Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack
Colonial Pipeline is recovering from a ransomware cyberattack that forced it to shut down on Friday. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 09 May 2021

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack
  • Colonial moves 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline
  • DarkSide is known for deploying ransomware

NEW YORK: Colonial Pipeline, top US fuel pipeline operator, continued work on Sunday to recover from a ransomware cyberattack that forced it to shut down on Friday and sparked worries of a spike in retail gasoline prices.
The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has prompted calls from American lawmakers to tighten up protection for critical US energy infrastructure against hackers.
Colonial said on Saturday it was “continuing to monitor the impact of this temporary service halt” and to work to restore service. It did not give an estimate for a restart date.
Colonial moves 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline and other fuels from refiners on the Gulf Coast to consumers in the eastern and southern United States. It also serves some of the largest US airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest by passenger traffic.
Retail fuel experts including the American Automobile Association said an outage lasting several days could have significant impacts on regional fuel supplies, particularly in the US Southeast.
While the US government investigation is in early stages, a former US official and two industry sources said the hackers are likely a professional cybercriminal group and that a group dubbed “DarkSide” was likely among the potential suspects.
DarkSide is known for deploying ransomware and extorting victims while avoiding targets in post-Soviet states. Ransomware is a type of malware designed to lock down systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access.
Cybersecurity firm FireEye has also been brought in to respond to the attack, according to the two industry sources. FireEye declined to comment. Colonial said late on Saturday it was working with a “leading, third-party cybersecurity firm,” but did not name the firm.
Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the matter, reported late on Saturday that the hackers are part of DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network on Thursday ahead of the pipeline shutdown.
Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual US business hours.
US President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident on Saturday morning, a White House spokesperson said, adding that the government was working to try to help the company restore operations and prevent supply disruptions.
The privately held, Georgia-based company is owned by CDPQ Colonial Partners, IFM (US) Colonial Pipeline 2, KKR-Keats Pipeline Investors, Koch Capital Investments Company and Shell Midstream Operating.
Gasoline futures and diesel futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose on Friday after the outage was reported. In previous Colonial outages, retail prices have risen substantially, if briefly.
Oil refining companies contacted by Reuters on Saturday said their operations had not yet been impacted.


G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
Updated 12 June 2021

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013
  • More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure

CARBIS BAY: The Group of Seven will seek to rival China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative on Saturday by announcing a global infrastructure plan to help developing nations, a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said.
The G7 is trying to find a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of President Xi Jinping after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years.
The US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would also push the other G7 leaders for “concrete action on forced labor” in China, and to include criticism of Beijing in their final communique from a three-day summit in southwest England.
“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” the official said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013, involving development and investment initiatives that would stretch from Asia to Europe and beyond.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the “imperial hangover” of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.

China’s rise
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
China in 1979 had an economy that was smaller than Italy’s, but after opening to foreign investment and introducing market reforms, it has become the world’s second-largest economy and is a global leader in a range of new technologies.
Leaders of the G7 — the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan — want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The US official said until now, the West had failed to offer a positive alternative to the “lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and coercive approach” of the Chinese government that had left many countries worse off.
“So tomorrow we’ll be announcing ‘build back better for the world,’ an ambitious new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that won’t just be an alternative to the BRI,” the official said.
According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, more than 2,600 projects at a cost of $3.7 trillion were linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, although the Chinese foreign ministry said last June that about 20 percent of projects had been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Biden said he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hosting the G7 summit, that democratic countries should develop their own rival scheme.

Forced labor
In talks, Biden will also press the other leaders to make clear that they believe forced labor practices are an affront to human dignity and “an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.”
“We’re pushing on being specific on areas like Xinjiang where forced labor is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G7,” the official said of the final communique to be issued at the end of the summit on Sunday.
China denies all accusations of abuse in the Xinjiang region.
There were no specifics on how the global infrastructure scheme would be funded. The plan would involve raising hundreds of billions in public and private money to help close a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in needy countries by 2035, the official said.
The aim was to work with the US Congress to supplement existing development financing “with the hope that, together with G7 partners, the private sector and other stakeholders, we soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle income countries that need it.” (Reporting by Steve Holland and Michael Holden Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Frances Kerry)


Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
Updated 12 June 2021

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
  • Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai

BERLIN: Germany has bought a trove of data that could help treasury officials track down possible tax evasion by wealthy German citizens, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Friday.
“The data will now be evaluated by the regional tax authorities,” Scholz said in Berlin. “Tax evasion is not a minor offense it is a crime.”
Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai such as tracts of land and real estate owned by German nationals.
It said an anonymous informant approached German officials and offered to pass on the data, for which the Federal Tax Office paid about 2 million euros ($2.42 million), Spiegel said.
Scholz did not confirm or deny the details reported by Spiegel about how the CD was purchased or the price.
Tax authorities in Germany’s 16 states had in the past sought information from countries like Switzerland to unearth possible tax evasion by wealthy Germans.
Scholz, who leads the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has made fair taxation a major election pledge before an election in September forecast to deal his center-left party its worst-ever result.


US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
Updated 12 June 2021

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
  • Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible
  • The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings

DUBAI: Washington DC-based Nexford University has completed a $10.8 million Pre-Series A funding round, led by UAE-based venture capital (VC) firm Global Ventures.
Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible despite the students’ physical location.
Other participating investors included Future Africa’s education fund, as well as angel investors, family offices and other VC firms from the US, UK, France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings.
“Learners want high-quality, yet affordable education relevant to today’s business environment, whilst retaining the flexibility remote learning provides,” the university CEO Fadl Al-Tarzi said.
He added: “Now, with additional funding, we can invest in the technology and teams required to address these challenges.”
Nextford recorded a 300 percent increase in revenue in 2020 with learners enrolling from over 65 countries. It has formed partnerships with tech giants Microsoft, LinkedIn and IBM.


Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority

Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority
Updated 12 June 2021

Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority

Iraq oil minister says gas sector a priority
  • Iraq is currently trading oil at $68 per barrel, close to the approximately $76 needed for the state to operate without reliance on the central bank

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s oil sector is rebounding after a catastrophic year triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, with key investment projects on the horizon, Iraq’s oil minister said Friday. But he also warned that an enduring bureaucratic culture of fear threatens to stand in the way.
Iraq is currently trading oil at $68 per barrel, close to the approximately $76 needed for the state to operate without reliance on the central bank to meet government expenditures.
Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail took over the unenviable job of supervising Iraq’s most vital industry at the height of an oil price crash that slashed oil revenues by more than half last year. Since then, he has had to balance domestic demands for more revenue to fund state coffers and pressure from OPEC to keep exports low to stabilize the global oil market.
With the sector rebounding, Ismail told The Associated Press, he can now focus on other priorities. In the interview, he offered a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of the country’s most significant ministry — Iraq’s oil industry is responsible for 90 percent of state revenues.
He said cutthroat Iraqi politics and corruption fears often derailed critical investment projects during his tenure and those of his predecessors — a source of long-term frustration for international companies working in Iraq.
“In the Ministry of Oil, the big mistake, the big challenge are the delays in decision-making or no decision-making at all,” he said, attributing indecisiveness to fears of political reprisal from groups or powerful lawmakers whose interests are not served.
He described what he said was a warped work culture where allegations of corruption are used as tools by political players to get their way. He alleged that the mere possibility is often enough to keep high-ranking officials in ministry from signing off on important projects.
“This is the culture: To stay away from any case, to stay away from inspectors, to say ‘let us not do it,’” he added. “I think this is the corruption that slows the economy.”
He said that during his time as minister he has sought to fast-track projects, he said.
Top on his list is developing the country’s gas sector, a central condition for Iraq to be eligible for US sanction waivers enabling energy imports from neighboring Iran. To that end, Iraq is looking to develop long-neglected gas fields and capture gas flared from oil sites.
Ismail said he is hopeful contracts will be signed within the coming months to develop key projects that could boost Iraq’s gas capacity by 3 billion cubic standard feet by 2025. But that all depends on closing the deal with oil companies; lucrative contract negotiations in Iraq have a history of stalling once commercial terms are laid out.
Iraq currently imports 2 billion standard cubic feet to meet domestic needs.
The ministry is close to signing with China’s Sinopec to develop Mansuriya gas field in Diyala province, said Ismail. The field could add 300 million standard cubic feet of gas to domestic production. He hopes to finalize the deal by mid-July.
The ministry is also in talks with France’s Total to develop an ambitious multi-billion dollar mega investment project in southern Iraq, including the Ratawi gas hub, development of Ratawi oil field and a scheme to provide water to oil fields required to boost production.
Early talks are also ongoing to develop Akkas gas field in Anbar province, with the American Schlumberger and Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco, he said, expressing hopes for an agreement there too.
Though negotiations with international companies have picked up speed, Ismail said entrenched indecision within his ministry persists. Investors have blamed glacial bureaucracy and indecision within ministry ranks for thwarting projects.
Among his deepest regrets is the collapse in talks — after five years of negotiations — between the ministry and Exxon-Mobil over a multi-billion dollar investment project that would have been key to increasing Iraq’s production and exports.
“For me it was a big mistake from our side,” said Ismail, who was the former director-general of the state-owned Basra Oil Company.
Ismail himself came under scrutiny when lawmakers accused him of corruption. The Cabinet dismissed him as head of the Basra company in October 2019 during a purge against alleged corruption. He was reinstated a few months later.
Iraqi media are often used as a pressure tool, Ismail said
“Someone sends me a contract, and it would be illegal to say yes, so I say no, and he starts to say bad things in the media,” Ismail said.
Also, he said 80 percent of his time is spent fielding requests from political parties and individuals asking for employment, contracts or job transfers — requests he says he routinely rejects.
“They say: ‘Move this person from this position to this, we need this position, we need this department, we need this company’,” he said.


