Categories
Security

A small Canadian town is being extorted by a global ransomware gang

The Canadian town of St. Marys, Ontario, has been hit by a ransomware attack that has locked staff out of internal systems and encrypted data.

The small town of around 7,500 residents seems to be the latest target of the notorious LockBit ransomware group. On July 22nd, a post on LockBit’s dark web site listed townofstmarys.com as a victim of the ransomware and previewed files that had been stolen and encrypted.

Screenshot taken from a ransomware group’s website. Text reads: “The Town of St. Marys is located at the junction of the Thames River and Trout Creek, southwest of Stratford in southwestern Ontario. Rich in natural resources, namely the Thames River, the land that now makes up St. Marys was traditionally used as hunting grounds by First Nations peoples. European settlers arrived in the early 1840s. Stolen data (67GB): financial documents, plans, department, confidential data”

LockBit ransom listing for the Town of St. Marys

In a phone call, St. Marys Mayor Al Strathdee told The Verge that the town was responding to the attack with the help of a team of experts.

“To be honest, we’re in somewhat of a state of shock,” Strathdee said. “It’s not a good feeling to be targeted, but the experts we’ve hired have identified what the threat is and are walking us through how to respond. Police are interested and have dedicated resources to the case … there are people here working on it 24/7.”

Strathdee said that after systems were locked, the town had received a ransom demand from the LockBit ransomware gang but had not paid anything to date. In general, the Canadian government’s cybersecurity guidance discouraged the paying of ransoms, Strathdee said, but the town would follow the incident team’s advice on how to engage further.

Screenshots shared on the LockBit site show the file structure of a Windows operating system, containing directories corresponding to municipal operations like finance, health and safety, sewage treatment, property files, and public works. Per LockBit’s standard operating methods, the town was given a deadline by which to pay to have their systems unlocked or else see the data published online.

Brett O’Reilly, communications manager for the town of St. Marys, directed The Verge to a press statement issued by St. Marys in which the town gave further details. Per the statement, essential municipal services like transit and water systems have been unaffected by the incident, and the town is attempting to unlock IT systems and restore backup data.

According to an analysis by Recorded Future, the LockBit group alone took credit for 50 ransomware incidents in June 2022, making it the most prolific global ransomware group. In fact, St. Marys is the second small town to be targeted by LockBit in the space of just over a week: on July 14th, LockBit listed data from the town of Frederick, Colorado (population 15,000) as having been hacked, a claim that is currently under investigation by town officials. The LockBit listing for Frederick currently demands a ransom of $200,000 not to publish the data.

Increasingly, smaller municipalities are finding themselves the targets of sophisticated global ransomware groups with extensive technical knowledge and resources. In March, the FBI cyber division published a notification to private industry partners of government agencies, noting that ransomware attacks were “straining local US governments and public services.”

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Categories
Computing

Texas Instruments Blamed As Root of Global Chip Shortage

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Explanations for the global chip shortage have been vague and varied, but a new report is shedding some light on the unexpected source of the shortage.

The report comes from DigiTimes, which claims that major tech companies are pointing to a singular cause for the global chip shortage — namely, the company Texas Instruments. That’s right, the company that makes the graphing calculators we all used in high school.

Texas Instruments does a lot more than make calculators these days. Taking a quick look at the Texas Instrument website, you’ll see that it offers a gargantuan amount of products, including PWM controllers, RGB LED display drivers, and more.

Most importantly, the company has made a name for itself as a manufacturer of analog chips, which help do things like regulate our computers’ voltage levels. These are small but vital parts of modern chip design that, according to some, are causing the holdup in production.

TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) is among the companies reported to be pointing the finger. TSMC is the world’s largest semiconductor company, and it makes chips for companies like Apple, AMD, Nvidia, and many others outside of the world of computing.

According to the report, TSMC says Texas Instruments, the market leader in these analog chips, is creating a bottleneck in providing access to these important components.

In a recent Reuters article covering the company’s quarterly earnings, the chief financial officer of Texas Instruments admitted that inventory levels were indeed low, causing the company to miss revenue goals.

While Texas Instruments’ production woes are likely not the sole “cause” of the global chip shortage, it’s a microcosm of how delicate supply chains can be. No one wants to take the blame, of course, but clearly the production shortage of a simple element can have wide-ranging effects on everything from the manufacturing of cars to your ability to buy an RTX graphics card or Playstation 5 this holiday season.

Some of the biggest voices in the industry have claimed the chip shortage could last throughout 2022 and even well into 2023.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Game

Niantic Lightship ARDK goes global to lead ‘Real-World Metaverse’

As the Niantic Lightship platform launches globally, Niantic takes their next big step toward augmented reality and real-world metaverse dominance. They’re releasing a set of Niantic Lightship Augmented Reality Developer Kit tools for creators, and announcing Niantic Ventures will invest $20 million USD in “companies building the future of AR.” This platform releases to developers “the vault of technology that powers Pokemon GO.”

Niantic Lightship Augmented Reality Developer Kit (ARDK) can be accessed at Lightship.dev. This development kit is part of a long term vision Niantic has to “build a 3D map of the world.” They’re aiming to scan in and map the entire world, piece by piece, in order to create the biggest game board in the history of humanity. They’ll do this using their Visual Positioning System (VPS) along with other “advanced tools” available in the Lightship ARDK.

We’ve had chats about the future of Niantic in the metaverse before. They have massive potential in this realm, especially when it comes to the most successful mobile game of all time, Pokemon GO. Using Pokemon GO as an example, we’ve explored how Niantic will be a big player in the near-future of the virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality future.

Incorporating other brands from around the world in a shared augmented reality that’s mapped the entire planet should put Niantic in a key position for future metaverse power.

Niantic has created a system with three key areas of AR focus: Real-Time Mapping, Understanding, and Sharing. They’ve included Meshing APIs to build depth maps of any environment with most modern smartphone camera arrays. They have Occlusion APIs to allow real-world objects interact with augmented reality objects.

They’ve included Semantic Segmentation APIs to help smartphones users understand and identify elements in the real world and “inform the way virtual content will react within a real space.”

Sharing with this platform is about more than just posting pictures to social networks. Sharing means allowing multiple users to interact with the same AR elements all at once. Multiplayer experiences will work with session-persistent storage to make the metaverse become nearly as “real” as our physical realm.

But make no mistake, Niantic will not be giving this set of tools away for free. At the start, all the way from now until May 1, 2022, a set of “free” terms apply to developers who sign up for the Lightship ARDK. If you sign up after May 1, 2022, you’ll see a different set of terms.

The terms before May 1, 2022 include the core APIs of the Lightship ARDK for free for developers “no matter how many people use their apps.” The part that might start to cost money is the Multiplayer API. The Multiplayer API is “free for apps with fewer than 50,000 monthly active users.” After that, a fee applies for using the Multiplayer API – and this is just so long as you’ve signed up before May 1, 2022.

UPDATE: Niantic also suggests that Multiplayer APIs are free “for the first six months of use, regardless of app size.” So fees may change, but Niantic is making a big effort here to get developers hooked on the platform as effectively as possible. This launch took place on November 8, 2021.

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Categories
AI

Report: Most global execs say AI drives financial, cultural benefits

A majority of global executives who have implemented artificial intelligence in some form in their business report that the new-age technology has been instrumental in driving financial and cultural benefits at the team and organizational levels, a new study reported on Tuesday.

According to the joint report, published by MIT’s Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group, more than 55% of the executives who use AI saw financial gains (11% with significant gains and 44% with some gains), while 58% said the implementation of technology improved their team’s overall efficiency and decision quality. Of the latter, more than 75% saw improvements in three key aspects of team culture — morale, collaboration, and collective learning.

Team morale particularly increased with greater AI adoption, as organizations that made AI-related changes in many processes were nearly two times more likely to morale boost than those with no changes.

