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Microsoft says group behind Solar Winds hack now targeting government agencies, NGOs

The group behind the SolarWinds cyber-attack identified late last year is now targeting government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations, Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft said in a blog that they have observed cyberattacks by the threat actor Nobelium targeting government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations. According to Microsoft, Nobelium, originating from Russia, is the same actor behind the attacks on SolarWinds customers in 2020. They said that this wave of attacks targeted approximately 3,000 email accounts. And this took place at more than 150 different organizations.

Microsoft said that the targeted victims came from at least 24 countries. The largest share of attacks was received by the organisations of the United States. In the blog they have said that at least a quarter of the targeted organisations were involved in international development, humanitarian issues and human rights work.

Nobelium launched this week’s attacks by breaking into an email marketing account used by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and from there launching phishing attacks on many other organisations. The hack of information technology company SolarWinds, was identified in December. And this gave access to thousands of companies and government offices that used its products. The attack has been described as the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen by the Microsoft President Brad Smith.

Russia’s spy chief denied responsibility for the SolarWinds cyber attack in this month. But he stated that he was flattered by the accusations from the United States and Britain that the Russian foreign intelligence was behind such a sophisticated hack. Microsoft said that this attack appears to be a continuation of multiple efforts to target government agencies involved in foreign policy. This may be a part of intelligence gathering efforts.

The company is in the process of notifying all of its targeted customers. It stated that the company had no reason to believe these attacks involved any exploitation or vulnerability in Microsoft’s products or services.

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AI role in customer experience in banking

The concept of banking first sprung up around 8000 BC. Then, there came various drastic changes to expand their services and innovate their business models. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are applied to help banks and financial institutions nowadays. A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) showed that 77% of banking executives believe that the use of AI will ultimately differentiate between winning and losing banks.

This pandemic has triggered a sudden socioeconomic shift from physical to digital. There is a rapid switch to digital channels. Recent research by YouGov was conducted in June 2021. And that revealed that digital services have become the de facto way of conducting business and access services during the pandemic. EIU’s survey showed that enhancing the user experience through better personalisation ranked first in the most valuable uses of AI.

Customer propositions are no longer fit-for-all. It involves both banking and non-banking products and services. To identify the customers’ needs the banks must take an entirely new approach to innovation. They should adopt a customer-centric view. This starts with understanding the customer needs. AI makes it much easier to analyse customer preferences. The redesigning of customer loyalty program gives banks an accurate understanding of customer. Effective personalization offers customers not only better leads but also a more unique experience. The customer experience can be improved by applying AI. Banks must also build out their capabilities to strike new partnerships.

Businesses across all industries are working hard to retain their customers, including banks. AI can become a banking institutions’ superpower. This can take the customer experience to new heights, resulting in happier and more loyal customers. It will also reduce a bank’s operating costs and enable increased revenue per customer. To become AI First, banks must focus on streamlining their technology layer. They also require a strategy to engage customers through channels owned by them and their non-banking partners. Business and technology must work hand in hand, with cross-functional teams breaking up organisational silos.

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Amazon to offer insurance to UK businesses

The technology giant’s first foray into business insurance in the country, broker Superscript said that Amazon is going to start offering insurance to small and medium-sized UK business customers. Members of Amazon’s Business Prime program will be able to buy cover from superscript such as contents insurance, cyber insurance and professional indemnity insurance. Superscript spokesperson said that those would be underwritten by major UK insurers. A discount of 20% will be offered to current rates. This is to entice the businesses over to them.

50% of customers are prepared to buy insurance from non-traditional players. A recent survey of 12,000 people globally by consultants Capgemini showed this. Cameron Shearer, co-founder and CEO of Superscript, said in a statement that the insurance industry needs to bridge the divide between insurers and customers. Amazon’s move into UK business insurance comes after U.S. insurtech Next Insurance said that it was offering cover to U.S. small businesses. And that too via Amazon Business Prime. Molly Dobson, Country Manager for Amazon Business UK & Ireland, said in the statement that as the businesses come out of the pandemic, they want customers to have the best-in-class tools to run their business.

Financial institutions are worried that tech firms will steal their business. But industry sources said that the insurers and tech firms are more likely to forge partnerships. Because of the given difficulties and expense for outsiders in entering the highly regulated finance sector. Amazon also offers warranty insurance and “buy now, pay later” services in Britain.

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In NFT fantasy soccer game, SoftBank leads funding

Blockchain-based fantasy soccer game Sorare has raised $680 million. This is through a funding round, which is led by SoftBank. According to the company, it includes players such as ex-England international Rio Ferdinand and Spain’s Gerard Pique. Paris-based Sorare said that the investment valued the company at $4.3 billion. Sorare is an online game, since 2018. Here players buy officially licensed cards that represents soccer players. They can build teams and play against each other. This is based on the players’ performance in real-life games.

The cards are traded in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The market for NFTs has seen major growth in 2021. Michel Combes, president of SoftBank Group International, said that they think NFTs represent a new paradigm in the collectability, usability, and engagement with assets. This evolution from physical assets to digital assets is very powerful. This also creates a lot of exciting potential business models. NonFungible.com is a website that tracks NFT market data. According to them, Sorare is the largest sports-based NFT platform by sales volume. They are planning to open an office in the United States. So that they can expand into other games out of Sorare.

Nicolas Julia, CEO and co-founder of Sorare said that they saw the immense potential that blockchain and NFTs brought to unlock a new way for football clubs, footballers, and their fans to experience a deeper connection with each other. They believe that this is a huge opportunity to create the next sports entertainment giant. Since January 2021, there have been $150 million of sales on Sorare. The fundraising round was SoftBank’s first time investing in Sorare. SoftBank’s Latin America fund also contributed. Other investors in Sorare’s raise are such as venture capital firms Accel and Bessemer Ventures, Pique, Ferdinand, Antoine Griezmann and Spain’s Cesar Azpilicueta.

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