Clop ransomware gang doxes two new victims days after police raids

The notorious Clop ransomware operation appears to be back in business, just days after Ukrainian police arrested six alleged members of the gang.

Last week, a law enforcement operation conducted by the National Police of Ukraine along with officials from South Korea and the U.S. saw the arrest of multiple suspects believed to be linked to the Clop ransomware gang. It’s believed to be the first time a national law enforcement group carried out mass arrests involving a ransomware group.

The Ukrainian police also claimed at the time to have successfully shut down the server infrastructure used by the gang. But it doesn’t seem the operation was completely successful.

While the Clop operation fell silent following the arrests, the gang has this week published a fresh batch of confidential data which it claims to have stolen from two new victims — a farm equipment retailer and an architects office — on its dark web site, seen by TechCrunch.

If true — and neither of the alleged victims responded to TechCrunch’s request for comment — this would suggest that the ransomware gang remains active, despite last week’s first-of-its-kind law enforcement sting. This is likely because the suspects cuffed included only those who played a lesser role in the Clop operation. Cybersecurity firm Intel 471 said it believes that last week’s arrests targeted the money laundering portion of the operation, with core members of the gang not apprehended.

“We do not believe that any core actors behind Clop were apprehended,” the security company said. “The overall impact to Clop is expected to be minor although this law enforcement attention may result in the Clop brand getting abandoned as we’ve recently seen with other ransomware groups like DarkSide and Babuk.”

Clop appears to still be in business, but it remains to be seen how long the group will remain operational. Not only have law enforcement operations dealt numerous blows to ransomware groups this year, such as U.S. investigators’ recent recovery of millions in cryptocurrency they claim was paid in ransom to the Colonial Pipeline hackers, but Russia has this week confirmed it will begin to work with the U.S. to locate cybercriminals.

Russia has until now taken a hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with hackers. Reuters reported Wednesday that the head of the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov was quoted as saying it will co-operate with U.S. authorities on future cybersecurity operations.

Intel 471 previously said that it does not believe the key members of Clop were arrested in last week’s operation because “they are probably living in Russia,” which has long provided safe harbor to cybercriminals by refusing to take action.

The Clop ransomware gang was first spotted in early 2019, and the group has since been linked to a number of high-profile attacks. These include the breach of U.S. pharmaceutical giant ExecuPharm in April 2020 and the recent data breach at Accellion, which saw hackers exploit flaws in the IT provider’s software to steal data from dozens of its customers including the University of Colorado and cloud security vendor Qualys.

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Deep fake video app Avatarify, which process on-phone, plans digital watermark for videos

Making deep fake videos used to be hard. Now all you need is a smartphone. Avatarify, a startup that allows people to make deep-fake videos directly on their phone rather than in the Cloud, is soaring up the app charts after being used by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham.

However, the problem with many deep fake videos is that there is no digital watermark to determine that the video has been tampered with. So Avatarify says it will soon launch a digital watermark to prevent this from happening.

Run out of Moscow but with a US HQ, Avatarify launched in July 2020 and since then has been downloaded millions of times. The founders say that 140 million deepfake videos were created with Avatarify this year alone. There are now 125 million views of videos with the hashtag #avatarify on TikTok. While its competitors include the well-funded Reface, Snapchat, Wombo.ai, Mug Life, Xpression, Avatarify has yet to raise any money beyond an Angel round.

Despite taking only $120,000 in angel funding, the company has yet to accept any venture capital and says it has bootstrapped its way from zero to almost 10 million downloads and claims to have a $10 million annual run-rate with a team of less than 10 people.

It’s not hard to see why. Avatarify has a freemium subscription model. They offer a 7-day free trial and a 12-month subscription for $34.99 or a weekly plan for $2.49. Without a subscription, they offer the core features of the App for free, but videos then carry a visible watermark.

The founders also say the app protects privacy, because the videos are processed directly on the phone, rather than in the cloud where they could be hacked.