The findings highlight that AI deployment can have a far-reaching impact beyond its primary goal, enabling teams to get stronger and perform tasks with more pride and effectiveness. They can also collaborate better. These cultural benefits can penetrate the foundation of business operations, improving assumptions that drive organizational behaviors, KPIs, and ensuring the pursuit of smarter goals.

Shervin Khodabandeh, a senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, said, “Given how effective AI has proved to be at the team and cultural levels, it is imperative that leaders within companies find ways to translate that more broadly to the organizational level. Furthermore, AI can become a managerial tool to align micro behavior with broader goals, including societal purpose, equity, and inclusivity.”

AI adoption drives confidence

In addition to improving cultural elements and enabling happier teams, AI also fosters more confidence within organizations, the study added. A significant 63% of the surveyed executives said AI helps them feel more prepared to defend against competitors and capture opportunities in adjacent industries. The figure increases to 78% in the case of firms achieving significant financial benefits with AI.

Notably, BCG and MIT SMR surveyed a total of 2,197 managers across 106 countries and 28 industries to gather this data. They also conducted in-depth interviews with executives from organizations such as CBS, Northwestern Mutual, Humana, KLM, McDonald’s, H&M, Nasdaq, Moderna, Spotify, Mastercard, PepsiCo, and Levi Strauss.

The organizations also found that 55% of the surveyed group used AI to explore new ways of creating value versus improving existing processes. These companies are nearly three times more likely to feel prepared to capture opportunities in adjacent industries, the study said.

“Successful organizations have moved beyond using AI just to improve their current business and processes,” François Candelon, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group and global director of its Henderson Institute, said in a statement. “They are now harnessing the power of AI to uncover new business opportunities to create competitive advantage.”

Cultural acceptance is vital

While the above-mentioned figures show that AI plays a significant role in improving team culture as well as gaining financial and competitive benefits, it must be noted that the adoption of the technology cannot happen if the culture of an organization rejects AI in the first place.

Currently, according to the study, nearly half of companies believe that mistrust of AI stems from a lack of understanding (49%) or training (46%) of the employees. Other reasons leading to mistrust include providing too little context behind decisions and building a poor tool, backed by insufficient quality data (31%).

These challenges need to be solved by offering a strong tool that not just meets employee expectations but is also supported with proper guidance and training.

“Cultural acceptance of AI begins with trust. Building that trust depends on teaching and training workers, explaining the reasons for AI recommendations, and providing AI tools that solve problems,” David Kiron, editorial director of MIT’s Sloan Management Review and coauthor of the report, said.

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Categories
Game

Nintendo lowers its Switch sales forecast due to global chip shortage

Nintendo has cut its Switch sales forecast due to ongoing semiconductor shortages, the company announced in its earnings report. It now expects to ship 24 million Switch units for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022 instead of the 25.5 million units it had originally predicted. 

The issue came into focus this quarter, as Nintendo managed to ship just 3.83 million Switch consoles compared to 6.86 million during the same quarter last year. So far, its net sales for the year are down 18.9 percent to 624.2 billion yen ($5.46 billion) year-over-year. 

That’s not a huge surprise, however, as Switch and software sales exploded during the COVID-19 lockdown and following that has proved to be impossible — particularly as chips and components have since become more scarce. Today’s numbers don’t include any sales of the Switch OLED, as the earnings only provide data up to September 30th, a full week before the updated console arrived.

Despite the revised sales expectations, Nintendo expects to match total revenue of 1,600 billion yen ($14 billion) from the previous fiscal year, thanks in part to games. It aims to sell 200 million software units, 10 million more than last year, which would help offset the console sales drop. Upcoming titles include Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl plus a Zelda-themed Game & Watch.

The most popular games so far this fiscal year include Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (3.6 million units sold), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (3.34 million units) and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2.22 million units). The launch of Metroid Dread came after the earnings period Nintendo is reporting today.

Despite the reduced expectations and tepid console sales this quarter, Nintendo has now sold 92.87 million Switch units to date. That’s still short of the Wii, which has the company’s current home console sales record of 101.63 million units shipped. However, if Nintendo comes close to matching the 11.57 million units sold during last year’s holiday period, the Switch — aided by the new Switch OLED model — could finally top that mark by the end of the year. 

