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Smart meter project is delayed

10 May 2013 Last updated at 05:54 ET

Smart meter and displaySmart meters show customers exactly how much gas and electricity is being used

The introduction of energy smart meters in 30 million UK homes will be delayed for more than a year, the government has announced.

The £11.7bn project will start in the autumn of 2015, rather than the summer of next year, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said.

It said that the industry needed more time to design, build and test the communications system required.

The devices show exactly how much gas and electricity is being used.

This should bring an end to estimated bills, because the technology could send back an accurate meter reading to an energy company every day.

According to the industry, the technological advance would be the equivalent of using wireless broadband instead of sending a telegram.

The programme to install these meters into every UK home is expected to be finished by 2020, also a year later than planned.

Ann Robinson, of price comparison website Uswitch.com, said she was disappointed because smart meters would have "huge benefits" but added that it was "more important to get it right so that it works for consumers".

$100,000 'not to go to university'

Jim ReedBy Jim Reed
Newsbeat politics reporter
Andrew Brackin Andrew Brackin is the second British winner of the Thiel Fellowship

Eighteen-year-old Andrew Brackin has just been given the offer of a life time.

He's been handed $100,000 (£67,000) to go and live in San Francisco and work on his own tech idea.

The teenager from London is one of 20 young business people now being sponsored by Peter Thiel, the co-creator of PayPal and one of the first people to put money into Facebook.

But the offer comes with a catch.

Andrew must agree to skip university and avoid any formal studying for at least two years.

'Apprentice on steroids'

"It was essentially the Apprentice on steroids," said Andrew after he was selected out of thousands of applicants from across the United States and 48 other countries.

Continue reading the main story

There are other options for people who know what they want and don't necessarily need a degree to get there

Andrew Brackin

"I got through the semi-finals where there was a Skype call and interviews and then the finals where they flew us out to California and we had to present our ideas on stage in front of all these important people from Silicon Valley."

All finalists had to make their presentation without written notes before an audience at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco where Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPad.

Andrew plans to use the cash to develop Bunchy, an online platform that lets charities and other organisations raise money from their audience on social networks and websites.

'Other options'

He is only the second British winner of the Thiel Fellowship, set up by Peter Thiel to pay for 20 teenagers each year to stop studying and try to set up a business instead.

The billionaire has been famously critical of university education in the past dismissing it as a waste of time and money for some students.

Continue reading the main story Peter Thiel
  • Billionaire co-creator of PayPal which lets users transfer money and pay for goods online
  • One of the first people to put money into Facebook in 2004
  • Was featured in the 2010 film the Social Network where he was played by the actor Wallace Langham
  • Has also invested in LinkedIn, Zynga and Spotify

His foundation's 20-under-20 programme pays each winner $100,000 over two years, which can be used for living expenses and business costs.

The teenagers selected also get help from Thiel and other top business people in Silicon Valley, the area of California around San Francisco which is home to companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

"I feel that many people go to university without really thinking about what they want to do," said Andrew, who went to the state-run Brit School in south London where singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele once studied.

"There are other options for people who know what they want and don't necessarily need a degree to get there."

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Germany arrests two Dutch citizens in cyber bank heist

Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, speaks at a news conference in New York, May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

1 of 6. Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, speaks at a news conference in New York, May 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

By Jessica Dye, Joseph Ax and Jim Finkle

NEW YORK/BOSTON | Fri May 10, 2013 8:59am EDT

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) - In one of the biggest ever bank heists, a global cyber crime ring stole $45 million from two Middle Eastern banks by hacking into credit card processing firms and withdrawing money from ATMs in 27 countries, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday.

The U.S. Justice Department accused eight men of allegedly forming the New York-based cell of the organization, and said seven of them have been arrested. The eighth, allegedly a leader of the cell, was reported to have been murdered in the Dominican Republic on April 27.

The ringleaders are believed to be outside the United States but prosecutors declined to give details, citing the ongoing investigation. What's clear is the sheer scope and speed of the crimes: in one of the attacks, in just over 10 hours, $40 million was raided from ATMs in 24 countries involving 36,000 transactions.

"In the place of guns and masks, this cyber crime organization used laptops and the Internet," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch said at a news conference. "Moving as swiftly as data over the Internet, the organization worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York City."

The case demonstrates the major threat that cyber crime poses to banks around the world. It also shows how increasingly international and sophisticated criminal gangs have become, particularly those using the Internet.

