Crypto ‘Mixer’ Tornado Cash Is Blacklisted by the Treasury Department

The Treasury Department on Monday prohibited Americans from using the cryptocurrency platform Tornado Cash, saying the service has helped criminals launder more than $7 billion of virtual currencies.

The crackdown was the U.S. government’s latest effort to rein in the crypto industry, as lawmakers and regulators grow increasingly concerned over the volatility of virtual currencies and their role in facilitating hacking and other crimes. Calling the platform a “threat to U.S. national security,” the Treasury Department placed Tornado Cash on a blacklist of entities, making it illegal for Americans to send or receive money using the service.

“Despite public assurances otherwise, Tornado Cash has repeatedly failed to impose effective controls designed to stop it from laundering funds for malicious cyber actors,” Brian Nelson, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

Criminals have long used virtual currencies to transact anonymously, exchanging digital coins for drugs or other illicit wares. But the anonymity of crypto doesn’t provide blanket security: Crypto transactions are recorded on publicly viewable ledgers called blockchains, allowing law enforcement officials to follow the money.

Platforms like Tornado Cash are designed to make that kind of tracking harder. These crypto “mixers” receive multiple streams of transactions, then combine them to obscure the origin and destination of the funds. According to the Treasury Department, Tornado Cash was used to launder more than $455 million in crypto stolen this year by North Korean-backed hackers called the Lazarus Group.

A message to Tornado Cash’s official Twitter account was not returned. Roman Semenov, one of the company’s three founders, did not respond to a request for comment.

Since its launch in 2019, Tornado Cash has risen to prominence largely because blockchain records show that hackers have used it to move stolen cryptocurrencies. In interviews, Mr. Semenov has defended the service, saying the software protects the privacy of legitimate crypto traders who could be targeted by kidnappers or thieves.

In a statement, the crypto advocacy group Coin Center criticized the Treasury Department’s announcement, arguing that Tornado Cash is a neutral platform “that can be put to good or bad uses like any other technology.”

“It is not any specific bad actor who is being sanctioned,” the statement said. “Instead it is all Americans who may wish to use this automated tool in order to protect their own privacy while transacting online.”

As the market for digital currencies has grown, the federal government has increasingly cracked down on crypto companies, which are lightly regulated. Tether, a stablecoin company, was fined last year by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for misstatements about its reserves, while the Justice Department brought insider-trading charges last month against a former employee of Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange.

The cryptocurrency exchange Kraken is also under investigation by the Treasury Department for possible violations of U.S. sanctions.

Elon Musk says he is terminating $44bn Twitter deal | Social Media News

Twitter’s chairman says the social media platform will take legal action to enforce the agreement.

Elon Musk has said he is terminating a $44bn deal to buy Twitter, saying the social media company did not provide information about fake or spam accounts on the platform.

In a filing to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday, Musk’s lawyers said Twitter had failed or refused to respond to multiple requests for information on those accounts, which is fundamental to the company’s business performance.

“Sometimes Twitter has ignored Mr. Musk’s requests, sometimes it has rejected them for reasons that appear to be unjustified, and sometimes it has claimed to comply while giving Mr. Musk incomplete or unusable information,” the filing reads.

“Twitter is in material breach of multiple provisions of that Agreement, appears to have made false and misleading representations upon which Mr. Musk relied when entering into the Merger Agreement,” it also said.

Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press and Reuters news agencies.

The company’s chairman, Bret Taylor, tweeted on Friday evening that, “the Twitter Board is committed to closing the transaction on the price and terms agreed upon with Mr. Musk and plans to pursue legal action to enforce the merger agreement”.

The terms of the deal require Musk, the CEO of Tesla, to pay a $1bn break-up fee if he does not complete the transaction.

The board unanimously agreed to sell the platform to Musk for $44bn in April, in a deal that stirred controversy and questions about free speech and misinformation on the popular social media platform.

The agreement’s possible unravelling is just the latest twist in a saga between one of the world’s richest men and one of the most influential social media sites.

Much of the drama has played out on Twitter, with Musk, who has more than 95 million followers, lamenting that the company was failing to live up to its potential as a platform for free speech.

