New cyberattacks such as cryptojacking make past risks kids’ stuff

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Blockchain, AI, IoT and a storm of new technologies are leading to greater operational efficiency and consumer opportunities, while triggering an increasing range of cyberattacks.

In the age of digital transformation, the best defense for users is to understand past breaches in order to maintain constant vigilance for future threats.

AI applications have made inroads in robotic process automation that allows users in all professions to extract key metadata from their text, including entities, relations, concepts and sentiments. This helps lawyers run a smarter practice, for instance.

“Process automation can extract basic entities from your contracts’ metadata across different repositories and move that metadata into a contract life cycle management system,” said Andrew Pery, consultant of ABBYY, a software company that offers AI-based solutions. “So you have a single point of resources from which you can manage the contract life cycle.”

More advanced instances of process automation focus on cognitive analytics. By using the neural network, natural language processing and semantic analysis, AI extracts meaning from legal documents and may even predict the outcome of a court case.

While high technology generates excited chatter with its wide-ranging applications, it also creates new security incidents that have become increasingly complex. Recent years saw the growth of malware attacks targeting AI-powered and IoT devices.

“Everything that is connected to the internet is potentially susceptible to data breaches, and getting attached to the internet can become in essence a risk factor,” said Tomas Suros, chief solutions architect of AbacusNext, a software and private cloud services provider. “We’ve seen attacks specific to those AI-powered or IoT devices. Malware may propagate through Alexa, Siri or anything that can be used to automate activities.”

Suros said 60 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses had been infected or had a data breach at one point. Within six months, 60 percent of them went out of business.

“The scope of malware attacks is increasing,” Suros said. “The damage to your business reputation, your inability to restore and the cost associated with recovery are devastating.”

While the sophistication of cyber crimes increases, its paradigm also shifts. A hacker breaks into your network to steal information or creates a virus to corrupt your network are now “ancient” models of cyberattacks. The new culprit is no longer smash-and-dash.

“Let’s say somebody inadvertently clicks on a link in an email,” Suros said. “The malware attack may not happen immediately. Instead, a bot is dropped on your network. It does password sniffing and siphons off that information in a way that is not immediately apparent. But the bot can penetrate your network and continue to do damage.”

There is also a nefarious nature to the way these innovative attacks are initiated, as they spike immediately before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

“The goal is to find you in a weak moment when you’re busy or distracted and all it takes is one weak point in your network to initiate a deadly infection,” Suros said.

One type of malware is Trojan, which purports to be a legitimate software such as a browser or an add-on. When you install the software, however, Trojan drops malware on your system.

“After the infection starts, Trojan can identify an encrypted network drive even a couple of layers deep,” Suros said. “If you have data drives that create backups, Trojan can come in to create an infection and find those drives. Before initiating the attack, it actually has a map. This allows Trojan to hide its traps and potentially remove your ability to restore your backups of that data.”

Ransomware, a subset of malware programmed to encrypt data and block access to the computer network until money is paid, ramped up last year and is likely to rise even more in 2019.

“It comes in many shapes and sizes,” Suros said. “One of the newer variants is described as artisanal, meaning it’s designed to know its targets, what systems they’re using, and then deploy itself in ways that fool individuals by giving them information that seems familiar.”

Samsam, the ransomware used in targeted attacks, is responsible for the 2018 Atlanta cyberattack when one-third of the 424 software programs used by the city were thrown offline or partially disabled.

“Samsam doesn’t immediately start an attack,” Suros said. “It starts a scheme by recognizing the system and looking for vulnerabilities – the shortest path to a disruptive attack. It may install a crypto miner or a keystroke logger, which keeps records of every keystroke and sends them off as a file. People can deconstruct that and find your password.”

Then there’s cryptojacking – an emerging form of ransomware that may hide on your network to gain unauthorized use of your computer to mine cryptocurrency.

“It’s not encrypting your data or preventing you from using the system,” Suros said. “But it uses your resources, your central processing unit (CPU) cycles, your storage and your internet to create cryptocurrencies and send that to someone else who collects them.”

While cryptojacking malware doesn’t take all your data, it steals your resources, slows down your system and limits your security shields.

Last year also saw an upward trend in spear phishing and whaling attacks. While whaling attack is a more specific type of spear phishing that targets high-level executives, both are social engineering attacks that use psychological manipulation to trick users into revealing sensitive information.

“Spear phishing can identify your organization,” Suros said. “It may appear to come from HR, requesting you to update your password. You may receive an email from the IT department, asking you to do something and you will probably do it- thinking that the cause is to improve your technology and security.”

Suros said attacks cost businesses more than $75 billion per year- and it’s not just ransom that is paid. If individuals refuse to pay ransoms, they no longer have access to their servers or workstations.

“They are out of business until they can restore and recover,” Suros said. “There are 1.5 million phishing sites being created each month. This has become an industry and it will continue to grow this year.”

Photo at top: Recent years saw an increasing amount of advanced cyberattacks worldwide. (Miria Grunick/Flickr)

Most trendy 2018 technologies unveiled in Chicago and beyond

By Xieyang Jessica Qiao
Medill Reports

Today may be the slowest day you’re ever going to have during the rest of your life. The pace of change tomorrow will be faster than the pace today.

Chicago’s burgeoning VC opportunities and tech scene

An entrepreneurial spirit, fueled by investors who bet big on the city, is driving Chicago’s tech startup scene. According to the 2018 Chicago VC Ecosystem report, the city continues to outperform other U.S. venture ecosystems – including Silicon Valley – in terms of median multiple on invested capital (MOIC).

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How a women-led tech startup e-prescribes community resources for self-care

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

Stacy Lindau wears many hats – practicing physician, researcher, professor. But she never imagined herself a technology startup founder.

As electronic prescriptions make the old-school pencil-to-paper prescriptions obsolete, Lindau found the calling to expand the power of information technology outside exam rooms and into a broader community.

With funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Lindau created NowPow by bringing the brainchild of her research at the University of Chicago to market. Continue reading

Dreams come true at Inspiration Kitchen: How job training program helps those in need

By Lily Qi
Medill Reports

About 10 freshmen gathered at the back of the kitchen. It’s their first day here and they have no idea what is coming in the following 12 weeks. Most of them aren’t sure what is going to happen in the next few hours. This occurs every four months at the Inspiration Kitchen in East Garfield Park because but not many kitchens operate like this.

A group of first-day students meet with Inspiration Kitchen instructor Elizabeth Holland before the work day starts. (Lily Qi/Medill)

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Riding with SLAM Magazine at NBA All-Star weekend

By Andrew Donlan and John Alfes
Medill Reports

South Tryon Street buzzed on a summery, mid-February afternoon in Charlotte, as basketball fans from around the country swarmed a Sprinter van enveloped in vibrant magazine covers at the epicenter of the basketball universe — NBA All-Star weekend.

The van was placed strategically near Charlotte’s Mint Museum, which was paying homage to Nike’s Jordan brand in an atrium  exhibit of larger-than-life graphics. The basketball staple has prevailed sans uncertainty for more than three decades. Outside, another basketball brand — the iconic SLAM Magazine — put new methods of doing business to the test, led by ambitious workers determined to propel the publication forward in its third decade, too. Continue reading

Growth in European air travel expected to produce significant gains in carbon emissions

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Carbon emissions from European air travel could increase by at least 21 percent by 2040, according to a newly released study.

The 2019 European Aviation Environmental Report highlights the growth trend in the aviation sector throughout the continent. The number of kilometers flown in Europe has increased by 20 percent since 2014 and 60 percent since 2005.

This gain in travel, however, contributed an estimated 163 million metric tons of full-flight carbon dioxide emissions in 2017—an increase of 10 percent since 2014 and 16 percent since 2005. This is the equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of more than 34 million cars, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions calculator.

The report, published by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), examines this growth by the aviation industry in the context of the European Union’s stated goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In 2016, the aviation industry was responsible for 3.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions for the EU and 13.4 percent of its overall transportation emissions. This represents the second highest release of transportation emissions after road traffic.
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It’s all about the wings – Buffalo Joe’s

By Seth Schlechter
Medill Reports

It all about the wings at Buffalo Joe’s, more commonly referred to as “Buff Joe’s” and a staple in Evanston on Clark Street west of Sherman Avenue. The menu also features burgers, sandwiches and salads. This cash only restaurant offers great food at affordable prices.

“Photo at top: Buffalo Joe’s located in Evanston is a favorite eatery for Northwestern students. (Seth Schlechter/MEDILL)

Your old cell phone could become the medals for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

If you live in Japan, you might have a chance to see top athletes all over the world wear your old phones on their necks next summer.

Well, not quite, but close. The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been collecting used electronics all over Japan, including old cellphones and home appliances. The plan is to extract the metal and make – you guessed it – Olympic medals.

A Japanese factory is melting the electronics to extract the metal within. (Ⓒ Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo).

“The Medal Project,” as the committee calls it, is a big part of sustainability innovations ahead of the games. Kicked off in April 2017, the project is now near the finish line – March marks the last month of collection, said Tatsuo Ogura, senior manager of international communications for the committee.

“When we started this project in 2017, we expected it to finish in two years,” Ogura said. “We are on the right track and we almost met with the goal.”

The committee fulfilled the 2,700-kilogram goal of bronze collection last June. In October, it met 93.7 percent of the target for salvaging gold and 85.4 percent for silver, Ogura said.

A total of 1,500 municipalities across Japan are involved in the medal project, and they put the signature yellow donation boxes at post offices or street corners for citizens to donate their used devices, Ogura said. They can also donate at 2,400 NTT DOCOMO stores nationwide, Japan’s predominant mobile phone operator.