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Categories
Game

Roblox Getting Back Online After Three-day Global Outage

If any parents rely on Roblox to keep their young kids occupied, then the last three days may have been rather stressful.

The popular online gaming and game creation platform crashed on Thursday, October 28, and it’s taken until Sunday evening to get to the bottom of the issue and restore services.

“Roblox is back online everywhere!” the California-based company said in a tweet on Sunday at about 7:30 p.m. ET, adding: “Thank you for your continued patience as we get back to normal.” Three hours earlier it said it was “incrementally bringing regions back online.”

Roblox is back online everywhere! Thank you for your continued patience as we get back to normal.

— Roblox (@Roblox) October 31, 2021

The company hasn’t offered any details about why the platform went down. Some folks suggested the issue may have been linked to a promotional partnership with Chipotle that launched shortly before Roblox hit the buffers, but the company appeared to reject the claims, tweeting that the outage “was not related to any specific experiences or partnerships on the platform.”

Later, on Saturday, it tweeted another message, saying it believed it had “identified an underlying internal cause of the outage,” adding that it was “in the process of performing the necessary engineering and maintenance work to get Roblox back up and running ASAP.”

Roblox fans — whether those who play it or the parents who love nothing more than to see their kids immersed in it — hit social media to express their frustration at the game’s disappearance, with tens of thousands of people responding to each of the messages posted by Roblox during the downtime.

Roblox describes its offering as “a platform where people from around the world come to play, learn, work, and socialize,” but for the last three days its users have had to go elsewhere for such activities.

The good news is that the company appears to have finally resolved the issue, allowing fans to start the new week with Roblox in full working order.

Want to find out more about Roblox and why it’s so popular with kids around the world? Digital Trends has you covered.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Tech News

Nokia 5G flagship is coming in November according to HMD Global exec

The Nokia brand has survived the test of time and multiple generations of mobile devices, though it has had some help from HMD Global. The Finland-based company revived the Nokia name with dozens of smartphones and feature phones. Although it has quite a number of devices under its care, HMD still has to make a new Nokia flagship worthy to stand with other premium phones in the market today. That might still be coming later this year, but it’s becoming a guessing game what that 5G phone will actually bring to the table.

It’s not that HMD Global hasn’t made a Nokia flagship yet. That was the Nokia 9 PureView pictured above with its eccentric five 12MP cameras, among other high-end components. That phone, however, launched back in 2019, and the mobile world has moved on to newer hardware and newer designs.

According to a now-deleted Weibo post from HMD China Project Manager Zhang Yucheng, the wait is going to be a bit longer than some might have wished. The company exec says that HMD will hold a special event on China’s “Single’s Day”, a.k.a. November 11 (11.11), where it will debut a new Nokia 5G phone. Admittedly, he doesn’t actually say it will be a flagship 5G phone, but it doesn’t usually schedule a big event for new mid-range or entry-level devices.

That has understandably sent the Internet into a flurry of speculation on what that 5G phone might be. HMD Global has launched a new Nokia X series recently, but the first devices are more on the budget side of the fence. A Nokia X50 has been making rounds on the Web, but that might only get a Snapdragon 775 5G processor.

And then there’s the recent rumor of a Nokia X60 that might run Huawei’s HarmonyOS instead of Android. Considering the timing and location of the announcement, this 5G phone could indeed be HMD Global’s first device aimed specifically at the Chinese market. That, unfortunately, could disappoint fans of the Nokia brand from international markets who are still hoping for a new premium Nokia phone.

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Tech News

A beginner’s guide to global artificial intelligence policy

Welcome to Neural’s beginner’s guide to AI. This long-running series should provide you with a very basic understanding of what AI is, what it can do, and how it works.

In addition to the article you’re currently reading, the guide contains articles on (in order published) neural networks, computer vision, natural language processing, algorithms, artificial general intelligence, the difference between video game AI and real AI, the difference between human and machine intelligence, and ethics.

In this edition of the guide, we’ll take a glance at global AI policy.

