Australia’s government and political parties hit by cyber attack from ‘sophisticated state actor’

The Australia government suffered a cyber attack that it suspects is the work of a “sophisticated state actor,” according to the country’s Prime Minister.

PM Scott Morrison said today the computer network of the country’s parliament, and those belonging to Liberal, Labor and Nationals parties, were targeted by an attack which took place a few weeks ago, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Australia is months away federal elections which will take place in May.

Morrison said there is “no evidence of any electoral interference.”

“We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system,” he said, adding that security services “acted decisively to confront it.”

There is apparently no indication that data was accessed following the attack.

Where exactly it originated from remains unclear.

Sources told SMH that the sophistication of the attack was “unprecedented,” but nobody in the government is naming suspects. Reportedly, the incident sports “the digital fingerprints of China” but there remains the possibility that the attack was framed to look like it originated from China.

The incident recalls the hacking of the Democrat Party around the U.S. Presidential election in 2016. The attackers, who are widely suspected to be linked to the Russian government, accessed are to have accessed 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments from DNC email accounts, John Podesta, who was the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.

Australia itself has a history of parliamentary hacks. The national government was attacked in 2015 by a “foreign government” (later named as China) that reportedly used computers at the Bureau of Meteorology as its entry point. The incident is said to have given China the records of 14 million federal employees.

Alan raises another $45 million for its health insurance product

Paris-based startup Alan has raised a Series B round of funding of $45 million (€40 million). Index Ventures is once again leading the round, with partners of DST Global also participating. The company had raised a $28 million funding round only ten months ago.

Alan is a software-as-a-service startup tackling a very specific industry — the health insurance market in France — and soon across Europe. The company wants to create a well-designed insurance product with transparent pricing and policies to make healthcare more accessible. And it isn’t just a marketplace — the startup has obtained an official health insurance license and is the first new health insurance company in France in 30 years.

In France, every employee is covered by the national healthcare system for basic reimbursements as well as a private insurance company for more expensive treatments. In addition to that, legacy insurance companies have neglected those products as they usually don’t generate a lot of margins on that segment. It creates a huge market opportunity for Alan.

With today’s funding announcement, the startup has shared some numbers. In 2018 alone, the company grew from 5,000 insured people to 27,000, and revenue jumped from $4 million to $25 million (€3.5 million to €22 million). Alan has been focused on freelancers as well as small and medium companies, such as My Little Paris, Le Slip Français, Ledger and Converteo.

More interestingly, Alan is close to break-even right now with 64 employees. That gives you an idea of Alan’s margins.

Following today’s funding round, the company is going to hire a lot more people. There should be around 175 people working for Alan by the end of the year.

On the product front, the company is always looking at ways to make the experience as seamless as possible. “We’re trying to make the insurance process instantaneous, from quotes to coverage and reimbursements” co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian told me.

But Alan has always been about healthcare at large, not just insurance products. So let’s see how they can use this influx of funding to simplify healthcare in general.

Razer is closing its game store after less than a year

Razer is one of the dominant brands in gaming when it comes to buying equipment to play, but one of its biggest efforts to own a larger slice of digital spending hasn’t gone according to plan. After less than a year, the company announced that it will close its digital game store at the end of this month “as part of realignment plans.”

The Razer Game Store launched worldwide in April 2018 with the aim of taking a slice of a game sales business that is dominated by Steam. Razer’s offering tied into its gamer credit (virtual currency) strategy to incentivize its customers to buy hardware and digital content with the promise of discounts. The company didn’t comment on why the store is closing, but you’d imagine that it didn’t go as well as Razer had hoped.

It sure takes a lot to bite into digital game sales, but the rewards are potentially lucrative.

Steam made $4.7 billion in 2017 (we don’t yet know its total for 2018) and Epic Games, buoyed by the runaway success of Fortnite, banked a $3 billion profit last year across its entire business, sources previously told TechCrunch.

Amazon-owned Twitch — which dominates the live-streaming space — has its own store, while Epic launched a very competitive offering at end of 2018. The Epic Games Store, though, is fairly sparsely populated at this point. It is a long-term project, but the fact that even a company of the size and influence of Epic needs time goes to show the struggle that any new entrant will face.

The Razer Game Store will close down on February 28

The Razer Game Store will close its doors at 1am PST February 28. All purchased games will continue to work and pre-ordered titles will ship as planned, according to Razer. Discount vouchers must be used before that date, however.

In a Q&A accompanying the announcement, Razer said it would “continue bringing games to gamers via other services.”

“We will be investing in other ways to deliver great content and introduce game promotions through Razer Gold, our virtual credits system,” the company said, perhaps hinting at tie-ins with other game stores in the future.

Razer went public with an IPO in Hong Kong in 2017.

China tells teachers to quit assigning homework through WeChat

China’s education authorities are about to take some burden off parents with school-aged children. A proposal posted last week by the Department of Education in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang said teachers should be banned from using WeChat, QQ or other mobile apps to assign homework or ask parents to grade students’ assignments.

As mobile internet booms in China, phones have become an extension of daily activities, including school practices. Instead of announcing homework in class or handing out notices to students in person, teachers are now dumping assignments into WeChat groups designed to interact with parents. Many teachers are keen to exercise their power through these digital channels, asking parents to help students with problem sets and even grade their homework.

The regional call to action follows a set of national guidelines released by the Ministry of Education in October directing teachers and schools to take more responsibilities rather than shift the load onto parents. “Teachers should be accountable for their job, treat teaching seriously, correct homework with prudence and help students with care.”