Last month, Twitter allowed Musk access to its “firehose”, a repository of raw data on hundreds of millions of daily tweets.

The company said at that time that it intended to close the deal at the agreed price and terms. “Twitter has and will continue to cooperatively share information with Musk to consummate the transaction in accordance with the terms of the merger agreement,” it said in a statement.

In May, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said the social media network estimates that fewer than 5 percent of all its users are fake.

But in a series of tweets, he highlighted the challenge of weeding out real people from bots and accounts being used for spam campaigns.

“The hard challenge is that many accounts which look fake superficially – are actually real people,” he wrote. “And some of the spam accounts which are actually the most dangerous – and cause the most harm to our users – can look totally legitimate on the surface.”

Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush investment firm, said Musk’s filing on Friday was bad news for Twitter.

“This is a disaster scenario for Twitter and its Board as now the company will battle Musk in an elongated court battle to recoup the deal and/or the breakup fee of $1 billion at a minimum,” he wrote in a note to clients.

Why South Korea Can’t Quit Internet Explorer

SEOUL — In South Korea, one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, there are few limits to what can be done conveniently online — except if you’re using the wrong web browser.

On Google Chrome, you can’t make business payments online as a corporate customer of one of the country’s largest foreign-owned banks. If you’re using Apple’s Safari, you’re unable to apply for artist funding through the National Culture and Arts website. And if you’re a proprietor of a child care facility, registering your organization with the Health and Welfare Ministry’s website is not possible on Mozilla’s Firefox.

In all these cases, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or a similar alternative, is the required browser.

When Microsoft shut down Internet Explorer, or IE, on June 15, the company said it would start redirecting users to its newer Edge browser in the coming months. The announcement inspired jokes and memes commemorating the internet of yesteryear. But in South Korea, IE is not some online artifact. The defunct browser is still needed for a small number of critical banking and government-related tasks that many people can’t live without.

South Korea’s fealty to Internet Explorer, 27 years after its introduction and now into its retirement, presents a heavy dose of irony: A country known for blazing broadband and innovative devices is tethered to a buggy and insecure piece of software abandoned by most of the world long ago.

Most South Korean websites work on every browser, including Google Chrome, which takes up about 54 percent of the country’s internet use. Internet Explorer is less than 1 percent, according to Statcounter. Yet after the announcement from Microsoft, there was a last-minute scramble among some essential sites to prepare for life after IE.

The South Korean arm of the British bank Standard Chartered warned corporate customers in May that they would need to start using the Edge browser in “IE mode” for access to its “Straight2Bank” internet banking platform. Various Korean government websites told users that some services were likely to face disruptions if they did not switch to Edge.

In May, Naver, one of Korea’s biggest internet companies, highlighted a feature of its Whale browser that allows access to sites that required Internet Explorer. Kim Hyo, who heads Naver’s Whale team, said the company had originally added the option in 2016. He thought it would no longer be needed when Microsoft shut down IE.

But as the final days approached, Mr. Kim realized that some Korean websites would not make the switch in time, so he kept the feature and changed its name to “Internet Explorer mode.” Modernizing websites that had catered to IE for decades was “quite a large task,” he said, and some sites “just missed the deadline.”

South Korea’s reliance on Internet Explorer dates back to the 1990s, when the country became a forerunner in using the internet for banking and shopping. In order to protect online transactions, the government passed a law in 1999 requiring encrypted digital certificates for any matter that had previously called for a signature.

Verifying a person’s identity required additional software that connected to the browser, known as a plug-in. The South Korean government authorized five companies to issue such digital certificates using a Microsoft plug-in called ActiveX. But the plug-in worked only on Internet Explorer.

At the time, using a Microsoft plug-in seemed like an obvious choice. Microsoft Windows software ruled the personal computer market in the 1990s, and Internet Explorer had leveraged that position to become the dominant browser. Because key Korean websites required IE, other websites began catering to Microsoft’s browser, reinforcing its importance. By one estimate, Internet Explorer had 99 percent market share in South Korea between 2004 and 2009.

