Welcome to the Weekly Scan. Here’s what we’re following for the week of July 12, 2021.
Starstruck. The billionaire space race took another leap forward on Sunday as entrepreneur and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson flew to the edge of space and back. Taking off from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, it was the first time Virgin sent a fully-manned craft on a so-called suborbital journey. Branson and the crew flew aboard Virgin’s Eve rocket 53 miles above the surface of the earth, in a trip that lasted about 60 minutes. As of this weekend, Branson has become one of only 570 people to travel that far away from earth.
- The takeaway: Branson is one of several billionaires engaged in a race to privatize space exploration. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has launched numerous space flights with human pilots. Recently, SpaceX successfully sent four astronauts to the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon ship. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to travel to the edge of space aboard his company Blue Origin’s rocket New Shepard on July 20. It will be the company’s first-ever human launch. Both Bezos and Branson hope to open up space travel to private citizens. The cost of a ticket on future Virgin Galactic flight starts at more than $250,000 according to reports.
REvil geniuses. Cyber hackers attacked 200 businesses in the U.S. in a massive ransomware attack last week, attributed to the Russian cyber gang REvil. