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    The Weekly Hack: Atlanta held for ransom and must pay in Bitcoin

    Atlanta officials say the city is being held hostage

    Welcome to the future. Hackers are currently holding a major American city for ransom and are demanding that they be paid in Bitcoin.

    Atlanta officials confirmed on Monday that a ransomware attack had kicked much of its computer system offline. Without the system functioning, Atlanta is unable to collect online bills from residents, which perhaps isn’t such a bad thing for people who are behind on their water bills or traffic ticket payments.

    But the attack has frightening implications for government agencies. "This is much bigger than a ransomware attack, this really is an attack on our government," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told a news conference. "We are dealing with a hostage situation."

    The attackers have indicated that it will not restore Atlanta’s websites or computer system until they are paid $51,000 in Bitcoin.

    Ransomware, as its name suggests, freezes or infects computers and then provides a message asking for a ransom if users want their systems unlocked. Like other malware, it works by sending an email to unsuspecting users with a “phishing” link.

    Atlanta officials have not yet indicated whether they will pay the ransom.

    As of Friday afternoon, Atlanta’s page for allowing residents to pay their water and sewer bill was still not loading. The municipal court online payment webpage says; “City of Atlanta is currently experiencing technical issues which is impacting the ability to take payments at this time.”

    Under Armour

    Under Armour warned a whopping 150 million people on Thursday to change their password. The company owns a popular application called MyFitnessPal that tracks nutritional intake and workout routines. Hackers gained access to all 150 million users’ passwords, names, and email addresses.

    The company denies that credit card information was accessed but says they are getting law enforcement involved.  

    “We do not know the identity of the unauthorized party. Our investigation into this matter is ongoing,” the company announced.

    Italian soccer (football) team

    It happens to the best of us. The Italian newspaper Il Tempo is reporting that SS Lazio, a football team in Italy, was tricked into paying the final portion of a player’s contract to hackers.

    A Dutch soccer club had traded their star defender, 26-year-old De Vrij, to SS Lazio in 2014. A hacker impersonating the Dutch team recently sent SS Lazio an email asking for the final installment of his contract, or two million Euros.

    The Dutch team says they never sent that email and never received the final payment. Authorities are reportedly investigating the issue.

    Welcome to the future. Hackers are currently holding a major American city for ransom and are demanding that they be paid in Bitcoin.Atlanta officials...
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    Judge rules coffee sold in California must carry cancer warning

    A consumer group sued Starbucks under Prop 65

    A superior court judge in Los Angeles has ruled in favor of a consumer group that demanded Starbucks and other coffee sellers in the state post cancer warnings to customers.

    The warning stems, not from the beans, but the chemicals used in the roasting process.

    The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group, filed suit against nearly 100 coffee companies, including Starbucks, claiming they were violating a California law requiring warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer.

    Acrylamide, a chemical used in the roasting process, is officially classified as a carcinogen.

    'Not enough to be harmful'

    Coffee companies argued that the chemical is not present in coffee to an extent to be harmful. They claimed the suit, brought under The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, was not meant to regulate chemicals in such small amounts. They also argued that coffee, overall, is a healthy beverage.

    The judge, however, disagreed, saying the coffee industry hadn't proved it -- at least not in his courtroom.

    In a statement, the National Coffee Association said the industry is considering all options, including appeals and other legal action. It also says cancer warning labels on coffee would be misleading, pointing out the U.S. government’s own Dietary Guidelines say coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

    “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage," said National Coffee Association CEO Bill Murray. "This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health.

    Decades of conflicting studies

    Coffee has been the subject of conflicting health findings over more than four decades. In the early 1970s, it was linked to heart disease. Later, if was found to be both a cause of cancer and a prevention against it.

    Over the years, ConsumerAffairs has documented the conflicting findings here.

    In 2016, the World Health Organization reviewed 25 years of research in concluding that coffee should not be considered a carcinogen and that it may have positive health effects. The report's only caveat was that any "very hot" beverage runs the risk of cancer.

    A superior court judge in Los Angeles has ruled in favor of a consumer group that demanded Starbucks and other coffee sellers in the state post cancer warn...
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      Under Armour says 150 million MyFitnessPal accounts were affected by data breach

      Users are being urged to change their account password right away

      Under Armour has disclosed that 150 million MyFitnessPal diet and fitness app accounts were affected by a security breach. The number of records compromised make this the largest data breach this year and one of the top five in history.

      The company said it became aware of the hack on March 25, but it believes that an unauthorized party had access to the accounts since late February. Information made vulnerable to cyber criminals in the breach includes users’ email addresses, usernames, and hashed passwords.

      “The affected data did not include government-issued identifiers (such as Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers), which the company does not collect from users,” Under Armour said in a statement.

      “Payment card data was also not affected because it is collected and processed separately. The company's investigation is ongoing, but indicates that approximately 150 million user accounts were affected by this issue.”

      Users urged to change passwords

      Four days after discovering the breach, Under Armour notified MyFitnessPal users via app and email notifications. The company said users could safeguard their account and information by taking the following measures:

      • Change your password for any other account on which you used the same or similar information used for your MyFitnessPal account.

      • Review your accounts for suspicious activity.

      • Be cautious of any unsolicited communications that ask for your personal data or refer you to a web page asking for personal data.

      • Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from suspicious emails.

      Under Armour said it doesn’t know the identity of the unauthorized party and is currently working with data security firms to assist in its investigation. It did not provide details on how the hackers got into its network in the first place.

      “We continue to monitor for suspicious activity and to coordinate with law enforcement authorities,” Under Armour informed its customers. “We continue to make enhancements to our systems to detect and prevent unauthorized access to user information."

      Under Armour has disclosed that 150 million MyFitnessPal diet and fitness app accounts were affected by a security breach. The number of records compromise...
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      Facebook memo puts besieged company on the defensive again

      The company says the 2016 memo was purposefully provocative to stir debate

      On a day when Facebook took additional steps to tamp down the furor over its handling of user data, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to explain an internal Facebook memo that surfaced in the media.

      BuzzFeed published a 2016 Facebook memo to employees in which company vice president Andrew "Boz" Bosworth argued that Facebook should be prepared to do whatever is necessary to increase user growth.

      “We connect people. Period," Bosworth told Facebook employees. "That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.”

      Fuel for critics

      Facebook critics were quick to pounce on the memo, calling it further evidence that the company plays fast and loose with user privacy. Facebook has been pilloried since it revealed that an app developer obtained Facebook user data, then sold it to a political marketing group.

      Zuckerberg released a statement strongly disavowing the contents of the Bosworth memo. However, he pointed out that Bosworth was often purposely provocative in an effort to bring critical issues into the open for debate.

      "Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things. This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly," Zuckerberg said. "We've never believed the ends justify the means."

      Bad timing

      The memo's release comes at a bad time for Facebook, which has spent much of this week taking steps to reassure lawmakers, regulators, and users. On Thursday, Facebook's vice president for product management, Guy Rosen, participated in a conference call with reporters to discuss steps Facebook is taking to protect election security for the upcoming midterms.

      Rosen identified four main election security areas that Facebook is working on:

      • Combating foreign interference

      • Removing fake accounts

      • Increasing ads transparency

      • Reducing the spread of false news

      "This is a comprehensive approach we deploy in elections around the world, and we’re here today to share our thinking about what we are doing so that you can better understand our approach," Rosen said.

      Also this week, Facebook announced tweaks to the site that will cause all Facebook users to see more local news in their news feeds. Previously, the change was made only for U.S. users.

      Facebook also moved this week to exclude third-party data providers from its advertising platform, limiting what marketers know about users' shopping habits. According to industry insiders who spoke with CNBC about the move, it makes data brokers less effective while giving Facebook more control over the data used to target ads.

      On a day when Facebook took additional steps to tamp down the furor over its handling of user data, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to explain an in...
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      FCC approves SpaceX’s plan for broadband internet satellites

      The U.S. government wants to bring high-speed internet access to rural areas that lack service

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved Elon Musk’s SpaceX plan for a 4,425-satellite broadband network.