“We were really the only game in town,” said James Kim, who led Microsoft in South Korea from 2009 to 2015. Mr. Kim, who now heads the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, said that Microsoft hadn’t tried to thwart the competition, but that a lot of things “didn’t work” without IE.

Kim Keechang, a law professor at Korea University in Seoul, said Internet Explorer’s stranglehold on South Korea was so complete in the early 2000s that most South Koreans “couldn’t name another browser.”

When Professor Kim returned to South Korea in 2002 after teaching abroad, he discovered that he couldn’t do anything online with his computer running Linux, a free, open-source alternative to Windows, and Firefox. Every year, he went to an internet cafe for access to a computer with IE in order to file his taxes on a government site.

In 2007, Professor Kim filed a lawsuit against the Korea Financial Telecommunications & Clearings Institute, one of the five government-approved private companies assigned to issue digital certificates. He argued that the company, which issued about 80 percent of South Korea’s certificates, had unjustly discriminated against him by not allowing other browsers.

Over three years, Professor Kim lost the case, lost the appeal and lost at the country’s Supreme Court. But his court battle drew broader attention to the pitfalls of South Korea’s system, especially after a 2009 cyberattack exploited ActiveX to spread malware on Korean computers.

With the advent of smartphones, an industry built on software from Apple and Google, South Korea, like much of the world, started to reduce its reliance on Microsoft. In 2010, the country issued guidelines that government websites should be compatible with three different web browsers. But changing the plumbing of South Korea’s internet was not easy — especially as banks and credit card companies stood by the existing system.

As public opinion shifted, users bristled at the inconvenience of needing to use ActiveX to buy things online. Critics argued that the technology had failed to meet its purpose because the plug-in software made users less safe.

Microsoft introduced Edge in 2015 as a replacement for Internet Explorer, and the company said it was not supporting ActiveX in the new browser. Chrome became the country’s top browser three years earlier.

In 2020, South Korea amended the 1999 law to eliminate the need for digital certificates, a move that seemed to close the book on ActiveX and Internet Explorer. That same year, Microsoft started removing support for IE in some of its online services. A year later, the company announced that it planned to retire Internet Explorer altogether.

While much of the world joked about Internet Explorer’s demise, one South Korean engineer marked the occasion in a more somber way.

Jung Ki-young, a 39-year-old software developer, erected a tombstone for IE on the rooftop of his older brother’s cafe in Gyeongju, a city on South Korea’s southeastern coast around 170 miles from Seoul. He paid $330 for the monument, which was engraved with the browser’s recognizable “e” logo and an inscription: “He was a good tool to download other browsers.”

Mr. Jung said he had his share of frustrations with Internet Explorer, but he felt the browser that had introduced so many South Koreans to the web deserved a proper goodbye.

“Using Internet Explorer was difficult and frustrating, but it also served a good purpose,” Mr. Jung said. “I don’t feel good about just retiring it with a ‘we don’t need you anymore’ attitude.”

Electric Cars Are Too Costly for Many, Even With Aid in Climate Bill

Policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change. But an uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.

Congress has begun trying to address that problem. The climate and energy package passed on Sunday by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act, would give buyers of used electric cars a tax credit.

But automakers have complained that the credit would apply to only a narrow slice of vehicles, at least initially, largely because of domestic sourcing requirements. And experts say broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable and to get enough of them on the road to put a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

High prices are caused by shortages of batteries, of raw materials like lithium, and of components like semiconductors. Strong demand for electric vehicles from affluent buyers means that carmakers have little incentive to sell cheaper models. For low- and middle-income people who don’t have their own garages or driveways, another obstacle is the lack of enough public facilities to recharge.

The bottlenecks will take years to unclog. Carmakers and suppliers of batteries and chips must build and equip new factories. Commodity suppliers have to open new mines and build refineries. Charging companies are struggling to install new stations fast enough. In the meantime, electric vehicles remain largely the province of the rich.

To some extent, the carmakers are following their usual game plan. They have always introduced new technology at a luxury price. With time, the new features and gadgets make their way into cheaper cars.

But emission-free technology has an urgency that voice navigation or massaging seats did not. Transportation accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Battery-powered cars produce far less carbon dioxide than vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel. That’s true even accounting for the emissions from generating electricity and from manufacturing batteries, according to numerous studies.

