Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it had discovered hacking targeting democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organisations in Europe.
 
It, consequently, said it plans to offer a cyber security service to several countries to close the security gaps.
 
The attacks occurred between September and December 2018, targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund, the company said here in a blog post.
 
Microsoft said the activity, which was found through the company’s Threat Intelligence Centre and Digital Crimes Unit, targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Serbia.
 
It said many of the attacks originated from a group called Strontium, which the company has previously associated with the Russian government.
 
Strontium, one of the world’s oldest cyber espionage groups, has also been called APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofancy and Pawn Storm by a range of security firms and government officials.
 
Security firm, CrowdStrike, said the group may be associated with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
 
Microsoft said it will expand its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain to help customers secure their accounts.
 
The AccountGuard service would also be available in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia.
 
Ahead of a critical European Parliament election in May, German officials are trying to bolster cyber security after a far-reaching data breach by a 20-year-old student laid bare the vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy.
 
Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational technology company with headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
 
It develops, manufactures, licenses, supports and sells computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers and related services.
Published in Business

The South African government is forecast to be hit by a tax revenue shortfall of almost R43 billion for the tax year ending next month, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni indicated in his budget speech on Wednesday.

There were pronounced risks to the local economic outlook with the main risk of concern being power utility Eskom and its financial woes, the 2019 budget review report indicated.

The report indicated that government tax revenue for the 2019 fiscal year would come in at R43 billion under the target set at the 2018 budget speech.

“There are pronounced risks to the economic outlook. The main risk of concern is Eskom. Failure to fully implement the reconfiguration of Eskom could lead to a negative market reaction that would prompt capital outlflows, with greater pressure on the rand. It would also perpetuate weak investor confidence and reduce economic growth,” the report said.

 
 

In the worst case scenario, National Treasury is forecasting negative 1% growth this year while its best-case scenario is just over 2% growth.

Mboweni cut the National Treasury’s forecast for economic growth for this year from 1.7% to 1.5% due to “fragile recovery in employment and investment, and a less supportive global trade environment”.

By 2021, the National Treasury’s best-case scenario is growth of 3% and its worst-case scenario is 1%.

“The economic and revenue outlook has deteriorated since the October 2018 medium-term budgetary policy statement and funding pressures from state-owned companies have increased,” the medium-term budgetary policy statement said.

“Several other state-owned companies are also in financial distress and have requested government support. As a result, the contingency reserve has been revised up by R6 billion in 2019/20 and any funding provided will be offset by the sale of non-core assets. Additional reforms to strengthen the governance, finances and operations of state-owned companies will be announced in the months ahead,” the 2019 budget review report said.

State companies that are looking for bailouts include the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Denel.

“Several state-owned companies face negative cash flows and are financing operations from debt, which has become increasingly difficult to raise. This moves them perilously close to default unless they receive some form of recapitalisation.”

In another worrying sign, debt owed to municipalities is increasing. At the end of March, debt owed to municipalities is forecast to climb to almost R159 billion from almost R99 billion at the end of March 2015.

Of debts owed by municipalities that are more than 90 days in arrears, Eskom is the major creditor – it is owed R12.8 billion – followed by water boards with R6.4 billion.

“From July 2018 to June 2019 municipal financial year, 113 municipal councils adopted unfunded budgets, up from 83 the prior year.”

The government is expecting to issue $2 billion (about R28 billion) in debt by the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Over the next three years, the government will raise an additional $8 billion (about R114 billion) in global capital markets.

“This year’s budget underlines the National Treasury’s continued commitment to these requirements in a difficult environment in which economic growth remains weak, public debt and debt-service costs have accelerated and governance and operational concerns are manifest across the public sector,” the review report said.

“Weak economic performance and residual problems in tax administration have resulted in large revenue shortfalls,” the report said.

“The deteriorating financial position of state-owned companies has put additional pressure on the public finances,” the report added.

“The government’s efforts to reform state-owned companies and the launch of the infrastructure fund are expected to increase growth and investment in the year ahead,” the 2019 budget review report said.

For the 2020 fiscal year, consolidated government expenditure is forecast to R1.83 trillion.

Published in Bank & Finance
A research report by the FSDH Merchant Bank has said the disparity between the growth rates of the Nigerian economy and its population shows that poverty is on the increase in the country.
 