The US, China, Russia, and Europe each approach artificial intelligence development and regulation differently. In the coming years it will be important for everyone to understand what those differences can mean for our safety and privacy.

Yesterday

Artificial intelligence has traditionally been swept in with other technologies when it comes to policy and regulation.

That worked well in the days when algorithm-based tech was mostly used for data processing and crunching numbers. But the deep learning explosion that began around 2014 changed everything.

In the years since, we’ve seen the inception and mass adoption of privacy-smashing technologies such as virtual assistants, facial recognition, and online trackers.

Just a decade ago our biggest privacy concerns, as citizens, involved worrying about the government tracking us through our cell phone signals or snooping on our email.

Today, we know that AI trackers are following our every move online. Cameras record everything we do in public, even in our own neighborhoods, and there were at least 40 million smart speakers sold in Q4 of 2020 alone.

Today

Regulators and government entities around the world are trying to catch up to the technology and implement polices that make sense for their particular brand of governance.

In the US, there’s little in the way of regulation. In fact the US government is highly invested in many AI technologies the global community considers problematic. It develops lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS), its policies allow law enforcement officers to use facial recognition and internet crawlers without oversight, and there are no rules or laws prohibiting “snake oil” predictive AI services.

In Russia, the official policy is one of democratizing AI research by pooling data. A preview of the nation’s first AI policy draft indicates Russia plans to develop tools that allow its citizens to control and anonymize their own data.

However, the Russian government has also been connected to adversarial AI ops targeting governments and civilians around the globe. It’s difficult to discern what rules Russia‘s private sector will face when it comes to privacy and AI.

And, to the best of our knowledge, there’s no declassified data on Russia‘s military policies when it comes to the use of AI. The best we can do is speculate based on past reports and statements made by the country’s current leader, Vladmir Putin.

Putin, speaking to Russian students in 2017, said “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

China, on the other hand, has been relatively transparent about it’s AI programs. In 2017 China released the world’s first robust AI policy plan incorporating modern deep learning technologies and predicted future machine learning tech.

The PRC intends on being the global leader in AI technology by 2030. It’s program to achieve this goal includes massive investments from the private sector, academia, and the government.

US military leaders believe China’s military policies concerning AI are aimed at the development of LAWS that don’t require a human in the loop.

Europe‘s vision for AI policy is a bit different. Where the US, China, and Russia appear focused on the military and global competitive-financial aspects of AI, the EU is defining and crafting policies that put privacy and citizen-safety at the forefront.

In this respect, the EU currently seeks to limit facial recognition and other data-gathering technologies and to ensure citizens are explicitly informed when a product or service records their information.

The future

Predicting the future of AI policy is a tricky matter. Not only do we have to take into account how each nation currently approaches development and regulation, but we have to try to imagine how AI technology itself will advance in each country.

Let’s start with the EU:

  1. Some experts feel the human-centric approach to AI policy that Europe is taking is the example the rest of the world should follow. When it comes to AI tech, privacy is analogous to safety.
  2. But other experts fear the EU is leaving itself wide open to exploitation by adversaries with no regard for obeying its regulations.

In Russia, of course, things are different:

  1. Russia‘s focus on becoming a world leader in AI doesn’t go through big tech or academia, but through the advancement of military technologies – arguably, the only relevant domain it’s globally competitive in.
  2. Iron-fisted rule stifles private-sector development, so it would make sense if Russia kept extremely lax privacy laws in place concerning how the private sector handles the general public. And there’s no reason to believe the Russian government will affect any official policy protecting citizen privacy.

Moving to China, the future’s a bit easier to predict:

  1. China’s all-in on surveillance. Every aspect of Chinese life, for citizens, is affected by intrusive AI systems including a social credit scoring system, ubiquitous facial and emotional recognition, and complete digital monitoring.
  2. There’s little reason to believe China will change its privacy laws, stop engaging in government-sponsored AI IP-theft, or cease its reported production of LAWs technology.