Only a few years ago analysts were predicting that electric vehicles would soon be as cheap to buy as gasoline cars. Factoring in the savings on fuel and maintenance, going electric would be a no-brainer.

Instead, soaring prices of commodities like lithium, an essential ingredient in batteries, helped raise the average sticker price of an electric vehicle by 14 percent last year to $66,000, $20,000 more than the average for all new cars, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Demand for electric vehicles is so strong that models like the Ford Mach-E are effectively sold out, and there are long wait times for others. Tesla’s website informs buyers that they can’t expect delivery of a Model Y, with a purchase price of $66,000, until sometime between January and April 2023.

With so much demand, carmakers have little reason to target budget-minded buyers. Economy car stalwarts like Toyota and Honda are not yet selling significant numbers of all-electric models in the United States. Scarcity has been good for Ford, Mercedes and other carmakers that are selling fewer cars than before the pandemic but recording fat profits.

Automakers are “not giving any more discounts because demand is higher than the supply,” said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who oversees the consulting firm’s automotive division. “The general trend currently is no one is interested in low prices.”

Advertised prices for electric vehicles tend to start at around $40,000, not including a federal tax credit of $7,500. Good luck finding an electric car at that semi-affordable price.

Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with an advertised starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough. Hyundai advertises that its electric Ioniq 5 starts at about $40,000. But the cheapest models available from dealers in the New York area, based on a search of the company’s website, were around $49,000 before taxes.

Tesla’s Model 3, which the company began producing in 2017, was supposed to be an electric car for average folks, with a base price of $35,000. But Tesla has since raised the price for the cheapest version to $47,000.

Even used electric cars are scarce. Popular models like the Tesla Y and Ford Mach-E are sometimes selling for thousands of dollars more used than they did new. Buyers are willing to pay a premium to get an electric car, even a used one, right away.

Joshua Berliner, a Los Angeles entrepreneur, was in the market for a used Tesla Model 3 sedan but discovered that prices were higher than for a new Tesla. “The same held true for nearly every make we looked at,” Mr. Berliner said in an email.

Mr. Berliner, who owns a Tesla and wanted a second one for his wife, said he became so desperate that he almost bought a gasoline car. “I normally wouldn’t consider combustion vehicles, but if gas prices were lower I might have pulled the trigger,” he said.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which appears likely to pass the House, would give buyers of used cars a tax credit of up to $4,000. The used car market is twice the size of the new-car market and is where most people get their rides.

But the tax credit for used cars would apply only to those sold for $25,000 or less. Less than 20 percent of used electric vehicles fit that category, said Scott Case, chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used vehicle market.

The supply of secondhand vehicles will grow over time, Mr. Case said. He noted that the Tesla Model 3, which has sold more than any other electric car, became widely available only in 2018. New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles for three or four years before trading them in.

A $7,500 credit for new electric vehicles, another provision of the Inflation Reduction Act, will help push down prices across the board and filter down to the used car market, Mr. Case said. Carmakers sold nearly 200,000 new electric vehicles in the United States from April through June. As those new cars age, used electric vehicles will become “accessible to a lot more people,” Mr. Case said.

The problem is that many new electric cars may not qualify for the $7,500 credits. The Inflation Reduction Act sets standards for how much of a car’s battery must be made in North America with raw materials from trade allies. Several car manufacturers and suppliers have announced plans to build battery factories in the United States, but few have begun producing.

“Right now with our lack of capacity for materials, I don’t think there is any product that will meet that today,” Carla Bailo, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said of the standards. “Tesla is probably close but the rest of the manufacturers, no way.”

The legislation also excludes imported electric vehicles from the tax credit. The provision is designed to protect American jobs, but will undercut the price advantage of Chinese brands that are expected to enter the United States. SAIC’s MG unit sells an electric S.U.V. in Europe for about $31,000 before incentives.

New battery designs offer hope for cheaper electric cars, but will take years to appear in lower-priced models. Predictably, next-generation batteries that charge faster and go further are likely to appear first in luxury cars, like those from Porsche and Mercedes-Benz.