“We believe that, by supporting schemes like the medal project which encourage participation by the public, we can draw attention to the importance of recycling and help realize an environmentally friendly and sustainable society,” a NTT Docomo representative said in an email.  

The yellow donation box allows people all over Japan to donate their used electronic devices. Many athletes are on board with the project and signed their names to back the cause. (Cyan Zhong/Medill Reports)

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ABA TECHSHOW introduces cutting-edge technology for law practices

By Yixuan Xie
Medill Reports

Technology startups plan to stir up legal practices with their latest advances. Fifteen of these companies participated in the Startup Alley at the annual American Bar Association (ABA) TECHSHOW in Chicago through this past weekend.  The innovators demonstrated the integration in law office operations of their new tools for artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and data privacy.

Fifteen startups are featured in the EXPO Hall during ABA TECHSHOW in the Start-Up Alley. (Yixuan Xie/Medill)

Artificial Intelligence

Launched in June 2017, dealWIP, based in New York, helps cut the time spent on processes involved in mergers and acquisitions where buyers and sellers field many questions to make sure that they know and understand the risks associated with the transaction.

Currently managed with buyers or sellers putting their rows of questions in Excel spreadsheets and sending those out, both sides  go back and forth for many rounds,  “a very chaotic process,” said Tunji Williams, co-founder and CEO of dealWIP.

DealWIP’s fundamental innovation created a centralized and secure cloud-based space where the parties can engage in the same process real time and structured the exchange so that the parties can internally collaborate on and keep track of all questions and answers.

Machine learning is used to figure out who is the right person to receive the questions.

“If I’m selling my company and I receive a question from the potential buyer, I’m going to have somebody in my company who is best positioned to answer that question,” Williams said. “So we’re using machine learning technology that helps you figure out whom that question should go to. In the past, this question was sent to an accountant. You should probably send this question to the accountant again without having to think about it yourself.”

dealWIP co-founders, Tunji Williams and James Clarkin-Breslin, attend the startup competition of ABA TECHSHOW. (Yixuan Xie/Medill)

Teruel Carrasco, an attendee at ABA TECHSHOW, said dealWIP is one of the standouts in the Startup Alley and AI is going to be disruptive to the legal industry as a whole.

“It’s lawyers and firms who understand AI and how AI can help them that achieve better results for their clients,” Carrasco said. “However, a smart attorney will look at this as an opportunity to really be strategic about how they develop their relationships with clients. While AI accelerates the decision-making process, it will also take a lot of those administrative tasks away from lawyers.”


With increased risks of data tampering and mistrust in the digital world, Kinnami Software Corp., of Boston, offers a service for authenticating electronic files. It creates a digital fingerprint of a document and uses the Ethereum blockchain to store that information and make it irrefutable.

Here is the process illustrated on the website:

“So it’s really useful when you want to do two things. One, if you want to establish that something is authentic, which has not been tampered with or changed once it has been created,” said Sujeesh Krishnan, Kinnami CEO. “The second thing it does is that from an intellectual property copyrights perspective, it establishes that you are the owner of that asset.”

Kinnami CEO Sujeesh Krishnan demonstrates the company’s first product which is launched at ABA TECHSHOW to attendees. (Yixuan Xie/Medill)

Data Privacy

With more demands for instant responses from clients, JurisBytes, a text messaging platform startup based in Atlanta, allows attorneys to contact their clients without disclosing their personal phone number to better define and manage client relationships.

“We don’t want to have that much access. Lawyers need the peace of mind,” said Ryan Mullis, founder and CEO of JurisBytes, who is also an attorney.

Lawyers can see all their clients on an app and when they enter clients’ phone numbers, clients can receive or reply messages just like normal text messaging without downloading anything.

Besides protecting attorneys’ privacy, the platform also sends a daily usage report of the number of messages sent and received every day so that attorneys can better calculate billable hours. Losing track of how much time an attorney actually spent on a case is one of the biggest problems about using cell phones for work, Mullis said.

Launching the platform last week, JurisBytes won the 2019 Startup Alley competition on the opening night of ABA TECHSHOW.

Photo at top: JurisBytes founder and CEO Ryan Mullis (2nd from left), together with three co-founders, presents the startup’s tools/ The company was selected as the most innovative one by TECHSHOW attendees. (Yixuan Xie/Medill)

Cyber insurance: Consumer friend or foe?

By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Medill Reports

Warren Buffett is not eager for Berkshire Hathaway to be a pioneer in the “uncharted territory” of investing in cyber insurance.

Yet cyber insurance is growing and evolving rapidly in response to a surge in demand and an increasing level of cyber threats.

The total cybersecurity insurance market in the U.S. reached about $3.1 billion in 2017, a year-to-year increase of 29.5 percent compared to approximately $2.4 billion in 2016 and $1.4 billion in 2015, according to National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)’s latest cyber report. Continue reading