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North Korea's New-Age Hackers

Good Monday afternoon. In today’s issue:
  • North Korea’s new-age hackers.
  • Uber drivers = workers.
  • GameStop gets Congress’d.
P.S. you might’ve noticed there are only 3 stories in today’s issue. That’s because later this week I’ll be sending out a mid-week story on a topic that’s been blowing up my newsfeed lately: NFTs.
If you have any niche news about NFTs - get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

North Korea’s Rep is… Not Good 
The US charged three North Koreans on Wednesday with extorting $1.3 billion in cash and cryptocurrency for North Korean intelligence services.
The Attorney for California said: “the scope of the criminal conduct by the North Korean hackers was extensive and long-running, and the range of crimes they have committed is staggering.”
And a little petty. The victims include:
  • Sony Pictures for producing ‘The Interview’ – a Seth Rogan/James Franco film showing Kim Jong-un (a) singing Katy Perry’s ‘Fireworks’ (b) being assassinated. 
  • Mammoth Screen, a UK company producing a fictional series about North Korea holding a British scientist hostage.
  • Banks in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Mexico and Malta, where hackers abused the SWIFT protocol to fleece over $1.2 billion.
  • Cryptocurrency exchanges across Slovenia, Indonesia and New York, who fell victim to malicious crypto applications and a fraudulently-marketed Blockchain platform. 
The trio also participated in the WannaCry 2.0 attack in 2017, which crippled the NHS. 
North Korea isn’t concerned with PR… but if it was, it would take offense to this:
But: the prospect of the hackers facing justice in a US court is unlikely given North Korea doesn’t extradite its citizens.
Zoom out. Instead of storming banks, balaclava-on-face, gun-in-hand, to demand cash – hackers are mobilizing keyboards to extort nations and hack digital wallets - often quickly, facelessly and with the blessing of their own government.
  • Which begs the Q: how can states respond to cyberattacks in accordance with international law?
Supreme Court Slams Uber
Uber drivers are workers - not self-employed contractors - ruled the UK Supreme Court on Friday.
The verdict closes the chapter on a 5-year battle between Uber and 25 former drivers who claim they were entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay – protections they couldn’t access while classified as self-employed.
Quick summary of how the trial went down:
  • Uber: “We do not provide transport services. All we do is connect people who want rides to people who have cars. That’s what our contracts say.”
  • Court: “Lol.”
Unlike other tech platforms (e.g. Airbnb) the court ruled drivers are subordinate to and dependent on Uber because:
  • Uber sets fare prices.
  • Drivers have no say in the contracts and terms of service Uber imposes on them.
  • Uber’s ratings system is a measure of internal performance to dictate driver employability.
Now: an employment tribunal will decide on compensation for the drivers and the floodgates will open for 1k similar claims against Uber.
The judgement only applies to the 25 drivers in the case… but it has the power fracture the business models of Uber, DoorDash and Deliveroo - who’ve been sparring with activists over the employment status of workers for years.
  • Reclassifying workers will hit these companies’ finances hard.
Bottom line: the Supreme Court has cut the umbilical cord between a worker’s status and what their contract says. The aftershocks for the gig economy, made up of 5 million+ workers, will be huge.
I’m Tired of Writing About GameStop
…and you’re tired of reading about it. But this is too good not to discuss. 
First, a refresher:
  • GameStop traded as high as $483 in January after an army of amateur investors, led by a man called ‘Roaring Kitty’, assembled on Reddit to launch a short squeeze that forced hedge funds to seek emergency bailouts. It was interesting and very funny. Until it ended - GameStop closed at $40.59 last week.
On Thursday… the House Financial Services Committee hauled the cast of the GameStop tragicomedy into a virtual hearing: “Game Stopped? Who Wins and Loses When Short Sellers, Social Media, and Retail Investors Collide?” Answers below.
Winner: cult hero Keith ‘Roaring Kitty’ Gill, who began his testimony with an apt clarification: “I am not a cat.” He then made a bullish case for GameStop, announced he is a millionaire, and ended with the sentence: “In short, I like the stock.”
Losers: us because the other testimonies were less fun. The main takeaways:
  • Vlad Tenev (Robinhood CEO): defended Robinhood’s controversial ‘payment for order flow’ model. He said it makes room for innovation e.g. the no-commission trades that made Robinhood popular.
  • Steve Huffman (Reddit CEO): made a slightly out-of-place speech on metrics, concluding (a) the activity in WallStreetBets was “within normal parameters”; (b) Reddit investment advice is “among the best.”
  • Lawmakers: bickered over whether or not the hearing was “political theatre.”
Game, please stop. Money Stuff guru Matt Levine has the best take on what’ll happen next:
“Once you call a congressional hearing on a topic, you are pretty committed to the conclusion that the topic is serious and something should be done about it. You can’t call everyone in and write memos and testimony and ask ‘what was this all about?’ and have everyone reply ‘well we just thought it would be dumb and fun to do this, and it was’ and then conclude ‘ah, well, as long as everyone had fun.’ But that might be the right answer.”
Still, the hearing follows a general trend of lawmaker confusion over how easily ‘meme-ification’ can dismantle Wall Street hierarchies e.g. the recent rise of NFTs
Elsewhere in the Roaring Kitty-verse: Keith Gill is being sued for ‘posing’ as an amateur investor and manipulating the market.
  • Hot take: arguing someone committed securities fraud by posted opinions online is probs not a winning case.
  • US officially rejoins the Paris Climate, vowing to make up for lost time.
  • Amazon in India favored big sellers – and used them to manoeuvre around rules meant to protect the country’s small retailers, a Reuters exposé reveals.
  • McDonald’s faces a new racial discrimination lawsuit. Catch up on the previous one here.
  • Spain protests the arrest of a rapper over tweets and lyrics.
  • Theranos’ lab chief is expected to testify against Elizabeth Holmes, saying the startup’s blood-testing tech was faulty (shocker).
  • Facebook will restrict the sharing of news content in Australia.
  • US Justice Department seeks more information on Salesforce’s $27 billion deal with Slack.
  • Google fires another AI ethics leader following an investigation into her use of corporate email.
As weird as 2020 was, it was an exciting year for law.
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