Not all schools abuse digital platforms to such an extent. A Shenzhen-based parent told TechCrunch that her second-grader who attends a local public school still does much of her homework in written form and parents’ involvement is moderate.

“Different schools treat technology differently and I’m not opposed to the use of it. It’s helpful, for example, to use a digital device to learn English because much of the process involves audios and videos,” the parent said. “I think sometimes media are painting teachers and schools in such a negative light just to get attention.”

Other recommendations in the national notice include limiting the amount of online homework to reduce nearsightedness, which has become a source of concerns for parents and society at large.

The new directives also come as Beijing tries to rein in what and how private technology services are infiltrating students’ lives. In one far-reaching move, the government ordered video-game publishers to cap children’s playing time, sending shares of industry leaders Tencent and NetEase tumbling. More recently, the Ministry of Education asked schools and universities to audit apps used by teachers and students on campus in accordance with guidelines set by the regulator.

Despite the government’s intent to ease stress and unplug devices for students, education apps have flourished in China. Those that help students outperform their peers have done particularly well. Yuanfudao, a startup that offers live courses, exam prep and homework help, gained a $3 billion valuation in its latest $300 million funding round in December. Its rivals Zuoyebang and Yiqi Zuoye have similarly attracted big-name investors and sizable funds to help their young users get ahead.

SoftBank invests in Mubadala’s new $400 million European tech fund: FT

Japan’s SoftBank Group has provided nearly half the cash for the new $400 million fund by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala Investment Co that aims to back European start-ups, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

GoCardless raises $75M Series E for its recurring payments network and heads to America

Compared to startups born into the frothy London fintech space as it exists today, 2011-founded GoCardless could well be considered a slow burner. However, in more recent years, the nearly 300 person company — headed up by co-founder and CEO Hiroki Takeuchi — has undoubtedly stepped on the gas in a bid to become the one stop shop globally for businesses that want to let customers pay via recurring bank payments.

A little over a year ago, GoCardless announced that it had raised $22.5 million in further funding, off the back of record annual growth in the U.K. and strong early traction in new markets. And today the fintech is disclosing another fresh injection of capital: $75 million in Series E funding, in part to fund new offices across EMEA, APAC and North America. In addition to its London HQ, the company already has sites in France, Australia and Germany, from which it says it processes transactions for 40,000 businesses worldwide.

Leading the round are new investors Adams Street Partners, Google Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. Previous backers Accel Partners, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital and Passion Capital have also followed on.

In a call with Takeuchi late last week, he picked up on a familiar a theme, describing the collection of recurring payments for many business as “broken”. Accessing the various bank to bank payments schemes has traditionally been difficult from a commercial, compliance and technical point of view. Instead, businesses have typically relied on payment methods, such as card payments or cheques, which aren’t up to the job of recurring payments.

That’s because these payment options are designed for one-off transactions (cards, for example, expire, breaking the payment flow). Meanwhile, there’s been a rise in subscription business models and an expanding B2B market in which contractors and partners need to make regular variable payments. According to Takeuchi, this means an international recurring payments network like the one GoCardless is building is needed more than ever.

“A global network for bank debit is an absolute necessity in allowing businesses to easily collect recurring payments anywhere, in any currency,” he says. “Thanks to the support of our investors we can now open up our global network and payments platform to more businesses across the world, delivering on our mission to take the pain out of getting paid, so that businesses can focus on what they do best”.

Takeuchi also tells me GoCardless is investing heavily in its product, with a product team of around 100 members. He declined to go into much detail with regards to GoCardless’ immediate or more long term roadmap, although currency conversion is one area the company is developing new products for. It’s not clear if that will be via an FX partner, such as London neighbour TransferWise, or a more home grown solution, although the former seems more likely. Takeuchi wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics.

Other areas of development include products to help businesses boost cash flow via “instant settlement,” and smarter payment features to increase transaction success rates. The latter could include using open banking to check if funds are available before trying to process a bank debit, or to automatically set the most appropriate payment date.

16-Inch MacBook Pro With All-New Design Expected in 2019, 13-Inch Model May Gain 32GB RAM

Apple will release a new MacBook Pro with a 16-inch to 16.5-inch display and an all-new design in 2019, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.



Tonight, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a research note looking at Apple’s releases in 2019. MacRumors has obtained a copy of the report and perhaps the most exciting prediction for Mac users is the revelation that Apple is working on a 16″-16.5″ MacBook Pro. Unfortunately the report provides few details beyond that it is an “all-new” design, suggesting Apple is revamping their current MacBook Pro design.

A 16″-16.5″ screen would be the largest screen Apple has provided on a MacBook Pro since the discontinuation of the 17″ MacBook Pro in 2012. Close followers of Apple’s MacBook Pro refresh cycle have been expecting Apple to continue with the current design until at least 2020. The MacBook Pro last saw a redesign only two and half years ago.

Kuo also says Apple may add a 32GB RAM option to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, without providing further details.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Buyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Caution)

This article, "16-Inch MacBook Pro With All-New Design Expected in 2019, 13-Inch Model May Gain 32GB RAM" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Facebook needs independent ethical oversight: UK lawmakers

Facebook and other big tech companies should be subject to a compulsory code of ethics to tackle the spread of fake news, the abuse of users’ data and the bullying of smaller firms, British lawmakers said on Monday.