The monsoon-like rains, unusual for the typical dry season in the region, have killed more than 50 people, caused heavy damage and shut down major roadways.
The destruction of Iranian drones last year was an early example of a new regional military project that President Biden is trying to shore up during his Middle East visit.
Saudi Arabia is investing in sporting events, like an upstart golf tour, as part of a yearslong drive to turn the country into a hot spot for business and tourism and to blunt criticism of its human rights record.
Sheikh Mohammed has used his small country’s oil wealth to exert great influence across the Middle East and in Washington.
The increasing openness of Jewish life in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai is another sign of an emerging new reality in the Middle East, where Israel’s isolation by the Arab world is ebbing.
Iran’s cultivation of the Houthis over the years of war in Yemen has armed them with missiles and drones, endangering Washington’s partners and Tehran’s rivals, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest country before its civil war began in 2014. Then a Saudi-led coalition joined the fight against the Iran-backed Houthi militia, spreading the ruin.
Big producers seem to be sticking to modest output raises and alliance with Russia.
Both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels said they would stop fighting, but further progress toward an end to the seven-year war in the country was uncertain.
The meeting of diplomats from Israel, the U.S. and four Arab countries was momentous just for taking place. But in private, they tried to hash out differences over Iran and the war in Ukraine.
The countries, which have their own relationships with Russia, have provided some modest backing, but Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will ask for more.
Four Arab foreign ministers will meet in Israel’s Negev desert on Sunday, along with their U.S. counterpart. The talks mark a realignment of Middle Eastern powers, accelerated by the war in Ukraine.
The gathering of top diplomats from Israel, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Morocco, as well as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, is a sign of how quickly Middle Eastern alliances are shifting.
All three countries are navigating fraught relationships with the Biden administration amid the quickly changing geopolitical landscape precipitated by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
It was the long-shunned Syrian leader’s first trip to an Arab country since his nation’s civil war erupted in 2011.
The Ukraine crisis shows just how energy dependent Europe has become on Russia.
Allies of President Vladimir Putin, arriving on private jets and yachts, are still welcome in the U.A.E., which has yet to condemn the Ukraine invasion or enforce sanctions.
A Times investigation reveals how Israel reaped diplomatic gains around the world from NSO’s Pegasus spyware — a tool America itself purchased but is now trying to ban.
Putin has something bigger to worry about at home than anything that happens in Ukraine.
Before the end of the year, ispace aims to place a lander with two small rovers on the lunar surface. It may find other visitors have also made the trip this year.
Commandos who played a key role in helping American forces are waiting for visas in the United Arab Emirates, and are among the last of the evacuated Afghans to get a chance to reach the United States.
The attack came amid rising tensions between the Emirates and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The United Arab Emirates is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Houthis for years.
Emirati officials said that several people had been killed in an explosion of fuel tankers in Abu Dhabi, possibly as a result of a drone attack.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, on a historic official trip to the Gulf state.
The United Arab Emirates, in a nod to global markets, has changed its workweek, declaring that Sunday, a work day in much of the Arab world, is now part of the weekend. Fridays will be half days.
Former President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law is trying to raise capital for his investment firm and is turning to a region that he dealt with extensively while in the White House.
With a few stray comments from a minor minister, Lebanon once again found itself caught in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, underscoring just how vulnerable it is to the whims of its more powerful neighbors.
Trying to attract investors and retain customers, the United Arab Emirates says it will step up its efforts to cut emissions.
They were among a trend of Americans working for foreign governments trying to build their cyberoperation abilities.
Siga OT Solutions, an Israeli cybersecurity startup that helps organizations secure their operations by monitoring the raw electric signals of critical industrial assets, has raised $8.1 million in Series B funding.
Siga’s SigaGuard says its technology, used by Israel’s critical water facilities and the New York Power Authority, is unique in that rather than monitoring the operational network, it uses machine learning and predictive analysis to “listen” to Level 0 signals. These are typically made up of components and sensors that receive electrical signals, rather than protocols or data packets that can be manipulated by hackers.
By monitoring Level 0, which Siga describes as the “richest and most reliable level of process data within any operational environment,” the company can detect cyberattacks on the most critical and vulnerable physical assets of national infrastructures. This, it claims, ensures operational resiliency even when hackers are successful in manipulating the logic of industrial control system (ICS) controllers.
Amir Samoiloff, co-founder and CEO of Siga, says: “Level 0 is becoming the major axis in the resilience and integrity of critical national infrastructures worldwide and securing this level will become a major element in control systems in the coming years.”