UK economy strengthens recovery as virus lockdown eases

UK economy strengthens recovery as virus lockdown eases
Updated 12 June 2021

UK economy strengthens recovery as virus lockdown eases

UK economy strengthens recovery as virus lockdown eases
  • Finance minister cautiously welcomes the 2.3% growth figure as the Delta variant spreads

LONDON: Britain’s economy gathered pace in April as the government eased its coronavirus lockdown, official data showed Friday, with Finance Minister Rishi Sunak cautiously welcoming the 2.3-percent growth figure as the Delta variant spreads.
It was the fastest monthly output for the UK gross domestic product since July last year “as government restrictions affecting economic activity continued to ease,” the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.
Britain’s economy had contracted 1.5 percent overall in the first quarter, although had already begun to bounce back strongly in March with GDP of 2.1 percent.
The UK’s overall output for April remains 3.7 percent below pre-pandemic levels seen in February last year.
“Overall, the economic recovery stepped up another gear in April and GDP is on track to return to its February level before the end of the year,” noted Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics research group.
“If anything, the economy could regain its pre-crisis level even sooner.”
April’s growth was driven by the service sector, which jumped 3.4 percent as consumers once again started to visit nonessential physical stores, restaurants and bars and as more children returned to onsite lessons, the ONS said.
Output in the production sector however dropped 1.3 percent during the same month, recording the first fall since January. And construction contracted 2.0 percent following a strong March.
Since May, the government has further eased restrictions, with people now allowed to eat and drink inside restaurants and bars, having initially been able to sit only outside.
“Today’s figures are a promising sign that our economy is beginning to recover,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak.
His cautious response comes amid mounting concerns over whether the emergence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus threatens the UK government’s provisional June 21 deadline for further lifting virus restrictions.
The Delta variant, which first emerged in India, is now the dominant strain in the UK, according to Public Health England figures.
And the UK government on Friday said it is 60 percent more transmissible in households than the variant that forced the country to lock down in January.
Separate data Friday showed UK exports fell 0.6 percent in April after two months of growth, with drops in exports to non-EU countries offsetting increases to nations within the bloc, the ONS said.
While exports to the EU rose 2.3 percent month-on-month, they remained 9.0-percent below 2019’s average level, or ahead of Britain’s formal exit from the European Union at the start of this year, according to Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
“That is a disappointing performance, given the boom in global trade flows. UK exporters have lost market share,” he added.
Goods imported to the UK meanwhile grew 3.9 percent in April.
The trade data was published as Britain hit back at French President Emmanuel Macron’s uncompromising stance on Brexit, in a simmering row over new trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Macron on Thursday warned London that it was “not serious” to review agreements signed last December, just weeks before the UK left the European single market and customs union.
But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that Brussels should be more flexible in its approach to Northern Ireland, which shares the UK’s only land border with the EU.
Under the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, checks are required on some goods heading to the British province from mainland Britain — England, Scotland and Wales.