      The broadband service -- which is currently set to go by the name “Starlink” -- would deploy satellites that operate 700 to 800 miles above Earth. The FCC will require SpaceX to launch at least half of the units in its 4,425-satellite constellation within the next six years.

      "This is the first approval of a US-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," the FCC said in a statement. "With this action, the commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States."

      Providing broadband to rural and remote places

      FCC Chairman Ajit Pai presented Musk’s plan for approval back in February. In his presentation, he told fellow commissioners that satellites can help extend broadband to consumers who live in rural or remote places where fiber optic cables and cell towers don’t reach.

      "Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected," Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer at SpaceX, said in a statement.

      SpaceX plans to start launching operational satellites for the network starting next year. It will be competing with rival space internet provider OneWeb. Musk has said he hopes Starlink will have more than 40 million subscribers by 2025.

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved Elon Musk’s SpaceX plan for a 4,425-satellite broadband network.The broadband service -- which...
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      Barclays to pay $2 billion to regulators for its role in the 2008 financial crisis

      The bank’s CEO said he was ‘pleased’ with the DOJ settlement

      Ten years after the 2008 housing crisis triggered major losses in the world’s economy, a British banking giant accused of helping fuel the meltdown has finally reached a settlement with United States regulators -- and it’s about $3 billion less than what the feds originally asked for.

      Barclays has agreed to pay $2 billion to the United States Department of Justice to settle a longstanding investigation into its subprime mortgage loans.

      The housing crisis cost the United States economy an estimated $12.8 trillion, but banking institutions accused of fraudulent loan practices that led to the disaster have escaped criminal charges. The Department of Justice has instead leveled civil fines on financial institutions, though the penalties have made up a fraction of the financial damage that they said the banks caused.

      “Pleased” by the outcome

      Before the disaster, Barclays had sold $31 billion worth of mortgages to investors, half of which were later defaulted on, the DOJ said. The feds say that Barclays cost the American economy “billions” in losses.

      Barclays has fared better than other banks ordered to pay civil penalties in the wake of the crisis.

      The DOJ had originally asked for $5 billion, but Barclays refused to pay, sparking the agency to file a lawsuit in 2016.  From the beginning, Barclays said it would refuse to pay more than $2 billion, as Bloomberg reported in 2016.

      The recent announcement indicates that Barclays finally got the DOJ to fold. As part of the settlement, Barclays is not admitting to any wrong-doing alleged in the government’s investigation.

      “The settlement came at the bottom end of expectations and much sooner than expected,” Ian Gordon, an outside investment analyst, told Bloomberg News. He described the settlement as a “very happy Easter” for the bank.

      “I am pleased that we have been able to reach a fair and proportionate settlement with the Department of Justice,” CEO Jes Staley told the Guardian.

      Staley was recruited to head the bank in 2015 with a  $12.6 million compensation package. He recently praised the United States government for adopting a new tax policy that he says is “very business friendly.”

      Ten years after the 2008 housing crisis triggered major losses in the world’s economy, a British banking giant accused of helping fuel the meltdown has fin...
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      Walmart reportedly in talks to buy Humana

      The deal could continue a trend of consolidation in the healthcare industry

      The nation's largest retailer is reportedly in talks to acquire one of the nation's largest healthcare providers.

      The Wall Street Journal reports Walmart is in the very early stages of discussions with Humana that could continue the trend of retailers joining forces with the healthcare industry.

      Such a deal, should it occur, would be Walmart's largest acquisition. Humana currently has a market cap of around $37 billion, compared to Walmart's value of $260 billion.

      Walmart already operates pharmacies in 4,700 U.S. stores. It also has walk-in clinics in many of its locations that dispense vaccines and other routine healthcare services.

      CVS and Aetna

      The acquisition of Humana would follow CVS's announcement in December that it is acquiring Aetna, combining a large pharmacy chain with a major health benefits provider.