According to the report titled ‘Final Judgment on Performance of the Nigerian Economy: Implications’, The Nigerian economy is growing slower than the growth rate in its population.
 
“This means that the economy is not expanding in such a way that can create enough job opportunities for the unemployed population, which the National Bureau of Statistics put at 21million as at Q3 2018,” the report stated.
 
The FSDH research also noted that ahead of the presidential election, the NBS released its final judgment on the performance of the Nigerian economy in 2018, adding that the report containing the judgment showed that the Nigerian economy had continued to recover. The economy expanded by 1.93 per cent in full year 2018, higher than 0.82 per cent recorded in 2017.
 
“The Nigerian economy is growing slower than the growth rate in its population, an indication of growing poverty! This means that the economy is not expanding in such a way that can create enough job opportunities for the unemployed population, which the NBS put at 21million as at Q3 2018.”
 
The report that said this is the sad reality, however added that there was a way out.
 
Nigeria could grow at above six per cent if appropriate policies and the will power to implement the policies were in place, it said.
 
“If you are searching sectors of the economy to start a business or to lend money to, you should be looking at the fastest growing or largest sectors of the economy,” the FSDH stated.
 
According to the report, these sectorsare where policymakers could easily achieve tangible results to show the impacts of their policies on the economy.
 
It said: “The most influential sectors that drove performance in FY 2018 are: Information and communication; agriculture; manufacturing, transportation and storage, and mining and quarrying sectors.
 
“The five fastest growing sectors on average between Q1 2017 – Q4 2018 are electricity, gas, steam, and air conditioning supply; transportation and storage; water supply, sewage, waste management and remediation; information and communication and mining and quarrying.”
 
The report further noted that the fragile recovery in the economy meant that additional policies which would fast-track economic activities in the country were urgently required.
 
“This meant it would be a hard sell for the Central Bank of Nigeria to increase key interest rates in the country, it stated.
 
“Increase in the key interest rates like Monetary Policy Rate, Cash Reserve Requirement and Liquidity Rate may not be in view in the short-term.
 
“Usually, an increase in the MPR, CRR and LR may help to reduce a high inflation rate and keep the foreign exchange rate stable.
 
“However, such actions have the tendency to reduce economic growth, effectively it added.
 
“The growing recovery in the economy, if sustained, would reduce the business risks inherent in the country, which usually scared away investors”, the report said.
 
Published in World
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has injected another $210 million into the foreign exchange market in continuation of its intervention in the Inter-Bank Foreign Exchange Market.
 
According to the CBN Director, Corporate Communications, Mr Isaac Okoroafor, in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday, the apex bank offered $100m as wholesale interventions and allocated $55m to Small and Medium Enterprises, while another $55m was allocated to customers requiring foreign exchange for business and personal travels, tuition or medical fees.
 
Imitators further explained that Tuesday’s interventions were in continuation of the bank’s resolve to sustain the high level of stability in the foreign exchange market and also to continue to ease access to the currency by customers in different sectors.
 
Okoroafor said the CBN was optimistic that the Naira would sustain its run against the dollar and other major currencies around the world, considering the level of transparency in the market.
 
Published in Bank & Finance
Egyptian authorities have executed nine men convicted over the 2015 killing of the country’s attorney-general, Hisham Barakat, the Egyptian newspaper, El Watan reported Wednesday.
 
The men were among a group of 28 who were sentenced to death in the case in 2017. Barakat was killed in a car bomb attack on his convoy in the capital, Cairo.
 
Egypt blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza-based Hamas militants for the operation. Both groups denied having a role.
 
Rights group Amnesty International had appealed on Tuesday for authorities to halt the executions, citing testimony by the defendants that they had been secretly detained and tortured into confessing.
 
Since 2013, the year that then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi military ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian criminal courts have issued hundreds of death sentences.
 
Only a small proportion have been carried out, though the rate of executions has risen since 2015, rights activists say.
 
El Watan newspaper said the executions were carried out on Wednesday morning. The newspapers gave the names of the executed as Ahmad Taha, Abu Alqasim Ahmed, Ahmed Jamal Hijazi, Mahmoud Al Ahmadi, Abu Bakr Al Sayed, Abdul Rahman Sulaiman, Ahmed Mohammed, Ahmed Mahrous Sayed and Islam Mohammed.
 
