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US Govt. Cybersecurity Contractor Leaks Data, Verizon Warns About Rising Gift Card Frauds and More in This Week’s News

US Govt. Cybersecurity Contractor Hit in Phishing Scam

Last Thursday, March 16, the CEO of Defense Point Security admitted to its employees that their W-2 tax data was leaked after someone from the company got caught in a phishing scam. W-2 scams are usually executed with phishing emails directed at finance and HR employees that emulate a request from the organization’s CEO (or other C tier employees).

W-2 data is fraudsters’ favorite prey as it contains all the data necessary to file someone’s tax report and request a refund. Tax data has been massively targeted by scammers over the past years. This year they focus mainly on tax preparation enterprises with W-2 data being the main prize. Millions of U.S. citizens are affected by tax refund fraud every year. People affected by such acts usually first learn of the crime right after their returns get rejected because scammers were faster to file them. Even those that are not required to file a return often end up being victims of tax refund fraud.

Defense Point, the Virginia based company that bills itself as “the choice provider of cyber security services to the federal government”, is involved in a series of sensitive projects like the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Security Operations Center (SOC) based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Their integrity has now been compromised and we’re yet to see how the situation will unfold.

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Krebs On Security

Gift Card Frauds Forcing Retailers to Disable Online Checks

Recently, online retailers have been encountering a rise in gift card fraud in the industry, forcing many top brands to disable their online balance checks. The rising popularity of gift cards ultimately resulted in an influx of fraudulent gift card activities. After fraudsters discover sequential patterns from stolen cards or store visits they proceed to brute force crack into online balance checkers with advanced persistent bots. When valid numbers get identified, hackers gain access to balance displays which are then easily resold on the dark web and secondary markets.

E-commerce operators noticed a spike in failed payment authorizations related to gift cards, and have since taken precautions as well as alarmed the online security community. In their latest blog post, Verizon Digital Media Services suggests these prevention techniques to avoid gift card cracking:

  • Randomizing gift cards with numbers AND letters
  • Closely monitoring failed authorizations and abandoned baskets
  • Allowing checks only to authenticated users
  • Limiting the number of failed attempts
  • Applying advanced bot-detection methods to avoid brute force automated checks.

The good news is that there are effective solutions to mitigate these kind of automated fraud attacks among other brute force attacks (login, checkout, etc.) in real time.

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Verizon Digital Media Services

AWS Encourages Developers to Use Alexa AI

AWS has revealed an offer that will make it free for developers to integrate its Alexa AI technology into applications. The promotional offer will allow developers to build and host Alexa skills even when they exceed the monthly allowed 750 hours of Amazon EC2 compute time.

Developers with a published Alexa skill will now be allowed to apply for an AWS promotional credit which will grant additional $100/month credits when they are charged for projects that use that skill. The initiative comes as a result of AWS’s efforts to encourage skilled developers to further evolve and innovate the company's Alexa AI technology.

Developers can apply to become part of the programme via the Alexa developer portal, where they are also able to learn more about gaining Alexa skills with AWS.

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AmazonCloud Pro

Oracle’s Cloud Revenue Hits $1 Billion

After refocusing on the cloud sector, Oracle achieved better than expected results, according to their quarterly report. After a quite turbulent period for the company, combined SaaS, PaaS and cloud, quarterly revenues were up 86% from last year, reaching $1.1 mil. Further segmentation of Oracle’s cloud business shows that SaaS and PaaS grew by 73% with cloud infrastructure related revenues growing by 17%. The company promptly highlighted that they sold more new SaaS and PaaS than Salesforce did in the same period.

"We’re growing more than 3 times faster. If these trends continue, where we are selling more SaaS and PaaS in absolute dollars AND growing dramatically faster, it’s just a matter of when we catch and pass Salesforce.com in total cloud revenue.”

Mark Hurd, co-CEO at Oracle

On the other hand, these positive cloud revenues aren’t remotely close to covering revenue loss in their hardware business, which declined to $1 billion (down by 9%).

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Cloud Pro

Google’s Ray Kurzweil: “AI will reach human levels in 12 years”

Google's director of engineering expects AI to reach human intelligence by 2029. Speaking at the SXSW conference in Texas, Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at the web giant and pioneer of artificial language, stated that he expects AI to become as intelligent as humans in the next 12 years. Kurzweil expects AI will offer the chance to boost ones personality traits with direct brain interfacing and will be available to everyone. With the economical and industry implications becoming immense.

"Although it was once only affordable for the rich, they are now becoming the norm and there are very few people who can’t get access to one. That leads to computers having human intelligence, our putting them inside our brains, connecting them to the cloud, expanding who we are. Today, that's not just a future scenario. It's here, in part, and it's going to accelerate. We don't have one or two AIs in the world. Today we have billions."

Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google and futurist

Kurzweil also said he expects people will be able to connect them self into machines and acquire knowledge, skills and personality attributes. The constant progress in bot and AI development fields make his predictions bold but not improbable. A Sci-Fi scenario like the one described by Google's director doesn't seem impossible and is sure to bring vast ethical and social implications.

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SXSW Live 

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