a supply-chain transaction, for example, revenue recognition can be a challenge when different accounting standards are involved. Here, workflow integration can simplify and automate the data exchange between the customer, transport provider and distributor, as well as the backend system. Tools, like Adobe Sign, can integrate the communicator’s process to provide proof of delivery to Varian from partners, Rodden says.

Other executives agree: 40% of executives from organizations with an annual revenue of $5 billion or more expect their workflow solution budget to increase 15% or more.

Improving Implementation

Most executives agree workflow transformation is key to driving a future competitive advantage for their organization. Achieving it, however, will depend on the implementation. Barriers to adopting workflow systems and running them smoothly include security concerns, IT staff bandwidth and the prevalence of legacy infrastructure.

It’s best to start with a customized strategy that targets specific issues, advises Simon Longbottom, vice president of product marketing digital media for business at Adobe.

“It’s really about trying to understand what the biggest pain points are and solving them,” he says. “We’ve typically found that problems fall into the two main buckets of employee or customer. For example, a company could be trying to hire and onboard tens of thousands of new employees or might want to move from a paper-based customer acquisition process to an electronic one.”

Companies also need to decide which solutions to prioritize and invest in. Advanced workflow programs based on artificial intelligence, machine learning or robotic process automation are still not widespread—representing, on average, only 15% of the work being done today, according to the Forbes Insights survey. That number will increase to 17% in the next two years.

“In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, there was a knee-jerk reaction to get systems installed as quickly as possible,” says Muscolino. “Organizations now need to go back and evaluate what’s worked and what hasn’t to make sure they’re fully leveraging these technologies. It’s possible to simply digitize a manual process, which doesn’t mean that you’re fully leveraging digital technology.”

Muscolino adds that organizations now have a unique opportunity to examine what systems may need re-engineering and what should be eliminated altogether. “Workflow solutions should be codified so they’re not just an ad hoc solution to a crisis,” she says. “They need to be designed into an organization’s infrastructure and plans going forward.”

As more organizations adopt modern workflows, tools like Adobe Document Cloud with Adobe Sensei, will help teams streamline collaboration and boost their bottom line.

By Rama Ramaswami

Source: https://www.forbes.com

Critics by ThoughtFarmer

Back in 2020, employers found themselves at a crossroads, trying to ensure employees had all the resources they needed to maintain their productivity (and sanity), while still hitting organizational goals. This paved the way for the hybrid workplaceThe hybrid workplace is defined as a business model combining remote work with office work.

It may look different among organizations, but it typically includes the onsite presence of a core group, while others are free to come and go as they please, within reason. It may be the same employees mandated to be onsite, or it could include a staggering of different people present on different days or times. Or, there may simply be specific days where employees are requested to attend in-person meetings. 

The hybrid workplace generally allows employees the opportunity to fit work around their lives, rather than structuring work around fixed hours logged into an office. For many employees (and employers) it’s an optimal balance of productive work with reduced stress and less commuting.

A study by Boston Consulting Group revealed that 75 percent of employees who have transitioned to or remained remote during COVID-19, are at least as productive in performing their individual tasks as they were before the pandemic struck. And about half report that they are at least as productive on collaborative tasks that normally would be performed in conference rooms. 

Fuelling some of the anxiety about a return to office is the lack of safety associated with public transportation. In a study of 3,500 workers worldwide, 81 percent of participants said they used public transit to commute to work, and of this group, 67 percent were at least moderately concerned about commuting when they return to work during the pandemic.

Such anxiety is forcing many employers to either continue to allow employees to work remotely, or to implement a hybrid workplace model. Failure to do so could result in increased turnover, otherwise known as the turnover tsunami. In a study conducted by Fortune with Momentive, almost 50% of workers who are still remote or hybrid say they will look for a new job if their employer forces them back to the office after the pandemic ends.

A hybrid workplace prioritizes the employee, and encourages a stronger work-life balance. It additionally can help ease anxiety employees may have relating to returning to a public workspace, or commuting on public transit. This is particularly critical for those caring for, or who themselves, are immunocompromised.  A hybrid workplace is also a more economical workplace. With less reliance on large scale offices, organizations can save thousands of dollars in real estate and office maintenance costs. 