Prosecutors highlighted the "surgical precision" of these hackers, the global nature of their organization, and the speed and coordination with which they executed operations in 27 countries.

According to the complaint, the gang broke into the computers of two credit card processors, one in India in December 2012 and the other in the United States this February. The companies were not identified.

The hackers increased the available balance and withdrawal limits on prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by Bank of Muscat of Oman, and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah PSC (RAKBANK) of the United Arab Emirates, according to the complaint. They then distributed counterfeit debit cards to "cashers" around the world, enabling them to siphon millions of dollars from ATMs in a matter of hours.

In New York, for example, members of the cell fanned out into the city on the afternoon of February 19, armed with cards bearing a single Bank of Muscat account number. Ten hours later, they had completed 2,904 withdrawals for $2.4 million in all, the final transaction coming around 1:26 a.m., prosecutors said.

Casher crews in other countries were busy doing the same, pulling some $40 million from Bank of Muscat to add to the $5 million they stole from RAKBANK in December, according to the indictment. In total, cashers made some 40,500 withdrawals in 27 countries during the two coordinated incidents.

Prosecutors said the method of attack was known as "Unlimited Operations" in the cyber underworld.

Representatives for the two banks could not be reached for comment outside of regular business hours.

In a statement, Mastercard said it had cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation and stressed that its systems were not involved or compromised in the attacks.

In late February, Bank Muscat disclosed that it would take an impairment charge of up to 15 million rials ($39 million) because it had been defrauded overseas by 12 prepaid debit cards used for travel. That charge was equal to more than half of the 25 million rials profit it posted in its first quarter ended March 31.

HIGHLY SKILLED HACKERS

Cyber experts said they believe the operation likely required the work of several hundred people, at least several of whom were highly skilled hackers capable of devising ways to penetrate well-protected financial systems.

"Hackers only need to find one vulnerability to cause millions of dollars of damage," said Mark Rasch, a former federal cyber crimes prosecutor, based in Bethesda, Maryland.

The group may have targeted Middle Eastern banks because they tend to allow customers to put much larger sums on cards and do not monitor them as closely as banks in other regions, said Shane Shook, global vice president of consulting for the security firm Cylance Inc.

"It's a target-rich environment in terms of soft electronic security," said Shook, an Arabic speaker who has spent more than a decade investigating cyber crimes.

The case is similar to one in 2009 that targeted the prepaid debit-card unit of Royal Bank of Scotland, which lost more than $9 million in less than 12 hours, said Jason Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the Justice Department's handling of that case.

That case was considered a watershed moment in cyber crime prosecutions at the time. "This dwarfs that case," he said.

It is not clear if banks can seek to recover losses from card processors, legal experts said. Contracts usually have specific language governing the security protocols that must be in place, said Frederick Rivera, an attorney with Perkins Coie who specializes in financial services litigation.

If the processors failed to follow those requirements, they could be liable for the losses. If they had adequate security, however, the banks "could be left holding the bag," Rivera said.

The banks might also be able to seek reimbursement under their insurance policies, many of which now have cyber crime provisions, or from the processors' insurance carriers.

Weinstein also said that the processors could face regulatory scrutiny over whether they provided proper security.

The eight defendants - all U.S. citizens and residents of Yonkers, New York - were charged with withdrawing cash from the ATMs and transporting money, not hacking into the credit card processing firms or managing the operation.

The seven arrested are: Jael Mejia Collado, Joan Luis Minier Lara, Evan Jose Peña, Jose Familia Reyes, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, Emir Yasser Yeje and Chung Yu-Holguin (known as "Chino El Abusador"). All except for Rodriguez were arraigned on Thursday and pleaded not guilty. Rodriguez's attorney was unavailable. Only Pena has been released on bail.

The defendant who reportedly had been killed was Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña, also known as "Prime" and "Albertico." Lynch said it was unclear whether the murder was related to this case.

Prosecutors said cashers often laundered their proceeds by purchasing luxury goods, and sending a portion of the money back to the organization's leaders.

Lynch said the New York gang kept roughly 20 percent of their takes, and sent the rest to the organizers. Authorities said they seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and bank accounts, as well as two Rolex watches and a Mercedes SUV, from the defendants.

Investigators said that they found an email exchange with an account associated with a criminal money laundering operation in St. Petersburg, Russia, describing wire transfers.

An investigation is ongoing to see if other cells are operating in the country, Lynch said, adding that U.S. law enforcement had worked with counterparts in Japan, Canada, Germany, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, United Kingdom, Latvia, Estonia, Thailand, and Malaysia to uncover the ring.