Avatarify processes user’s photos and turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms, and adding sounds. The user chooses a picture she wants to animate, chooses the effects and music, and then taps to animate the picture. This short video can then be posted on Instagram or TikTok.

The Avatarify videos are taking off on TikTok because teens no longer need to learn a dance or be much more creative than finding a photo of a celebrity to animate to.

Avartify says you can’t use their app to impersonate someone, but there is of course no way to police this.

Founders Ali Aliev and Karim Iskakov wrote the app during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. Ali spent 2 hours writing a program in Python to transfer his facial expressions to the other person’s face and use a filter in Zoom. The result was a real-time video, which could be streamed to Zoom. He joined a call with Elon Mask’s face and everyone on the call was shocked. The team posted the video, which then went viral.

The code on Github and immediately saw the number of downloads grow. The repository was published on 6 April 2020, and as of 19 March 2021 had been downloaded 50,000 times.

Ali left his job at Samsung AI Centre and devoted himself to the app. After Avatarify’s iOS app was released on 28 June 2020, viral videos on TikTok, created with the app, led it to App Store’s top charts without paid acquisition. In February 2021, Avatarify was ranked first among Top Free Apps worldwide. Between February and March, the app 2021 generated more than $1M in revenue (Source: AppMagic).

However, despite Avartify’s success, the ongoing problems with deep-fake videos remain, such as using these apps to make non-consensual porn, using the faces of innocent people.

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S16 Angel Fund launches a community of founders to invest in other founders

Ten years ago a group of young tech founders in Moscow decided to get an apartment together, at Shmitovskiy lane 16.

In time, the ecosystem around the group swelled to the point where today it now encompasses 300 entrepreneurs, executives, artists, and many other industries. The group now organizes the annual ‘Founders for Founders’ conference, in Russia and other locations. Just as in other places around the world, the members decided to help each other.

So they formed the Shmit16 Founder Community, and today they launch the S16 Angel Fund to invest in startups globally. Although tiny by investment standards (the funds first close will be $5 million) firm will focus on ‘founder-in-founder’ investments and has already backed 5 companies under this model. The fund plans to invest in five more companies in the next six months with an average of $250k ticket.

So far the Angel group has invested in AppFollow, Lokalize Simple, a fasting and diet management mobile app, and Anytype, a new operating environment for the modern internet.

The driving ethos of the S16 Fund is a focus on developing human potential and creating a productive peer context where information flows freely and participants can learn from each other.

Founding partners of the fund and community members include serial entrepreneurs Anatoly Marin, co-founder of Payment Systems (a mobile fintech in Eastern Europe); Aleks Shamis -partner at Dostavista (a crowdsourced same-day delivery service operating in 10 countries), Mikhail Peregudov, founder of Partiya Edy, recently acquired by Yandex ($YNDX), Oleg Bibergan, former Executive Director at Goldman Sachs, and others. Prior to this, the partners have invested in over 30 companies as individual angels.

S16 cofounder Anatoly Marin says: “There is a difference between helping a founder as someone whom you relate to on a human level, because you’ve been in these difficult places yourself, and helping a founder to get an ROI on your capital. The former helps shape relations where founders are open to share the most difficult subjects and get help. It is handy here that we’ve founded companies in different areas and can look at things from diverse perspectives.”

“The relationships in our community have always been about friendship, trust, and personal growth, with financial gains being an organic second-order outcome,” says S16 Angel Fund co-founder Aleks Shamis. “After 10 years, starting a fund was a natural next step in helping founders like ourselves.”

Beyond investment, S16 offers access to its network to help founders solve problems, find mentors and operators with business domain expertise such as go-to-market strategy, pricing, coaching for the executive team, and others.

#angel-investor, #co-founder, #eastern-europe, #europe, #executive, #founder, #goldman-sachs, #moscow, #russia, #tc, #venture-capitalists, #yandex

Russia’s BestDoctor attracts international investors for its $4.5M round

The private medical insurance market is expanding year on year by over 5%, and that includes in Russia where the insurance market – which grew by 4% in 2019 – has reached a value of almost $22 billion.

