Authorities Dismantle Transnational Cybercrime Group

The Europol headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2018. At the European Union law enforcement agency on Thursday, authorities announced details of a coordinated operation to dismantle an international, cybercrime network.

Peter Dejong/AP


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Peter Dejong/AP

An international cybercrime network that tried to steal an estimated $100 million has been taken down in a coordinated multinational effort.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials from the United States and Europe, speaking at a news conference on Thursday in The Hague, say that criminals used malware to infect tens of thousands of computers worldwide, capturing online banking credentials from unknowing victims in a bid to extract their money.

The scheme took place between October 2015 and December 2016. A virtual assembly line of skills and services by cybercrime specialists made the fraudulent work possible, prosecutors contend.

First, the leader of the group leased access to malware from a developer. Then the developer used coders to create GozNym, a hybrid of two malware strains called Gozi and Nymaim.

Suspects advertised their skills online in an underground, Russian-language forum, where they were allegedly recruited by Alexander Konovolov, a 35-year-old Georgian who ultimately controlled more than 41,000 computers.

To ward off detection, distribute the malware, take over bank accounts and cash out, there were “bulletproof hosters, money mules networks, crypters, spammers, coders, organizers, and technical support,” said Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency.

William Carter, deputy director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells NPR that cybercrime as a service industry is becoming more common — that people can pay for phishing, botnets and other services.

“Really at this point it doesn’t take a lot of audacity,” he says. “The chances that [law enforcement] will track down all the little service providers are pretty small. And the payoff can be pretty large.”

Carter says there are enough people and businesses in the world not following basic cybersecurity practices that a criminal can use unsophisticated tools to make money by hitting many targets quickly.

With GozNym, victims received phishing emails that looked legitimate but contained a malicious link or attachment that led the malware to be downloaded on their computers.

The victims included a church in Texas, a casino in Mississippi and an association that provides services to people with disabilities in Illinois. A number of U.S. businesses and their financial institutions fell victim to GozNym, especially in western Pennsylvania where federal investigators and prosecutors later conducted an operation.

In an indictment unsealed Thursday, 10 alleged members of the criminal network were accused of using GozNym to capture online banking credentials from victims, before using that information to pilfer money from bank accounts and launder the funds with U.S. and foreign bank accounts.

The network members were charged with conspiracies to commit computer fraud, wire and bank fraud as well as money laundering. An eleventh member was charged in a previous indictment.

Five Russians accused of being involved in the scheme reside in Russia as “fugitives from justice,” according to the Department of Justice. The FBI asked the public to help locate them Thursday. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued a federal arrest warrant for them in April.

Other members of the criminal network live in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria, according to prosecutors. That led to an “unprecedented” push for cooperation — sharing of evidence, arrests and extraditions — between the United States, those countries and Germany.

Criminal prosecutions are underway in Georgia and Moldova. In Ukraine, law enforcement arrested Gennady Kapkanov, 36, for allegedly shooting an assault rifle through his apartment door during a police raid that targeted network servers. He’s being prosecuted for his alleged involvement in the GozNym network.

U.S. attorney Scott Brady said that the only way to stem transnational criminal networks is through partnership. “The collaborative and simultaneous prosecution of the members of the GozNym criminal conspiracy in four countries represents a paradigm shift in how we investigate and prosecute cybercrime,” Brady said.

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I.M. Pei, Architect Of Some Of The World’s Most Iconic Structures, Dies At 102

Architect I.M. Pei stands in front of the Louvre glass pyramid in Paris, just before its inauguration in March 1989.

Pierre Gleizes/AP


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Pierre Gleizes/AP

Crowds around the world flow through the buildings designed by architect I.M. Pei; in Paris, they stream into the Louvre’s Pyramid entrance. In Cleveland, they wander through the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And in Hong Kong, they travel up and down the soaring Bank of China Tower.

Pei’s death was confirmed by Thomas Guss, his press contact. He was 102.

His designs were widely praised — but not always at first. When his large, glass pyramid opened at the entrance to the Louvre in 1988, it was not well-received.

“I would say the first year and a half was really hell,” the architect said in a PBS documentary. “I couldn’t walk the streets of Paris without people walking looking at me and saying: There you go again. What are you doing here? What are you doing to us? What are you doing to our great Louvre?

Two decades passed and, in 2009, NPR’s Susan Stamberg paid a visit to the pyramid. Henri Loyrette, the Louvre’s director at the time, called it a masterpiece. He said that when you ask visitors why they are at the Louvre, they generally give three answers: for the Mona Lisa, for the Venus de Milo and for the Pyramid. It was not the first time shock has given way to admiration in architecture.

  • I. M. Pei designed the exhibition hall of the German Historical Museum in Berlin.

    I. M. Pei designed the exhibition hall of the German Historical Museum in Berlin.


  • Inside the glass tower of the German Historical Museum.