No individual bank accounts were compromised by the scheme, Lynch said.

The case is U.S. v. Lajud-Pena et al., U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 13-cr-259.

(Editing by Noeleen Walder, Tiffany Wu, Leslie Gevirtz and Phil Berlowitz)

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Exclusive: Elon Musk quits Zuckerberg's immigration advocacy group

CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX Elon Musk speaks during a session titled ''To Infinity and Beyond: Jeff Skoll talks with Elon And Kimbal Musk'' at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX Elon Musk speaks during a session titled ''To Infinity and Beyond: Jeff Skoll talks with Elon And Kimbal Musk'' at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California April 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

By Sarah McBride and Alina Selyukh

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON | Fri May 10, 2013 6:40pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Billionaire environmentalist Elon Musk has quit a Silicon Valley advocacy group formed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after the group funded ads for senators touting their support for an oil pipeline and oil drilling in Alaska.

Musk leads one of the world's best known "green" companies, electric carmaker Tesla. A Tesla spokeswoman told Reuters on Friday that the South African-born entrepreneur preferred not to elaborate on his reasons for leaving FWD.us.

Zuckerberg announced the formation of FWD.us last month, saying it was focused on bipartisan policies to bring about comprehensive immigration reform and improvements in the U.S. education system.

Fwd.us bankrolled three television ads on behalf of senators who have been playing a key role in the immigration debate.

The ads were focused not on immigration but rather on the senator's general positions, including one's support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which has created a backlash among some progressive groups. Backers say the pipeline project would boost North American energy security and provide thousands of construction jobs. Opponents argue that it would lead to higher releases of greenhouse gases.

The spots quickly drew the ire of liberal and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and MoveOn.org, who earlier this week pledged to pull ads from Facebook for two weeks.

The Fwd.us website removed Musk's name on Friday after a Reuters inquiry. It was unclear how much Musk, who also chairs solar-energy company Solar City, had donated.

David Sacks, founder of business networking site Yammer and a former colleague of Musk's at payment service PayPal, also dropped off the list of the FWD.us backers on Friday. FWD.us spokeswoman Kate Hansen earlier confirmed that a second funder had withdrawn support but declined to elaborate. Sacks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We recognize that not everyone will always agree with or be pleased by our strategy - and we're grateful for the continued support of our dedicated founders and major contributors," FWD.us spokeswoman Hansen said in a statement.

"FWD.us remains totally committed to supporting a bipartisan policy agenda that will boost the knowledge economy, including comprehensive immigration reform."

A Facebook spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

FWD.us boasts an impressive list of backers, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, though it operates as a special type of non-profit group that does not have to disclose its donors. Run by Zuckerberg's old Harvard roommate, Joe Green, FWD.us's political operation is managed by a group of Washington insiders with leadership roles in both Republican and Democratic organizations.

It joins other technology groups and alliances lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas for high-skilled workers and easier hiring of foreign math, science and engineering experts.

Rather than directly representing the companies its backers are involved with, FWD.us is funded by individuals who have personally attached themselves - and their cash - to the cause. Zuckerberg has become the group's public face, among more than three dozen big-name supporters.

Politically, Zuckerberg has carved out bipartisan credentials, visiting the White House and hosting a town hall for President Barack Obama but also staging a fundraiser for Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey who some see as a 2016 Presidential hopeful.

The latest controversy was sparked by ads for Republican Senators Marco Rubio from Florida and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina as well as Alaskan Democrat Mark Begich. FWD.us helped fund two separate entities to run the ads.

Rather than focusing on raising public awareness over immigration reform and its benefits for the technology sector, the FWD.us ads promote lawmakers who the groups thinks will be key players on the issue.

In doing so, the ads highlight a number of positions held by the senators, including supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in Graham's case, and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Preserve in Begich's.

The ads could help inoculate the lawmakers against challenges from within their parties as a result of their stand on immigration reform. Graham and Begich are up for re-election in 2014.

Fwd.us co-founder Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist at Accel Partners, defended the group's efforts.

"Our advertising decisions are being made by a very smart team of political operatives who know that passing major reform will require some different and innovative tactics," Breyer said in an emailed statement.

For the most part, donors have stayed out of the nitty gritty of how FWD.us operates.

"It's a really gnarly, gnarly thing having to deal with Washington," venture investor and Fwd.us co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya said at a conference last month. "I'm glad that other people other than me are dealing with it who have the patience and the resolve to figure it out."