The company’s latest round of funding — led by PureTerra Ventures, with investment from Israeli venture fund SIBF, Moore Capital, and Phoenix Contact — comes amid an escalation in attacks against operational infrastructure. Israel’s water infrastructure was hit by three known cyberattacks in 2020 and these were followed by an attack on the water system of a city in Florida that saw hackers briefly increase the amount of sodium hydroxide in Oldsmar’s water treatment system.
The $8.1 million investment lands three years after the startup secured $3.5 million in Series A funding. The company said it will use the funding to accelerate its sales and strategic collaborations internationally, with a focus on North America, Europe, Asia, and the United Arab Emirates.
- Industrial cybersecurity startup Nozomi Networks secures $100M in pre-IPO funding
- Researchers simulate a ransomware attack on industrial controls
- A newly discovered hacking group is targeting energy and telecoms companies
- Dragos raises $110M Series C as demand to secure industrial systems soars
Even amid a glut of scandals, Tom Barrack’s arrest is a big deal.
Mr. Barrack, the chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, was accused of failing to register as a lobbyist for the United Arab Emirates, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.
Over the weekend, an international consortium of news outlets reported that several authoritarian governments — including Mexico, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — used spyware developed by NSO Group to hack into the phones of thousands of their most vocal critics, including journalists, activists, politicians and business executives.
A leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets was obtained by Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with the reporting consortium, including The Washington Post and The Guardian. Researchers analyzed the phones of dozens of victims to confirm they were targeted by the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which can access all of the data on a person’s phone. The reports also confirm new details of the government customers themselves, which NSO Group closely guards. Hungary, a member of the European Union where privacy from surveillance is supposed to be a fundamental right for its 500 million residents, is named as an NSO customer.
The reporting shows for the first time how many individuals are likely targets of NSO’s intrusive device-level surveillance. Previous reporting had put the number of known victims in the hundreds or more than a thousand.
NSO Group sharply rejected the claims. NSO has long said that it doesn’t know who its customers target, which it reiterated in a statement to TechCrunch on Monday.
Researchers at Amnesty, whose work was reviewed by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, found that NSO can deliver Pegasus by sending a victim a link which when opened infects the phone, or silently and without any interaction at all through a “zero-click” exploit, which takes advantage of vulnerabilities in the iPhone’s software. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak said in a tweet that NSO’s zero-clicks worked on iOS 14.6, which until today was the most up-to-date version.
Amnesty’s researchers showed their work by publishing meticulously detailed technical notes and a toolkit that they said may help others identify if their phones have been targeted by Pegasus.
The Mobile Verification Toolkit, or MVT, works on both iPhones and Android devices, but slightly differently. Amnesty said that more forensic traces were found on iPhones than Android devices, which makes it easier to detect on iPhones. MVT will let you take an entire iPhone backup (or a full system dump if you jailbreak your phone) and feed in for any indicators of compromise (IOCs) known to be used by NSO to deliver Pegasus, such as domain names used in NSO’s infrastructure that might be sent by text message or email. If you have an encrypted iPhone backup, you can also use MVT to decrypt your backup without having to make a whole new copy.
The toolkit works on the command line, so it’s not a refined and polished user experience and requires some basic knowledge of how to navigate the terminal. We got it working in about 10 minutes, plus the time to create a fresh backup of an iPhone, which you will want to do if you want to check up to the hour. To get the toolkit ready to scan your phone for signs of Pegasus, you’ll need to feed in Amnesty’s IOCs, which it has on its GitHub page. Any time the indicators of compromise file updates, download and use an up-to-date copy.
Once you set off the process, the toolkit scans your iPhone backup file for any evidence of compromise. The process took about a minute or two to run and spit out several files in a folder with the results of the scan. If the toolkit finds a possible compromise, it will say so in the outputted files. In our case, we got one “detection,” which turned out to be a false positive and has been removed from the IOCs after we checked with the Amnesty researchers. A new scan using the updated IOCs returned no signs of compromise.
Given it’s more difficult to detect an Android infection, MVT takes a similar but simpler approach by scanning your Android device backup for text messages with links to domains known to be used by NSO. The toolkit also lets you scan for potentially malicious applications installed on your device.
The toolkit is — as command line tools go — relatively simple to use, though the project is open source so not before long surely someone will build a user interface for it. The project’s detailed documentation will help you — as it did us.