Organizations offering a combination of in-person and remote employees will also have a larger talent pool to work with, as they will no longer be confined to hiring employees in specific geographical regions. Additionally, a hybrid workplace can help build a crisis resilient culture by preparing organizations for potential future lockdowns. With many employees already working from home, your workplace can easily adapt back to a fully remote environment if necessary. 

Finally, a hybrid workplace can reduce the spread of contagious viruses, as employees can choose to work from home if they are feeling unwell. A hybrid workplace may also offer a solution to organizations with employees who aren’t—or perhaps cannot or have no desire to become—vaccinated. 

As some critics have pointed out, the hybrid workplace model isn’t without its flaws. Not all of us have the luxury of quality internet access, designated home workspaces, or distraction free environments. And obviously remote work or hybrid work isn’t an option for frontline workers (check out this post on how to engage your frontline workers) like many employed by hospitals, factories, and law enforcement. 

A hybrid environment may additionally put employees who cannot work in the office at a disadvantage of those that can. For example, consider a scenario where one employee is unable to attend an in-person meeting. Even if they join via video, there are potential side conversations they may miss out on. Female employees in particular may be at a disadvantage, as they are disproportionately expected to care for young children, and thus unable to return to an office environment. 

There is also concern that employees ‘seen’ in the office will be viewed as providing greater output. Remote employees may feel passed up for opportunities because they are less visible than those who return to the office. This could be especially problematic if leadership are the ones present in the office. In other words the physical office should not hold more power than a remote office. 

Equally important are the challenges associated with collaboration and communication. With two different experiences to manage, there is increased risk that one group may feel excluded in crucial conversations. Such scenarios highlight the importance of a robust hybrid workplace plan and a hybrid workplace assessment. If not properly executed, a hybrid workplace could create a divide between those who work in the office and those who don’t.

he hybrid work environment may be new, but the challenges associated with connecting and communicating with employees aren’t. The good news is that these problems were solved a long time ago with intranet software. Long before COVID-19, organizations around the world depended on their intranet to increase knowledge management, communication, innovation, efficiency, and resilience. Modern intranets take it one step further by automating a variety of business processes, like those involving paper forms

Intranets also make it easy for communicators to understand if employees have read important announcements, as well as to instantly broadcast critical news to employee employees through their mobile phones.  Finally, intranet software enables asynchronous collaboration, so employees can stay focused and on-task…..

.

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Why Bluetooth Remains an Unusually Painful Technology After Two Decades

In the two decades since it was first included in products available to the general public, Bluetooth has become so widespread that an entire generation of consumers may not be able to remember a time without it.

ABI Research estimates that 5 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices will ship to consumers this year, with that figure expected to rise to 7 billion by 2026. Bluetooth is now in everything from smartphones to refrigerators to lightbulbs, allowing a growing number of products to connect to each other seamlessly — sometimes.

Despite its pervasiveness, the technology is still prone to headache-inducing issues, whether it’s the struggle to set up a new device to connect with, switching headphones between devices or simply being too far out of range to connect.

“I have a very love-hate relationship with Bluetooth,” said Chris Harrison, a professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Melon University. “Because when it works, it’s amazing, and when it doesn’t, you want to rip your hair out.”

“The promise was to make it as seamless and easy as possible,” he said. “Bluetooth never quite got there, unfortunately.”

The reasons for this go back to the very foundation of the relatively low-cost technology.

The rise of Bluetooth

Bluetooth is said to borrow its name from a ninth-century Scandinavian king, Harald “Blue tooth” Gormsson, who was known for his blueish-gray dead tooth and also for uniting Denmark and Norway in 958 AD. Early programmers adopted “Bluetooth” as a code name for their wireless tech that connects local devices, and it eventually stuck.

The technology was differentiated from Wi-Fi by being “inherently short range,” Harrison said. It’s still the case today that the Bluetooth options many consumers are accustomed to in their phones and portable speakers function at lower power and can only connect at limited distances.

Bluetooth signals travel over unlicensed airwaves, which are effectively open to the public for anyone to use, as opposed to privatized airwaves that are controlled by companies like AT&T or Verizon. This may have eased its development and broader adoption, but it came at a cost.

Bluetooth must share and compete with a slew of other products using unlicensed spectrum bands, such as baby monitors, TV remotes, and more. This may generate interference that can disrupt your Bluetooth’s effectiveness.

Harrison cites other reasons why Bluetooth can be “unusually painful,” including cybersecurity issues that can arise when transmitting data wirelessly.