      Health benefit companies like Aetna have enormous bargaining power with pharmaceutical companies. Combining that leverage with its own, CVS Health could be in a position to strengthen its competitive position in the marketplace, even against the likes of Amazon, which has reportedly been shopping for a healthcare partner.

      A deal with Humana would take that company off the table, keeping it from linking up with Amazon, and help Walmart consolidate its foothold in the healthcare market. In particular, Humana's specialization in Medicare clients could help Walmart with seniors.

      Cigna and Express Scripts

      In early March, health insurance provider Cigna announced a $67 billion deal to acquire Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM). The two companies said the merger would lead to a full suite of medical, behavioral, specialty pharmacy, and other health engagement services to give customers more options when it comes to their healthcare.

      For consumers, it could all mean the lines between specific industries are blurring. When it comes to healthcare, it could shift from the doctor's office to a nearby retail store.

      Reacting to the CVS-Aetna merger last December, Gerald Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says consumers would likely end up with fewer choices..

      "If you have insurance through Aetna, most likely you are going to be going to a CVS and one of their Minute Clinics for healthcare," Anderson told ConsumerAffairs.

      The nation's largest retailer is reportedly in talks to acquire one of the nation's largest healthcare providers.The Wall Street Journal reports Walmar...
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      State Department proposes that all visa applicants disclose social media identities

      The move expands the Trump administration's cross-check of U.S. visitors and immigrants

      The U.S. State Department wants to widen its scrutiny of U.S. visa applicants by asking them to unveil their social media handles.

      According to a Bloomberg report, the new visa applications will ask applicants to “provide any identifiers used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding the date of application.”

      This move broadens the Department’s vetting of visa applicants. It’s possible the new information could uncover any possible ties to groups, sympathies, posts, or messages that warrant concern.

      What information will be asked for

      If this request is approved, additional questions will ask for five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, and international travel information; whether the applicant has been deported or removed from any country; and whether specified family members have been involved in terrorist activities.

      Prior to this, email addresses, phone numbers, and social media identities were asked for from applicants who the Department thought should be more closely examined. Last year, about 65,000 people fit that profile.

      Visa processing is a heavy burden for the State Department. There are an estimated 14 million visa applications a year that take 21 million annual hours to process.

      A diligent and thorough process

      In the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, Congress raised concerns about the use of social media by terrorist groups and requested that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) broaden its social media background checks.

      In turn, DHS established a task force for using social media to screen immigration applicants. Additionally, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tested programs that expanded social media screening of those applicants.

      Last December, DHS got the approval to put those supplemental background checks in place.

      The State Department provides a full list of FAQs for anyone considering applying for a visa. Also available are updated answers to questions regarding the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions.

      The U.S. State Department wants to widen its scrutiny of U.S. visa applicants by asking them to unveil their social media handles.According to a Bloomb...
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      Tamarack recalls Eclipse Kratom

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Tamarack Inc., of Roy, Utah, is recalling Eclipse Kratom-containing powder products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled powder products are packaged in plastic heat sealed pouches or plastic sealed bottles and sold in one gram capsules and powder.

      An estimated 120 units were sold directly to five retailers in Utah.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Tamarack by e-mail at 51tamarackinc@gmail.com.

      Tamarack Inc., of Roy, Utah, is recalling Eclipse Kratom-containing powder products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been rep...
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      Toyota recalls Prius C vehicles sold in Puerto Rico

      The front passenger airbag label may be missing

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 19 model year 2018 Toyota Prius C vehicles sold in Puerto Rico.

      The front passenger airbag and recommended child occupant seating positions label may not have been attached during assembly.

      If the label is missing, occupants may not follow the proper restraint usage guidelines, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners and will mail the removable labels to all known owners of the vehicles, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin April 15, 2018.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is J0L.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 19 model year 2018 Toyota Prius C vehicles sold in Puerto Rico.The front passenger airbag and rec...
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      King Arthur Flour Company organic coconut flour

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      King Arthur Flour Company is recalling 6,300 cases of Organic Coconut Flour

      Testing has revealed the presence of Salmonella in one pouch of flour.

      There have been no reports of any injuries or illnesses associated with this recall.