And that just brings us to the US:

  1. Due to a lack of clear policy, the US exists somewhere between China and Russia when it comes to unilateral AI regulation. Unless the long-threatened big tech breakup happens, we can assume Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft will continue to dictate US policy with their wallets.
  2. AI regulation is a completely partisan issue being handled by a US congress that’s divided. Until such a time as the partisanship clears up somewhat, we can expect US AI policy beyond the private sector to begin and end with lobbyists and the defense budget.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to make strong predictions because politicians around the globe are still generally ignorant when it comes to the reality of modern AI and the most-likely scenarios for the future.

Technology policy is often a reactionary discipline: countries tend to regulate things only after they’ve proven problematic. And, we don’t know what major events or breakthroughs could prompt radical policy change for any given nation.

In 2021, the field of artificial intelligence is at an inflection point. We’re between eurekas, waiting on autonomy to come of age, and hoping that our world leaders can come to a safe accord concerning LAWS and international privacy regulations.

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Tech News

Global AI market predicted to reach nearly $1 trillion by 2028

The financial outlook for the global artificial intelligence market looks pretty good in 2021. But that’s nothing compared to the expansion experts expect to see over the next seven years.

According to a recently released analysis report from Grand View Research, the AI market is expected to reach nearly $100 billion in 2021 and nearly ten times that by 2028.

Per a report from Grand View Research:

The global AI market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 40.2% from 2021 to 2028 to reach USD 997.77 billion by 2028.

This is based on numerous data points, but the most indicative might be the year-over-year growth we’re seeing from 2020 (where the market was evaluated at approximately $60 billion) to this year’s predicted evaluation of just shy of $100 billion.

[Read: Why entrepreneurship in emerging markets matters]

Driving the growth is mass scale adoption of deep learning techniques and a huge uptick in artificial intelligence hardware production and adoption.

According to a report from CNBC, early movers in the AI hardware space have been handsomely rewarded and the gravy train may just be getting started. A different analyst organization, Oppenheimer, sees the AI hardware market breaking the $100 billion mark by 2025.

Quick take: There’s an endless upside when it comes to artificial intelligence. In our research we haven’t been able to find a single expert analyst who’s sour on the future of AI.

While the future of many startups – especially those who rely on privacy-invasive systems – may be in jeopardy thanks to upcoming EU regulation, the simple fact of the matter is that strong AI is a steadily rising commodity that’s become a living necessity on par with running water and electricity.

Simply put, businesses around the globe run on AI.

While we don’t offer investment advice here at Neural (we’re enthusiasts, journalists, and science lovers but not financial experts), it’s safe to say artificial intelligence probably has a bright future in the global marketplace.

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Tech News

We need a global crackdown on Bitcoin mining to curb its monstrous energy demands

Huge concrete data centers, permanently plugged into power plants and telephone exchanges, maintain much of online life. But the infrastructure behind internet-based cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, dogecoin and ethereum is more like a rusty traveling circus. And right now, that circus is on the road.

Bitcoin relies on a network of millions of specialist machines, known as miners, around 70% of which are currently based in China. Like a never-ending game of Hungry Hippos, each player hammers their mining machines 24/7 to try and scoop up as many bitcoins as possible. With only a few hippos, it’s easy for everyone to be a winner. But with around 2.5 million miners chasing an ever-shrinking number of prizes, the game is becoming increasingly difficult.

Bitcoin’s booming popularity has caused its electricity demand to swell. With no central planning, a perpetual arms race for equipment continues, creating 15,000 tonnes of burned out electronic waste annually.

To maximise profits, mining machines are often crammed into shipping containers, with operators ready to up sticks at a moment’s notice to find the cheapest sources of energy. During China’s summer rain season, hydro power plants in the south-western provinces generate so much energy that miners can mop up the leftovers. But in the winter dry season, many miners unplug and hit the road, heading for the coal-fired power plants scattered across China’s vast northern territories.

Recent crypto price increases have encouraged some Chinese bitcoiners to mine coal and restart idle power plants without permission, endangering lives and threatening President Xi Jinping’s climate goals.