Companies working on these advanced technologies argue that they will ultimately reduce costs for everyone by packing more energy into smaller packages. A smaller battery saves weight and cuts the cost of cooling systems, brakes and other components because they can be designed for a lighter car.

You can actually decrease everything else,” said Justin Mirro, chief executive of Kensington Capital Acquisition Corporation, which helped battery maker QuantumScape go public and is preparing a stock market listing for the fledgling battery maker Amprius Technologies. “It just has this multiplier effect.”

The U.S. Department of Energy is trying to encourage start-ups to focus more on batteries for the masses. In May the department offered $45 million in grants to firms or researchers working on batteries that, among other things, would last longer, to create a bigger supply of used vehicles.

“We also need cheaper batteries, and batteries that charge faster and work better in the winter,” said Halle Cheeseman, a program director who focuses on batteries at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, part of the Department of Energy.

Gene Berdichevsky, chief executive of Sila Nanotechnologies, a California company working on next-generation battery technology, argues that prices are following a curve like the one solar cells did. Prices for solar panels ticked up when demand began to take off, but soon resumed a steady decline.

The first car to use Sila’s technology will be a Mercedes luxury S.U.V. But Mr. Berdichevsky said: “I’m not in this to make toys for the rich. I’m here to make all cars go electric.” 

A few manufacturers offer cars aimed at the less wealthy. A Chevrolet Bolt, a utilitarian hatchback, lists for $25,600 before incentives. Volkswagen said this month that the entry-level version of its 2023 ID.4 electric sport utility vehicle, which the German carmaker has begun manufacturing at its factory in Chattanooga, will start at $37,500, or around $30,000 if it qualifies for the federal tax credit.

Then there is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, produced in China by a joint venture of General Motors and the Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling. The car reportedly outsells the Tesla Model 3 in China. While the $4,500 price tag is unbeatable, it is unlikely many Americans would buy a car with a top speed of barely 60 miles per hour and a range slightly over 100 miles. There is no sign that the car will be exported to the United States.

Eventually, Ms. Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research said, carmakers will run out of well-heeled buyers and aim at the other 95 percent.

“They listen to their customers,” she said. “Eventually that demand from high-income earners is going to abate.”

US court sentences Ahmaud Arbery killer to life in prison | Black Lives Matter News

Federal judge gives Travis McMichael life for hate crimes; his two co-defendants will be sentenced later on Monday.

The Georgia man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, whose killing in 2020 was among those that fuelled mass protests against racism and vigilantism in the United States, has been sentenced to life in prison by a federal court for committing hate crimes.

US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood sentenced Travis McMichael, a 36-year-old white former US Coast Guard mechanic, in Brunswick, Georgia on Monday. McMichael had been convicted of murder in a state trial last year.

He and his co-defendants – his father, 66-year-old Gregory McMichael, and their neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 – were also found guilty of federal hate crime charges earlier this year.

Bryan and the older McMichael are set to be sentenced at separate hearings later on Monday.

At the first hearing, Marcus Arbery, the slain man’s father, asked the judge to sentence the younger McMichael to serve the maximum in state prison on the federal charges.

“These three devils have broken my heart into pieces that cannot be found or repaired,” Marcus Arbery told the court.

Travis McMichael declined to testify on Monday, but his lawyer said a Georgia state prison was too dangerous for him, and that he had received death threats.

Wood, the judge, said McMichael had received a “fair trial”.

“And it’s not lost on the court that it was the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed,” the judge said.

The three men were convicted in February of attempted kidnapping and of the hate crime of violating Arbery’s civil rights by attacking him because of his race.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on February 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded a phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.

Last November in state court, the three men were previously convicted of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony for chasing and shooting Arbery as he ran in their neighbourhood in Satilla Shores, near Brunswick, with a jury rejecting self-defence claims.

They have appealed their state convictions. A Georgia state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.

The killing of Arbery sparked outrage across the US and helped fuel the racial justice protests that rocked the country after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota in May 2020.

The sentence on Monday comes days after the US Department of Justice charged four current and former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky for their roles in the 2020 fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor – a Black woman whose death added to the nationwide anger that year.