So it’s not that surprising that Russian insurtech startup BestDoctor has now closed its third round of financing for $4.5 million. Lead investors AddVenture, based out of Moscow, and Target Global, based out of Berlin, were joined by the London-based LVL1 fund, which had previously invested in the company.

BestDoctor is an online medical insurance platform offering private medical insurance for companies and their employees. As well as insurance, its also delivers 24/7 health support and medical consultations via its mobile app. Users can also get access to recommendations on preventive care and online support from BestDoctor physicians. The idea is that users save up to 23% on their annual medical expenses, and up to 95% of users renew the contract after a year.
 
Its clients largely consist of Russian corporates including Voximplant, Faberlic, Ivideon, Prisma Labs and Rambler Group, which add up to over 30,000 people. It also collaborates with 11,000 clinics across Russia.

Mark Sanevich, BestDoctor’s CEO and co-founder says the need for online medical services was amplified during the pandemic: “Our business received a strong boost. Now we are going to focus on establishing a comprehensive platform on the basis of medical insurance.”

Target Global Managing Partner Mikhail Lobanov said: “BestDoctor is a rare example of a company that combines medicine and high-tech, while directly connecting employers with medical clinics. High-tech private medical insurance, with the ability to consult a doctor 24/7 ensures transparency of all expenses.”

AddVenture managing partner Maxim Medvedev said: “By summer 2019, BestDoctor had a good head start: it had large enterprise clients, the company figured out the market’s problems and needs, and dozens of product ideas were tested.”

BestDoctor plans to spend the newly raised funds on developing its software and also plans to expand its sales activity, concentrating on new product segments.

#addventure, #berlin, #europe, #health-insurance, #insurance, #london, #managing-partner, #moscow, #prisma-labs, #russia, #target-global, #tc

From bioprinting lab-grown meat in Russia to Beyond Meat in the US, KFC is embracing the future of food

From a partnership with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to make chicken meat replacements using plant material and lab cultured chicken cells to an expansion of its Beyond Fried Chicken pilots to Southern California, KFC is aggressively pushing forward with its experiments around the future of food.

In Russia, that means providing 3D Bioprinting with breading and spices to see if the company’s chicken replacements can match the KFC taste, according to a statement from the company. As the company said, there are no other methods available on the market that can allow for the creation of complex products from animal cells.

“3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat,” said Yusef Khesuani, co-founder and Managing Partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, in a statement. “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

KFC beyond meat

Image: Beyond Meat

Closer to its home base in the US, KFC is working with the publicly traded plant-based meat substitute developer Beyond Meat on an expansion of their recent trials for KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken.

Continuing its wildly successful limited trials in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte, KFC is now setting its sights on the bigger markets in Southern California, near Beyond Meat’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Beginning on July 20, KFC will be selling Beyond Fried Chicken at 50 stores the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, while supplies last, the company said.

Unlike the 3D bioprinting process used by its Russian partner, Beyond Meat uses plant-based products exclusively to make its faux chicken meat.

Beyond Fried Chicken first appeared on the market last year in Atlanta and was made available in additional markets in the South earlier this year.  The menu item — first available in a one-day consumer test in Atlanta — sold out in less than five hours, the company said.

“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” said Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S. “We know the east coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.

Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets will be available as a six or 12-piece à la carte or as part of a combo, complete with a side and medium drink starting at $6.99, plus tax.

Meanwhile, KFC’s Russian project aims to create the world’s first lab-made chicken nuggets, and plans to release them this fall in Moscow.

Popularizing lab-grown meat could have a significant impact on climate change according to reports. The company cited statistics indicating that growing meat from cells could half the energy consumption involved in meat production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while  dramatically cutting land use.

“Crafted meat products are the next step in the development of our ‘restaurant of the future’ concept,” said Raisa Polyakova, General Manager of KFC Russia & CIS, in a statement. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems. We are glad to contribute to its development and are working to make it available to thousands of people in Russia and, if possible, around the world.”

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