Bitcoin’s energy demand has more than doubled in a year from 55 terawatt-hours (TWh) to 125 TWh. The network now has a carbon footprint similar to the whole of Poland. Chinese regulators closed down all the country’s crypto exchanges in 2017. Even so, rocketing demand for bitcoin elsewhere means the network’s energy use in China is predicted to peak by 2024 at around 300 TWh. That’s equivalent to the total energy demand of the UK. With a crypto circus in tow, Beijing’s commitments to cut carbon emissions by 65% before 2030 would be near impossible to meet.

Bitcoin is not just China’s problem

In an attempt to reduce bitcoin’s environmental impacts in China, the coal-dependent province of Inner Mongolia recently banned bitcoin mining and set up a hotline to report suspected transgressors. But on average, mining just one bitcoin per day requires a US$1.8 million (£1.3 million) investment in specialist equipment. Expulsions from the province could force some highly invested bitcoiners underground, while forcing others to find new places to park up in neighboring countries which don’t have China’s seasonal glut of renewable energy.

To prevent an influx of Chinese miners chasing cheaper electricity, Iran’s President recently clamped down on new oil-fueled mining, which authorities blame for increasing urban smog. The Black Sea territory of Abkhazia is trying to hold back foreign miners as officials there are forced to introduce rolling blackouts due to energy shortages. Bitcoin mining has been blamed for overloaded electricity lines and power station fires, leaving some areas without power for days.

UK authorities have also paid the price for bitcoin’s boom. In May 2021, officers from West Midlands Police in the UK, believing they were raiding an illegal cannabis farm in Sandwell, instead discovered around 100 bitcoin mining machines running off an improvised connection to the electricity supply. The outdated machines were so inefficient that they could only turn a profit with stolen energy. These thefts raise energy prices for everyone else, causing fuel poverty and risking public safety.

 Antisocial side effects

Demand for mining machines has caused computer chip shortages, hurting more useful industries struggling back to work post-COVID. UK carmakers have cut production while smartphone companies have delayed future launches. The price of specialist chips used by the likes of Intel and Apple have increased by around 70% so far in 2021, with knock-on effects for UK consumers.

Even universities and hospitals are affected by bitcoin’s second-order effects. According to the insurer, Hiscox, around 4,500 organizations fell victim to cyber attacks every day in the UK in 2018. Many of these involve ransomware payments, 98% of which are paid in bitcoin.

Some argue that to slow the increase in ransomware attacks, authorities need to crack down on cryptocurrency exchanges that enable bitcoin ransoms to be paid. Others claim that cryptocurrencies and ransomware are now so entwined that the only way to fight the latter is to ban cryptocurrencies altogether.

To clean up the crypto industry, a UN-backed Crypto Climate Accord and the Bitcoin Miners Council were established. These groups urge bitcoin miners in the US to only use leftover renewable energy. But it’s not possible to give a higher price to bitcoins produced using only renewables, because bitcoins are designed to be fully interchangeable. Research shows that new miners joining the competition in North America have encouraged miners where there are no renewables to use more machines and work harder, increasing the network’s overall carbon footprint.

A global response

For regulatory purposes, bitcoin should be considered similar to the global trade in Chinese tiger parts. Banning tiger hunting in the UK is pointless, but banning the sale of tiger parts is useful. Likewise, when UK-based investors are allowed to speculate on bitcoin, they encourage an environmentally disastrous global industry that has so far failed to benefit anyone except criminals and some early speculators.

Cracking down on crypto exchanges or banning the import and use of mining equipment could be a relatively easy win for the UK as it prepares to host the 2021 UN climate summit. Doing nothing about the problem would negate the UK’s progress in other areas. Thanks to tax relief schemes and infrastructure investment, electric car registrations increased by 41% in 2020, preventing the release of around 50 million tonnes of CO₂ a year. Meanwhile, bitcoin mining causes nearly 60 million tonnes of CO₂ annually.

China appears committed to putting its own house in order, but bitcoin’s social and environmental impacts urgently need a global response.

Article by Peter Howson, Senior Lecturer in International Development, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



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