(Reporting By Sarah McBride and Alina Selyukh; Editing by Ros Krasny, Mary Milliken and Claudia Parsons)

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Astronauts Start Spacewalk To Fix Leak

Two astronauts will venture outside the International Space Station (ISS) to try and stop ammonia leaking into space from the power cooling system.

During a six-hour spacewalk, Nasa astronauts Tom Marshburn and Chris Cassidy will inspect and possibly repair the leak that was discovered on Thursday.

"Good Morning, Earth! A complex & vital day on Space Station, as Tom and Chris suit up and go outside to help fix the ammonia leak. Busy day!" ISS Commander Chris Hadfield, who will oversee the walk,   tweeted from the space station.

Norm Knight, NASA chief flight director, said earlier the spacewalk would be "precedent-setting" because it had to be performed on short notice.

He added that it was "probably one of the fastest ones" that the US space agency had had to assemble.

Nasa said the leak of ammonia, which is used to cool the station's power system, was coming from the same general area as in a previous episode in November last year.

Space Chris Hadfield tweets picture of astronauts before the spacewalk

A meteorite or a piece of orbital debris is suspected to have hit the cooling radiator and caused the problem.

ISS programme manager Michael Suffredini described it as an "annoyance because of all the work we have to do to work around the problem".

The issue took a turn for the worse on Thursday when it began leaking about five pounds of ammonia per day, up from its previous level of five pounds per year.

Cmdr Hadfield has described the leak as a "very steady stream of flakes or bits" of ammonia drifting into space.

The flakes were moving "evenly and repeatedly enough that it looks like they were coming from a point source," he has said in a recording of the conversation posted by Nasa.

Cmdr Hadfield, Dr Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko are set to return to Earth early on May 14 after completing their half-year stint aboard the station.

Nasa says the station has plenty of power, and the six-man crew is not in danger.

Both Dr Marshburn and Cmdr Cassidy have solid spacewalk experience. Dr Marshburn logged 18 hours 59 minutes of extra-vehicular activity during a 2009 mission while Cmdr Cassidy recorded 18 hours and five minutes, also in 2009.

Russian cosmonauts also use the US segment of the station affected by the leak and Russian space officials were expected to closely watch the spacewalk.

Vladimir Solovyov, flight director for the Russian segment of the space station, told the Interfax news agency that Russians may also venture into open space to inspect a Progress cargo ship.

The ship docked with ISS last month but its navigation antenna failed to properly deploy after launch.

Mr Solovyov said the cosmonauts would perform a spacewalk if specialists on the ground failed to understand the reason for the mishap.

Cybercrime: Hackers Steal £29m In ATM Heist

A global cybercrime ring stole £29m ($45m) from cashpoints in one of the biggest bank heists ever, US officials have revealed.

The gang drained the cash from two Middle Eastern banks by hacking into credit card processing firms and withdrawing money from ATMs in 27 countries.

In one of the two attacks, £26m ($40m) was raided from cashpoints across 24 countries in just over 10 hours - through a total of 36,000 transactions.

US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch described the theft as "a massive 21st-century bank heist".

She told a news conference: "In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organisation used laptops and the internet.

"Moving as swiftly as data over the internet, the organisation worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York City."

According to the US Justice Department, the gang broke into the computers of two credit card processors, one in India in December 2012 and the other in the United States this February. The companies were not identified.

The hackers increased the available balance and withdrawal limits on prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by Bank of Muscat of Oman, and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah PSC (RAKBANK) of the United Arab Emirates.

They then distributed counterfeit debit cards to "cashers" around the world, enabling them to siphon millions of dollars from ATMs in a matter of hours.

In New York, for example, members of the cell fanned out into the city on the afternoon of February 19, armed with cards bearing a single Bank of Muscat account number.

Ten hours later, they had completed 2,904 withdrawals for £1.5m ($2.4m) in total, the final transaction coming at around 1.26am.

Casher crews in other countries were busy doing the same, pulling some £26m from Bank of Muscat to add to the £3m ($5m) they stole from RAKBANK in December.

Prosecutors - who also highlighted the sophistication and "surgical precision" of the hackers - accused eight men of allegedly forming the New York-based cell of the organisation and said seven of them had been arrested.

The eighth, allegedly a leader of the cell, was reported to have been murdered in the Dominican Republic on April 27.

Officials in Washington say the ringleaders are believed to be outside the US, but refused to give more details due to the ongoing investigation.

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