      The recalled product comes in a 16-oz. pouch with Best If Used By Dates of 10/25/2018, LOT: CF22017E, and 12/04/2018, LOT: CF22017E which can be found on the back of the pouch near the bottom of the panel. The UPC is 0 71012 10702 5.

      It was sold through retailers and distributors nationwide.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume it, but discard it or return it to the place of purchase for credit or refund.

      Consumers with questions regarding this recall may call the King Arthur Flour consumer hotline at 866-797-9178.

      King Arthur Flour Company is recalling 6,300 cases of Organic Coconut FlourTesting has revealed the presence of Salmonella in one pouch of flour.Th...
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      Automakers hoping to sell consumers on electric cars

      Companies are going all-in on a product that's just not that popular

      Throughout 2017 and last year, the world's automakers stepped up their commitment to all-electric vehicles.

      Honda began delivering the Clarity, an all-electric sedan at select dealerships in Oregon and California. General Motors said it will introduce two new all-electric vehicles in 2018, the first of at least 20 new electric cars it hopes to put on the road by 2023.

      Mercedes-Benz said it will offer electric versions of its entire fleet by 2022. Volkswagen committed to an all-electric vehicle lineup by 2030. VW Group CEO Matthias Mueller said that automakers must "respond to the push for electric vehicles."

      Who's asking for it?

      But push from whom? It's certainly not coming from consumers. With gasoline prices relatively low since 2015, consumers have renewed their love affair with the SUV.

      Sales of compact SUVs/crossovers rose 5 percent in 2017, according to Kelley Blue Book, making it the most popular category of vehicle, making up 17 percent of sales. Electric vehicles currently make up about 1.2 percent of U.S. car sales.

      Price may be just one factor. In February, the average transaction price on an electric vehicle was $38,062. The average transaction price for a compact SUV was $10,000 less.

      Practicality could be another factor. According to U.S. News, the Tesla Model S, with an average sticker price of over $100,000, will get more than 300 miles on a single charge, but it is the exception. The Fiat 500e only has a range of 84 miles. Recharging an electric car currently takes hours, instead of minutes at a gas pump.

      Government pressure

      Even though consumers aren't asking for them, carmakers plan to build more electric vehicles, mainly because governments are pressuring them to do so. The state of California recently passed a measure banning gasoline powered automobiles by 2040.

      The Association of Global Automakers, an industry trade group, pointed out the obvious -- someone was going to have to sell consumers on the idea and make it more attractive.

      "California has laid out another ambitious goal that will unfortunately be unachievable unless the state substantially increases and maintains public investment in incentives and infrastructure," the group said in a statement. "A self-sustaining market, based on consumer demand for green technologies, will be much more powerful and long-lasting than government mandates or regulations.”

      Consumers should expect to soon be seeing advertisements urging them to go electric. Seven states -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont -- are joining with automakers to fund an ad campaign called "Drive Change. Drive Electric."

      Global Automakers CEO John Bozzella tells Reuters that at this point, the automakers are ahead of consumers, going all-in on a product that just isn't that popular.

      Throughout 2017 and last year, the world's automakers stepped up their commitment to all-electric vehicles.Honda began delivering the Clarity, an all-e...
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      FDA may reconsider what ‘healthy’ means for food products

      The agency announced a new initiative to improve consumer health

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to improve Americans’ diets by rethinking what it means for food products to be considered “healthy.”

      In a speech delivered Thursday at the National Food Policy Conference, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb outlined a “nutrition innovation strategy,” an initiative aimed at reducing obesity rates and preventing avoidable illnesses.

      The agency’s agenda may include a focus on reducing salt consumption and the creation of an icon or symbol to label food packages that meet the possible new definition of healthy. The FDA also wants to allow companies to use more easily understandable ingredient names (to make it clear, for example, that potassium chloride is a salt).

      Cutting obesity rates

      Gottlieb compared the initiative to the agency's new tobacco policy, which includes a proposal to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to minimal or non-addictive levels.

