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mask.of.sanity writes "Criminals have stolen millions from three unnamed U.S. banks by launching slow and stealthy denial of service attacks as a distraction before attacking wire payment switches. The switches manage and execute wire transfers and could have coughed up much more cash should the attackers have pressed on. RSA researcher Limor Kessem said, 'The service portal is down, the bank is losing money and reliability, and the security team is juggling the priorities of what to fix first. That's when the switch attack – which is very rare because those systems are not easily compromised [and require] high-privilege level in a more advanced persistent threat style case – takes place.'"

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KentuckyFC writes "The banking system is closely regulated and monitored by central banks and other government agencies. But it has become common practice for banks to get around this by doing business in ways that don't show up on conventional balance sheets. This so-called shadow banking system is thought to be huge, but nobody knows exactly how big. Now three econophysicists have discovered that the size distribution of the world's largest financial firms significantly differs from the size distribution of smaller ones or indeed non-financial firms. And they hypothesize that the difference is the result of the hidden transactions that make up the shadow banking system. By this new measure, the shadow banking system has grown dramatically since the financial crisis and was worth over $100 trillion in 2012, significantly more than had been thought and more even than the GDP of the entire planet. Nothing to worry about, then."

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schliz writes "A one percentage point increase in an inflation forecast brings about a 75% rise in laughter, according to an American University PhD student, who studied transcripts of the Federal Open Market Committee at the Federal Reserve. Laughter usually comes in response to witticisms during a meeting at the time of the inflation forecast, and has been shown to be a mechanism for coping with the stress of a perceived threat."

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An anonymous reader writes "Investment firm Knight Capital made headlines in 2012 for losing over $400 million on the New York Stock Exchange because of problems with their algorithmic trading software. Now, the owner of a Python programming blog noticed the release of a detailed SEC report into exactly what went wrong (PDF). It shows how a botched update rollout combined with useless or nonexistent process guidelines cost the company over $172,000 a second for over 45 minutes. From the report: 'When Knight used the Power Peg code previously, as child orders were executed, a cumulative quantity function counted the number of shares of the parent order that had been executed. This feature instructed the code to stop routing child orders after the parent order had been filled completely. In 2003, Knight ceased using the Power Peg functionality. In 2005, Knight moved the tracking of cumulative shares function in the Power Peg code to an earlier point in the SMARS code sequence. Knight did not retest the Power Peg code after moving the cumulative quantity function to determine whether Power Peg would still function correctly if called. ... During the deployment of the new code, however, one of Knight's technicians did not copy the new code to one of the eight SMARS computer servers. Knight did not have a second technician review this deployment and no one at Knight realized that the Power Peg code had not been removed from the eighth server, nor the new RLP code added. Knight had no written procedures that required such a review.'"

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Original author: 
John Timmer

Stockton.edu

How do ethics and the free market interact? As the authors of a new paper on the topic point out, the answer is often complicated. In the past, Western economies had vigorous markets for things we now consider entirely unethical, like slaves and Papal forgiveness for sins. Ending those practices took long and bloody struggles. But was this because the market simply reflects the ethics of the day, or does engaging in a market alter people's perception of what's ethical?

To find out, the authors of the paper set up a market for an item that is ethically controversial: the lives of lab animals. They found that, for most people, keeping a mouse alive, even at someone else's cost, is only worth a limited amount of money. But that amount goes down dramatically once market-based buying and selling is involved.

The research was done at the University of Bonn, which appears to have a biology department that includes researchers who study mouse genetics. As Mendel told us, genes are inherited independently. So as these researchers are breeding mice to get a specific combination of genes, they'll inevitably get mice that have the wrong combination. Since proper mouse care is expensive and lab mice typically live a couple of years, it's standard procedure to euthanize these unneeded mice.

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin

Wikipedia

Federal authorities have accused eight men of participating in 21st-Century Bank heists that netted a whopping $45 million by hacking into payment systems and eliminating withdrawal limits placed on prepaid debit cards.

The eight men formed the New York-based cell of an international crime ring that organized and executed the hacks and then used fraudulent payment cards in dozens of countries to withdraw the loot from automated teller machines, federal prosecutors alleged in court papers unsealed Thursday. In a matter of hours on two separate occasions, the eight defendants and their confederates withdrew about $2.8 million from New York City ATMs alone. At the same times, "cashing crews" in cities in at least 26 countries withdrew more than $40 million in a similar fashion.

Prosecutors have labeled this type of heist an "unlimited operation" because it systematically removes the withdrawal limits normally placed on debit card accounts. These restrictions work as a safety mechanism that caps the amount of loss that banks normally face when something goes wrong. The operation removed the limits by hacking into two companies that process online payments for prepaid MasterCard debit card accounts issued by two banks—the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah PSC in the United Arab Emirates and the Bank of Muscat in Oman—according to an indictment filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York. Prosecutors didn't identify the payment processors except to say one was in India and the other in the United States.

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Original author: 
Nate Anderson


Bitcoin mining takes a lot of computing power—so naturally someone created a piece of malware to mine on other people's computers.

Kaspersky Lab

Mark Gimein is something of a Bitcoin skeptic, but in addition to his concerns about Bitcoin not being a "real currency," he's now charging that it has created "a real-world environmental disaster."

Writing in Bloomberg News, Gimein notes that mining Bitcoins—performing the computationally expensive calculations needed to define new Bitcoins—uses power. A lot of power. (Read our 2011 Bitcoin primer for more details.) He writes:

About 982 megawatt hours a day, to be exact. That’s enough to power roughly 31,000 US homes, or about half a Large Hadron Collider. If the dreams of Bitcoin proponents are realized, and the currency is adopted for widespread commerce, the power demands of bitcoin mines would rise dramatically.

If that makes you think of the vast efforts devoted to the mining of precious metals in the centuries of gold- and silver-based economies, it should. One of the strangest aspects of the Bitcoin frenzy is that the Bitcoin economy replicates some of the most archaic features of the gold standard. Real-world mining of precious metals for currency was a resource-hungry and value-destroying process. Bitcoin mining is too.

Gimein draws on the stats provided by Bitcoin-focused site Blockchain.info. The numbers fluctuate a bit with each day of calculations being tracked. According to Blockchain's stats this weekend, the last 24 hours of worldwide mining activity burned through 928.24 megawatt hours of power while miners calculated 59,502.6 gigahashes per second. Total power bill: $139,236.07.

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