- A new ‘digital violence’ platform maps dozens of victims of NSO Group’s spyware
- Google, Cisco and VMware join Microsoft to oppose NSO Group in WhatsApp spyware case
- NSO used real people’s location data to pitch its contact-tracing tech, researchers say
- Dozens of journalists’ iPhones hacked with NSO ‘zero-click’ spyware, says Citizen Lab
- A passwordless server run by spyware maker NSO sparks contact-tracing privacy concerns
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The pact clears the way for the group to pump more oil, helping ease a potential supply squeeze as global economies revive from pandemic lockdowns.
United Arab Emirates-based shared micromobility operator Fenix is expanding the use of its electric scooters and back-end logistics to not only move people, but also to move goods. On Tuesday, the company announced the launch of a 10-minute fresh grocery delivery service on Reem Island, a dense, mixed-use development off the coast of Abu Dhabi.
Fenix’s new service, F10, will utilize available vehicles from the operator’s normal shared fleet for deliveries. Delivery riders will also be considered shared resources with Fenix’s e-scooter service, taking turns between making fast deliveries and swapping batteries. The company is building a single integrated platform to manage the fleets and services.
The shared e-scooter business is still new and has not yet been incredibly profitable for existing operators due in large part to the low life expectancy of the vehicles and the cost of paying workers to swap batteries. Fenix’s expanded business model is a novel way to make the most out of the sunk cost of its hardware and employee base while also exploring a market that is expected to grow by nearly $632 billion over the next three years, according to market research and advisory company Technavio.
Logistically speaking, Fenix might be onto something. Its “dark stores,” or compact, private retail facilities, are scattered around Reem Island in optimized locations, each with a large catchment area that falls within a narrow delivery radius, according to Jaideep Dhanoa, co-founder and CEO of Fenix. Dhanoa did not reveal how many dark stores the company has placed throughout the island.
“For Fenix, the dark store is also a distributed charging center for our swappable battery e-scooter operations, which allows us to share the real estate costs between the two businesses and also increase the productivity of our e-scooter operations via more distributed charging locations,” said Dhanoa.
Dhanoa said Fenix’s full-time employees, who are all company stakeholders, are trained to accept, pick and pack items for delivery in the dark stores within two minutes before relaying the goods to a rider who has a mere eight minutes to make it to the customer. Not a stressful situation at all! It wouldn’t be surprising to see Fenix’s next funding round focus on R&D for robots that will gather groceries faster and without the pressure of human error.
Such quick delivery couldn’t be done without urban density, which is largely what drew Fenix to Reem Island. The small island, which is one of the only free zones in the city where foreign nationals can buy property, holds a residential population of about 100,000 people. Dhanoa said the island also presents multiple use cases in the form of residential and commercial towers and shopping malls.
“Wherever there is a dense population, there will be a market for F10,” said Dhanoa.
The new business expansion was in part funded by an undisclosed round that was recently raised from existing investors, like Maniv Mobility, the Israeli venture firm that also funded electric mobility company Revel and invested $3.8 million in Fenix’s seed round last November. (Maniv Mobility’s investment in Fenix was the first time an Israeli firm invested in a business from the UAE, a sign that companies are making good on the Abraham Accords’ promise to normalize relations between the two countries.) But Dhanoa told TechCrunch that the costs of launching the F10 delivery service didn’t require deep pockets, “given the unique synergies with our existing micromobiltiy business.”
The F10 app can be downloaded in the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. To kick things off, Fenix is offering new users their first order up to AED 50 (~$14 USD) for free.
Min Wanli had a career path much coveted by those pursuing a career in computer science. A prodigy, Min was accepted to a top research university in China at the age of 14. He subsequently obtained Ph.D. degrees in physics and statistics from the University of Chicago before spending nearly a combined decade at IBM and Google.
Like many young, aspiring Chinese scientists working in the United States, Min returned to China when the country’s internet boom was underway in the early 2010s. He joined Alibaba’s fledgling cloud arm and was at the forefront of applying its tech to industrial scenarios, like using visual identification to mitigate highway traffic and computing power to improve factory efficiency.
Then in July 2019, Min took a leap. He resigned from Alibaba Cloud, which had become a major growth driver for the e-commerce goliath and at the time China’s largest public cloud infrastructure provider (it still is). With no experience in investment, he started a new venture capital firm called North Summit Capital.
“A lot of enterprises were quite skeptical of ‘digital transformation’ around 2016 and 2017. But by 2019, after they had seen success cases [from Alibaba Cloud], they no longer questioned its viability,” said Min in his office overlooking a cluster of urban villages and highrise offices in Shenzhen. Clad in a well-ironed light blue shirt, he talked with a childlike, earnest smile.