      "Like our efforts to reduce tobacco use, our work in nutrition can do much to reduce the burden of chronic disease and the early death we see as a result of avoidable illness," Gottlieb said in the speech.

      "It can also help to break cycles of poor health, poor educational attainment, and complications from chronic disease that exacerbate burdens of illness and risk fracturing society along socioeconomic lines,” he added.

      Updated targets for salt consumption would be aligned with recommendations currently being developed by the National Academy of Sciences, Gottlieb said.

      "Improving the nutrition and diet of Americans would be another transformative effort toward reducing the burden of many chronic diseases, ranging from diabetes to cancer to heart disease," Gottlieb said. "The public health gains of such efforts would almost certainly dwarf any single medical innovation or intervention we could discover."

      The agency will open a docket and hold a public meeting this summer on the proposals.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to improve Americans’ diets by rethinking what it means for food products to be considered “healthy.” In a...
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      Bumble files suit against Match for allegedly stealing trade secrets

      The company says Match Group fraudulently obtained confidential information

      Earlier this month, Match Group -- owner of the dating app Tinder -- filed a lawsuit against its rival Bumble for alleged patent infringement and misuse of intellectual property. Now, Bumble has escalated the feud by filing a lawsuit of its own against Match.

      The lawsuit comes two weeks after the women-founded dating app published a full-page, anti-bullying open letter slamming Match’s allegations in the New York Times.

      “We swipe left on you. We swipe left on your multiple attempts to buy us, copy us, and, now, to intimidate us,” Bumble said. “We’ll never be yours. No matter the price tag, we’ll never compromise our values.”

      “We swipe left on your attempted scare tactics, and on these endless games. We swipe left on your assumption that a baseless lawsuit would intimidate us. Given your enduring interest in our company, we expected you to know us a bit better by now,” the company added.

      Bumble’s allegations

      In its lawsuit, Bumble accuses Match of stealing trade secrets, among other things, and argues that the patent lawsuit is baseless. The lawsuit isn’t Bumble’s response to Match’s initial lawsuit -- it’s a separate one altogether, TechCrunch points out.

      Bumble acknowledged that the two companies had been discussing acquisition over the past six months. However, Bumble alleges that once Match found out there were other companies also interested in investing in or acquiring Bumble, Match filed suit to make Bumble seem less attractive to those other companies.

      Bumble alleges that Match Group requested that Bumble provide “confidential and trade secret information” which Match said they “needed to provide a higher offer for Bumble” -- an offer that ultimately never came.

      Finally, Bumble claims that Match “published false or disparaging information about Bumble, including statements in the press falsely claiming that Bumble infringed Match’s intellectual property, as well as false statements in the Lawsuit”.

      Bumble says the information published by Match has potentially affected future investment and acquisition opportunities. The lawsuit requests relief in the form of monetary damages (an estimated $400M), as well as a permanent injunction preventing Match Group from using any of the confidential information it obtained during acquisition discussions.

      Earlier this month, Match Group -- owner of the dating app Tinder -- filed a lawsuit against its rival Bumble for alleged patent infringement and misuse of...
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      Boeing is the latest to be hit by WannaCry ransomware

      The attack is a reminder that Microsoft Windows users should double-check their system

      Boeing Company’s computer system was struck by the WannaCry computer virus on Wednesday. The company’s worst fear was that crucial aircraft production equipment might be crippled, but Boeing’s IT team came to the rescue and averted the crisis.

      “All hands on deck” was the message the airline builder fired off to its leadership team. In an internal memo, Mike VanderWel, Boeing’s chief engineer of commercial airplane production, said the attack was “metastasizing” and he worried it could spread to Boeing’s production systems and airline software.

      A virus that lives up to its billing

      Boeing became the latest to find out just how serious the WannaCry virus can be and how important up-to-date security settings are.

      Simply put, WannaCry makes you, well, wanna cry. The virus is what’s called a “ransomware cryptoworm.” It targets computers running Microsoft Windows and holds users hostage until they make a ransom payment in Bitcoin or another untraceable cryptocurrency.