If you set up a Bluetooth speaker in your New York apartment building, for example, you wouldn’t want just anyone within a 50-feet radius to be able to connect to it. But manufacturers never settled on a seamless “discovery mode” process, Harrison said.

“Sometimes the device will start up automatically and be in this, ‘I’m ready to pair mode,'” he added. “Sometimes you have to click some kind of alien sequence to get the device into this particular mode.”

More than that, multiple U.S. government agencies have advised consumers that using Bluetooth risks leaving their devices more vulnerable to cybersecurity risks. The Federal Communications Commission has warned that, as with Wi-Fi connections, “Bluetooth can put your personal data at risk if you are not careful.”

At least one high-profile government official is said to be a Bluetooth skeptic: Vice President Kamala Harris. In the much-watched video of Harris congratulating President-elect Joe Biden after the election (“We did it, Joe!“), she can be seen holding a clump of wired headphones in her hands. According to Politico, Harris “has long felt that Bluetooth headphones are a security risk.”

But businesses and consumers continue to embrace Bluetooth. Apple, perhaps most prominently, ditched traditional headphone ports and introduced its popular Bluetooth-enabled wireless earbuds, AirPods. Other tech companies have since rolled out similar products.

Some diehard audiophiles, the sort of people “who complain about Spotify not being high-quality enough,” as Harrison puts it, also refuse to embrace the world of Bluetooth headphones for sound quality reasons.

Despite its flaws, Harrison doesn’t see demand for Bluetooth dying down and admits he himself uses it seamlessly — some “70% of the time.”

“Bluetooth hasn’t seen its pinnacle yet,” Harrison said, predicting the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things, or smart devices, working together in close range will only add to its growth. “Bluetooth will be the glue that connects that all together.”

By:

Source: Why Bluetooth remains an ‘unusually painful’ technology after two decades

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Meta’s Latest Privacy Scandal Includes Hospitals Sending Patient Data

You can’t see them, but Meta’s trackers are embedded in millions of websites all over the internet, collecting data about where you go and what you do and sending it back to Meta. A recent investigation shows that those trackers are on sites that even the most cynical among us might expect to be off-limits: those belonging to hospitals, including patient portals that are supposed to be protected by health privacy laws.

This week, the Markup, a nonprofit news outlet that covers technology’s harms, has been publishing the latest findings of its investigation into Meta’s Pixels, which are pieces of code developers can embed on websites to track their visitors. So far, those stories reveal how websites owned by the government, pregnancy counseling centers, and hospitals are sending data to Meta through Pixels, much of which would be considered sensitive to the users who unwittingly provided it.

It’s easy and understandable to blame Meta for this, given the company’s much-deserved, less-than-stellar reputation on user privacy. In Pixel and other trackers, Meta has played an instrumental role in building the privacy-free, data-leaking online world we must navigate today. The company supplies a tracking system designed to suck up user data from millions of sites and spin it into advertising gold, and it knows very well that there are many cases where the tool was implemented poorly at best and abused at worst.

But this may also be a rare case of a Meta-related privacy scandal that isn’t entirely Meta’s fault, partly because Meta has done its best to place that blame elsewhere. Or, as security researcher Zach Edwards put it: “Facebook wants to have their data cake and not eat the violations, too.” Businesses choose to put Meta’s trackers on their websites and apps, and they choose again which data about their visitors to send up to the social media giant.

There’s simply no good excuse, in this day and age, for developers that use Meta’s business tools not to understand how they work or what user data is being sent through them. At the very least, developers shouldn’t put them on health appointment scheduling pages or inside patient portals, which users have every reason to expect not to be secretly sending their data to nosy third parties because they’re often explicitly told by those sites that they aren’t. Meta created a monster, but those websites are feeding it.

How Pixel makes tracking too easy

Meta makes Pixel available, free of charge, to businesses to embed in their sites. Pixel collects and sends site visitor data to Meta, and Meta can match this to a user’s profile on Facebook or Instagram, giving it that much more insight into that user. (There are also cases where Meta collects data about people who don’t even have Meta accounts.) Some data, like a visitor’s IP address, is collected by Meta automatically. But developers can also set Pixel up to track what it calls “events”: various actions users take on the site.