“Suddenly, everyone wanted to go digital. But how am I supposed to meet their needs with a team of just 400-500 people?”
Min’s solution was not to serve the old-school factories and corporations himself but to finance and support a raft of companies to do so. Soon he closed the first fund for North Summit with “several hundreds of millions of dollars” from an undisclosed high-net-worth individual from the United Arab Emirates, whom Min had met when he represented Alibaba at a Duhai tech conference in 2018.
“Venture capital is like a magnifier through which I can connect with a lot of tech companies and share my lessons from the past, so they can quickly and effectively work with their clients from traditional industries,” Min said.
“For example, I’d discuss with my portfolio firms whether they should focus on selling hardware pieces or software first, or give them equal weight.”
Min strives to be deeply involved in the companies he backs. North Summit invests early, with check sizes so far ranging from roughly $5 million to $25 million. Min also started a technology service company called Quadtalent to provide post-investment support to his portfolio.
The notion of digital transformation is both buzzy and daunting for many investors due to the highly complex and segmented nature of traditional industries. But Min has a list of criteria to help narrow down his targets.
First, an investable area should be data-intensive. Subway tracks, for example, could benefit from implementing large amounts of sensors that monitor the rail system’s stauts. Second, an area’s manufacturing or business process should be capital-intensive, such as production lines that use exorbitant equipment. And lastly, the industry should be highly dependent on repetitive human experience, like police directing traffic.
Solving industrial problems require not just founders’ computing ingenuity but more critically, their experience in a traditional sector. As such, Min goes beyond the “Ivory Tower” of computer science wizards when he looks for entrepreneurs.
“What we need today is a type of inter-disciplinary talent who can do ‘compound algorithms.’ That means understanding sensor signals, business rationales, manufacturing, as well as computer algorithms. Applying neural network through an algorithmic black box without the other factors is simply futile.”
Min faces ample competition as investors hunt down the next ABB, Schneider, or Siemens of China. The country is driving towards technological independence in all facets of the economy and the national mandate takes on new urgency as COVID-19 disrupts global supply chains. The result is skyrocketing valuations for startups touting “industrial upgrade” solutions, Min noted.
But factory bosses don’t care whether their automation solution providers are unerdogs or startup unicorns. “At the end of the day, the factory CFO will only ask, ‘how much more money does this piece of software or equipment help us save or make?’”
The investor is cautious about deploying his maiden fund. Two years into operation, North Summit has closed four deals: TopScore, a 17-year-old footwear manufacturer embracing automation; Lingumi, a London-based English learning app targeting Chinese pre-school kids; Aerodyne, a Malaysian drone service provider; and Extreme Vision, a marketplace connecting small-and-medium enterprises to affordable AI vision solutions.
This year, North Summit aims to invest close to $100 million in companies inside and outside China. Optical storage and robotic process automation (RPA) are just two areas that have been on Min’s radar in recent days.
Logistics, cost and official standards are needed for the dogs to fulfill their potential in medical fields.
Cash is the predominant method of sending and receiving payments in the Middle East. If you owe someone a cup of coffee or a trip over a long period, repaying via cash is your best bet. This is one problem out of many financial issues that haven’t been addressed in the region.
The good news is that startups are springing up to provide solutions. Last month Telda, a now two-month-old startup in Egypt, raised an impressive sum as pre-seed to offer digital banking services. Today, Ziina, another startup based in Dubai, has closed $7.5 million in seed funding to scale its peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service across the Middle East and North Africa.
Ziina has managed to enlist top global investors and fintech founders in the round. Avenir Growth and Class 5 Global led this latest tranche of financing. Wamda Capital, FJ Labs, Graph Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, Oman Technology Fund’s Jasoor Ventures, and ANIM also participated.
The founders who took part include Checkout CEO Guillaume Pousaz via his investment fund Zinal Growth; Krishnan Menon, BukuKas CEO, as well as executives from Paypal and Venmo. This adds to a roster of executives and early employees from Revolut, Stripe, Brex, Notion, and Deel that joined Ziina’s round.
According to the company, it has raised over $8.6 million since launching last year. This includes the $850,000 pre-seed raised in May 2020 and $125,000 secured after going through Y Combinator’s Winter batch early this year.
Ziina was founded by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold. It’s the latest addition to the Middle East’s bubbling fintech ecosystem and is capitalising on the region’s rapid adoption of fintech friendly regulation.
The company allows users to send and receive payments with just a phone number —no IBAN or swift code required as is the de facto method in the UAE and some parts of the Middle East. It also claims to be the country’s first licensed social peer-to-peer application “on a mission to simplify finance for everyone.”