      Even though Microsoft had released patches to fight off the virus, WannaCry is still able to paralyze computers where the patches haven’t been applied or older Windows systems that Microsoft no longer supports.

      When WannaCry first hit the scene in May, 2017, it brought more than 230,000 computers to their knees worldwide. No one was spared, either. The ransomware attack hit universities, governments, hospitals, utilities, and others including Nissan, FedEx, Honda, and even the Russian railway system.

      WannaCry’s victims were held up for between $300-$600 in ransom money before the virus’ masterminds would unlock the files the malware was holding hostage.

      In December 2017, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia formally alleged that North Korea had masterminded the attack. That assertion was backed by both Microsoft and the UK's National Cyber Security Centre. North Korea denied any involvement.

      How to protect yourself from WannaCry

      If you haven’t updated your virus protection or system software since last May, you might be still be vulnerable to WannaCry. When the virus first hit the scene, ConsumerAffairs produced an in-depth guide on the essential steps consumers should take to secure their Windows-driven computers -- where to find the patches and what to do if you’re unable to download Microsoft’s updates.

      WannaCry isn’t the only bad actor out there in the virus world. Microsoft has identified 16 ransomware bandits that go after everything from documents to media files. In a list of FAQs, the Windows support team gives consumers a complete rundown of how to protect themselves from a costly attack.

      Boeing Company’s computer system was struck by the WannaCry computer virus on Wednesday. The company’s worst fear was that crucial aircraft production equi...
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      Report says average consumer can't buy a median-priced home

      Prices are up 6.2 percent in all 20 markets monitored by Case-Shiller

      With the spring homebuying season just getting underway, home shoppers are facing a double challenge. There are fewer homes to buy and they cost more. In fact, there is new evidence suggesting that the average wage-earner is getting priced out of the housing market.

      This week, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices showed home prices rose in January in all 20 monitored real estate markets, with prices rising 6.2 percent year-over-year. Seattle, Las Vegas, and San Francisco saw the biggest year-over-year gains in the 20 cities.

      Home prices in Seattle made the biggest jump, rising 12.9 percent. Las Vegas and San Francisco were not far behind, with gains of 11.1 percent and 10.2 percent respectively.

      No longer affordable

      Attom Data Solutions reports additional discouraging news for buyers. In 68 percent of the 446 counties it analyzed, it found that the median-priced home is no longer affordable for the average wage-earner.

      The firm reached that conclusion by calculating the amount of income needed to make monthly house payments, then assumed a 3 percent down payment and a 28 percent maximum "front-end" debt-to-income ratio.

      Among the markets where the average consumer can no longer afford the median-priced home are Los Angeles County, Calif.; Maricopa County (Phoenix), Ariz.; San Diego County, Calif.; Orange County, Calif.; and Miami-Dade County, Fla.

      The report found the average consumer can still afford a median-priced home in Cook County (Chicago), Ill.; Harris County (Houston), Tex.; Dallas County, Tex.; Wayne County (Detroit), Mich.; and Philadelphia County, Pa.

      'Affordability aftershocks'

      "Coastal markets are the epicenter of the U.S. home affordability crisis, but affordability aftershocks are now being felt further inland as housing refugees migrate from the high-cost coastal markets to lower-priced markets in the middle of the country where good jobs are available," said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with ATTOM Data Solutions. "That in turn is pushing home prices above historically normal affordability limits in those middle-America markets."

      The problem appears to stem from increased competition for a limited number of homes. David Blitzer, managing director at S&P Dow Jones Indices, says fewer homes for sale is one of two problems facing the housing market. The other is a low vacancy rate.

      "The current months-supply -- how many months at the current sales rate would be needed to absorb homes currently for sale -- is 3.4," Blitzer said. "The average since 2000 is 6.0 months, and the high in July 2010 was 11.9."

      But Blitzer disagrees that affordability is a concern. He says his data shows that a family with median income can still afford a mortgage for a median-priced home. They'll just have fewer to choose from.

      With the spring homebuying season just getting underway, home shoppers are facing a double challenge. There are fewer homes to buy and they cost more. In f...
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