That may include links they click on or responses in forms they fill out, and it helps businesses better understand users or focus on specific behaviors or actions. All this data can then be used to target ads at those people, or to create what’s known as “lookalike audiences.” This involves a business asking Meta to send ads to people who Meta believes are similar to its existing customers. The more data Meta gets from businesses through those trackers, the better it should be able to target ads.

Meta may also use that data to improve its own products and services. Businesses may use Pixel data for analytics to improve their products and services as well. Businesses (or the third-party vendors they contract to build out their sites or run advertising campaigns) have a lot of control over what data about their customers Meta gets. The Markup discovered that, on some of the sites in its report, hospital website appointment pages were sending Meta the name of someone making an appointment, the date and time of the appointment, and which doctor the patient is seeing.

If that’s happening, that’s because someone on the hospital’s end set Pixel up to do that. Either the hospital didn’t do its due diligence to protect that data or it didn’t consider it to be data worth protecting. Or perhaps it assumed that Meta’s tools would stop the company from collecting or using any sensitive data that was sent to it. In its most recent hospital investigation, the Markup found that a third of the hospitals it looked at from a list of the top 100 hospitals in the country had a Pixel on appointment scheduling pages, and seven health systems had Pixels in their patient portals. Several of the websites removed Pixel after being contacted by the Markup.

How can a hospital justify any of this? The only hospital that gave the Markup a detailed response, Houston Methodist, claimed that it didn’t believe it was sending protected health information to Meta. The Markup found that the hospital’s site told Meta when someone clicked “schedule appointment,” which doctor they scheduled the appointment for, and even that the doctor was found by searching “home abortion.”

But Houston Methodist said scheduling an appointment didn’t mean the appointment was ever confirmed, nor that the person who scheduled the appointment was the person that appointment was actually for. Houston Methodist might think it isn’t violating patient privacy, but its patients may well feel differently. But they’d also have no way of knowing this was happening in the first place without using special tools or having a certain level of technical knowledge. Houston Methodist has since removed the Pixel.

Another health system the Markup looked at, Novant Health, said in a statement that the Pixel was placed by a third-party vendor for a campaign to get more people to sign up for its patient portal system, and was only used to see how many people signed up. But the Markup found far more data than what was being sent to Meta, including medications that users listed and their sexual orientations. That third-party vendor appears to have made some mistakes here, but Novant’s the one that has a duty to its patients to keep their information private on websites that promise to do so. Not the third-party vendor, and not Meta.

This is not to let Meta off the hook. Again, it created the Pixel tracking system, and while it has rules and tools that are supposed to prevent certain types of sensitive information — like health conditions — from being sent to it, the Markup’s reports are evidence that those measures aren’t enough.

Meta told Recode in a statement that “our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it detects.” But the Markup found those filters lacking when it came to data from at least one crisis pregnancy center’s website. Meta didn’t respond to Recode’s questions about what it does if it finds that a business is violating its rules. Edwards, the security researcher, was even less charitable about how much blame Meta should get here. “It’s 100 percent Facebook’s fault, in my opinion,” he said.

Meta also didn’t respond to questions from Recode asking what it does to ensure businesses are following its policies, or what it does with the sensitive information businesses aren’t supposed to send it. As it stands, it looks as though Meta is making and distributing a tracking tool that can materially benefit Meta. But if that tool is exploited or used incorrectly, someone else is responsible. The only people who pay the price for that, it seems, are the site visitors whose privacy is unknowingly invaded.

What you can do to avoid Pixel

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself here. Browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Brave offer tracker blockers. Todd Feathers, one of the reporters on the Markup’s hospital story, told Recode they used Chrome browsers with no privacy extensions for their tests. Speaking of privacy extensions, you can get those, too. VPNs and Apple’s paid private relay service can obscure your IP address from the sites you visit.

Finally, Meta has controls that limit tracking and ad targeting off of its platforms. The company claims that turning off “data about your activity from partners” or “off-Facebook activity” will stop it from using data collected by Pixel from being used to target ads to you. This means placing some trust in Meta that its privacy tools do what it claims they do.

And there’s always, of course, asking your lawmaker to push for privacy laws that would make some of these practices explicitly illegal, or forcing companies to inform and get user consent before collecting and sending their data to anyone else. A few new federal privacy bills or draft bills have been introduced as recently as this week. The interest is there among some members of Congress, but not in enough of them to come close to passing anything yet.

Source: Meta’s latest privacy scandal includes hospitals sending patient data – Vox

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