After meeting during a hackathon in the U.S., Faisal and Gold began exchanging ideas on how to build wallets, wanting to mirror the successes platforms like WePay, Paytm have had. At the time, VCs seemed to be interested in how the wallets ecosystem intersected with banking.
“The lines between wallets and banking have become really blurred. Every wallet has a banking partner, and people who use wallets use them for their day-to-day needs,” CEO Faisal Toukan said to TechCrunch.
On the other hand, Sarah, who is Faisal’s sister, was on her personal fintech journey in London. There, she attended several meetups headlined by the founders of Monzo and Revolut. With her knowledge and the experience of the other two, the founders decided that solving P2P payments issues was their own way of driving massive impact in the Middle East.
So how far have they gone? “We launched a beta for the market but it’s restricted for regulatory reasons and basically to keep ourselves in check with the ecosystem,” Toukan remarked. “Since then, we’ve gotten regulated. We’ve got a banking partner, one of the three largest banks in the UAE, and we’ve set a new wallet a month from now. That’s also what we were working throughout our period in YC. So it’s been quite an eventful year.”
The fintech sector in MENA is growing fast; in terms of numbers, at a CAGR of 30%. Also, in the UAE, it is estimated that over 450 fintech companies will raise about $2 billion in 2022 compared to the $80 million raised in 2017. Fintechs in the region are focused on solving payments, transfers, and remittances. Alongside its P2P offering, these are the areas Ziina wants to play in, including investment and cryptocurrency services.
According to Toukan, there’s no ease of making online investments, and remittances are done in exchange houses, a manual process where people need to visit an office physically. “So what we’re looking to do is to bring all these products to life in the UAE and expand beyond that. But the first pain point we’re solving for is for people to send and receive money with two clicks,” the CEO affirmed.
Starting with P2P has its own advantages. First, peer-to-peer services is a repeat behavioural mechanism that allows companies to establish trust with customers. Also, it’s a cheaper customer acquisition model. Toukan says that as Zinna expands geographically — Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2022; and Egypt and Tunisia some years from now — as he wants the company’s wallet to become seamless across borders. “We want a situation where if you move into Saudi or Dubai, you’re able to use the same wallet versus using different banking applications,” he added.
To be on the right side of regulation is key to any fintech expansion, and Toukan says Ziina has been in continuous dialogue with regulators to operate efficiently. But some challenges have stemmed from finding the right banking partners. “You need to make a case to the banks that this is basically a mutually beneficial partnership. And the way we’ve done that is by basically highlighting different cases globally like CashApp that worked with Southern Bank,” he said.
Now that the company has moved past that challenge, it’s in full swing to launch. Presently, Ziina has thousands of users who transacted more than $120,000 on the platform this past month. In addition, there are over 20,000 users on its waiting list to be onboarded post-launch.
Ziina has already built a team with experience across tech companies like Apple, Uber, Stanford, Coinbase, Careem, Oracle, and Yandex. It plans to double down on hiring with this new investment and customer acquisition and establishing commercial partnerships.
The Biden administration is close to completing a review of Trump-era weapons sales to the two Gulf Arab states. Democrats in Congress oppose the deals.
Vaccine rollouts in some countries have a long-locked-down world dreaming of travels abroad again. But they have also set off a fraught debate about the fairness of a two-tier system for haves and have-nots.
The Israeli prime minister has presented himself as a global leader, but that image has been dented by tensions with Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as Israeli voters head to the polls on Tuesday.
We may be witnessing a major realignment of the Middle East.
After 50 years of fieldwork in the Negev and Sinai deserts, an Israeli researcher donated his rare archive to the National Library of Israel.
Mr. Prince offered to supply weapons, drones and mercenaries to a Libyan militia commander seeking to overthrow the government, according to U.N. investigators.
Nations that were fierce opponents to the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran responded cautiously to the Biden administration’s decision to re-engage. In Russia, a government spokesman called the move a “plus.”
Sheikha Latifa, who drew headlines in 2018 when she unsuccessfully sought to flee her country, says she has been held in a virtual prison since her forced return.
An interim government promises peace, unity and democratic elections. Skeptical Libyans say they’ve heard this promise before.
Fifteen people arrested in Ethiopia were part of what American and Israeli officials said was a foiled Iranian plot against diplomats from the United Arab Emirates.
The popular uprisings of 2011 mostly failed, but they gave the region a taste for democracy that continues to whet an appetite for change.