The newspaper also published the confessions of the men about their involvement in the assassination of Barakat by bombing.
 
Their execution followed six others carried out earlier this month. Three of those were convicted over the killing of a police office in September 2013, and three over the killing of a judge’s son the following year.
 
In both cases the defendants or their lawyers had said torture was used to extract confessions, according to Amnesty International.
 
Sisi, who was elected president in 2014 and re-elected last year, says he is working to bring stability and security to Egypt following the turmoil of the 2011 uprising.
Published in World

A military court on Wednesday convicted Fang Fenghui, former Chief of Staff of China’s Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department, on three counts of crime.

The court sentenced him to life imprisonment according to the law.

Fang was found guilty of accepting and offering bribe as well as holding a huge amount of property from unidentified sources.

“He was also deprived of his political rights for life and had his personal properties confiscated,’’ the judgment stated.

Report says the illicit money and properties confiscated will be turned over to the state coffers.

Published in World
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:44

3 UK Conservative MPs resign from party

Three Conservative MPs resigned from their party to join The Independent Group of eight Labour MPs who earlier this week formed a breakaway centrist faction in parliament.

The three MPs — Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry — have been highly critical of Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy on Brexit and have voted against the government on that issue.

In a joint letter to the prime minister they accuse May of a “shift to the right” and of being “firmly in the grip” of the Brexiteer group of backbenchers, the European Research Group, and the Democratic Unionist Party.

“Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up ‘red lines,’” they wrote. “The 48% were not only sidelined, they were alienated.

“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”

May’s conservatives do not have a majority in parliament and are only able to govern because of a confidence and supply deal with the DUP.

Published in World
Venezuela’s military said Tuesday it was on alert at its frontiers following threats by US President Donald Trump and suspended air and sea links with the island of Curacao ahead of a planned aid shipment.
 
Opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido has vowed to bring aid in from various points Saturday “one way or another” despite military efforts to block it.
 
But commanders doubled down on their allegiance to President Nicolas Maduro after Trump urged them to abandon him.
 
“The armed forces will remain deployed and on alert along the borders… to avoid any violations of territorial integrity,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.
 
Regional commander Vladimir Quintero later confirmed media reports that Venezuela had ordered the suspension of air and sea links with Curacao and the nearby Netherlands Antilles islands of Aruba and Bonaire.
 
Shipments of food and medicine for Venezuelans suffering in the country’s economic crisis have become a focus of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.
 
Aid is being stored in Colombia near the Venezuelan border and Guaido aims also to bring in consignments via Brazil and Curacao, which is off the coast of Venezuela.
 
A Brazilian presidential spokesman said the country was cooperating with the United States to supply aid to Venezuela but would leave it to Venezuelans to take the goods over the border.
 
Maduro says the aid plan is a smokescreen for a US invasion. He blames US sanctions and “economic war” for Venezuela’s crisis.
 
Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of the Venezuelan legislature, has appealed to military leaders to switch allegiance to him and let the aid through.
 
He has offered military commanders an amnesty if they abandon Maduro.
 
But the military high command has so far maintained its public backing for Maduro — seen as key to keeping him in power.
 
“We reiterate unrestrictedly our obedience, subordination and loyalty” to Maduro, Padrino said.
 
Guaido posted a series of tweets calling by name on senior military leaders commanding border posts to abandon Maduro.
 
He has branded Maduro illegitimate, saying the elections that returned the socialist leader to power last year were fixed.
 
The United States and some 50 other countries back Guaido as interim president.
 
Trump has refused to rule out US military action in Venezuela. He raised the pressure on Monday, issuing a warning to the Venezuelan military.
 
He told them that if they continue to support Maduro, “you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.”
 
Padrino rejected Trump’s threat, branding the US president “arrogant.”
 
If foreign powers try to help install a new government by force, they will have to do so “over our dead bodies,” Padrino said.
 
Venezuela’s deputy military attache at the UN announced Tuesday he was siding with Guaido.
 
“I declare myself to be in total and absolute disobedience to the illegally constituted government of Mr. Nicolas Maduro,” Colonel Pedro Jose Chirinos said in a video posted on social media.
 
Since Guaido declared himself interim president on January 23, he has received the support of an army colonel and an air force general, neither of whom actually have any troops under their command, a retired air force major general and a number of lower-level officers.
Published in World
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