    Inside the glass tower of the German Historical Museum.


    John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

  • The Louvre Pyramid in Paris opened in 1989.

    The Louvre Pyramid in Paris opened in 1989.


    Mike Ault/Flickr

  • The East Building of National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was completed in 1978.

    The East Building of National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was completed in 1978.


    OZinOH/Flickr

  • Light streams into the atrium in the East Building.

    Light streams into the atrium in the East Building.


    Rob Young/Flickr

  • Pei described his work on The Suzhou Museum in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China, as a "return to home."

    Pei described his work on The Suzhou Museum in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China, as a “return to home.”


    Chen Zhao/Flickr


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Pei didn’t like labels. He said there’s no such thing as modern, post-modern, or deconstructivist architecture. But he was considered a modernist. Back in 1970, he defined his approach in an interview for a documentary on one of his buildings — the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

“If the problem is a complicated problem, then the building will result just that way,” Pei said. “But then after that we have to simplify it. We have to eliminate the inessential.”

That is pretty much the definition of modernism in architecture — eliminate the inessential, leaving clean lines and spare geometric forms. But, he said, his architecture is not just geometry.

“There are many other elements that come into play to create a form,” said Pei. “Space, which is what architecture really is. You have to have light. … Light is terribly important.”

What are shapes without light? he asked — and added, “The light of the sun is magical.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located on the shores of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

Mark Duncan/AP


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Mark Duncan/AP

Pei was born in Suzhou, China in 1917. He grew up in a house where gardens and airy pavilions merged with the landscape. Pei biographer Carter Wiseman says that the natural world deeply influenced Pei.

“Having come from China, where he was exposed to garden architecture, he had a very different concept of time,” Wiseman explains. “He was interested in the sculptural properties of rocks. There was an affinity for nature and for history that most Americans do not get, no matter how hard we try.”

Pei’s father was a banker, his mother an artist. He came to the U.S. as a teenager in 1935, went to MIT and was influenced by the work of pioneering modernists Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Pei’s privileged upbringing helped him navigate the alpha male world of architecture and real estate. He was able to schmooze with the powerful, which led to projects like the apartments on Manhattan’s Eastside called the Kips Bay Towers, the Kennedy Library in Boston, and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Pei didn’t get everything right. His 1980s design for New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, for instance, is still less-than loved.

His Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, completed in 1982, uses a traditional Chinese design. In 1990, the Bank of China Tower opened — and his modern, soaring design instantly became one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in Hong Kong.

Completed in 1990, The Bank of China Tower is among the tallest skyscrapers in Hong Kong.

Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images


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Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Pei inspired younger Chinese architects, like Pritzker Prize-winner Wang Shu; he says Pei “awakened” him. Wang believes Pei figured out a way to bridge East and West, old and new, and he thinks of Pei as a teacher — someone who came before him, and whose successes and mistakes he learned from.

From the Macau Science Center to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Pei continued building through 2009. His name, I.M. stands for Ieoh Ming, which roughly means “to make an indelible mark.”

The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar opened to the public in 2008.

Hassan Ammar/AP


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Hassan Ammar/AP

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Trump Administration Cancels Nearly $1 Billion In California High Speed Rail Funding

One of the elevated sections of the high-speed rail under construction in Fresno, Calif., seen in 2017. The Trump administration announced on Thursday that they will pull federal funding from the multi-billion dollar project.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP


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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

The Trump administration says it’s terminating a federal agreement with California’s high-speed rail project and taking away nearly $1 billion in funding, setting up yet another legal fight between California and Washington.

In a statement released Thursday, the Federal Railroad Administration says California has “repeatedly failed to comply” with the agreement and “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

It adds that the state has “abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding.” The statement also said the FRA was still exploring “all options” on getting $2.5 billion federal dollars it has already awarded for the project back from the state.

In a statement Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the termination “political retribution,” illegal, and “a direct assault on California.”

Calif., Gov. Gavin Newsom receives applause after delivering his first State of the State address. In that address he said he planned to scale back California’s high-speed rail project and focus immediately on building 171 miles of track in central California.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP


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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

He would argue California has not abandoned its original high-speed rail vision, though cost hikes and delays have already led the state to scale the project — now estimated at $77.3 billion.

But Newsom did himself no favors in his February State of the State address, when he said that “right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

Newsom has directed the California High-Speed Rail Authority instead to focus on getting trains running in the Central Valley.

Even without the $929 million in federal funding that the Trump administration now says it will “deobligate,” the High-Speed Rail Authority believes it will still have enough money to complete the expanded Central Valley segment — as long as revenues from California’s cap-and-trade auctions perform strongly.

The Trump administration’s move isn’t a surprise. Federal officials had already stopped cooperating with the state long before Newsom’s remarks.

Newsom struck a defiant tone in his statement Thursday.

“This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court,” he said.

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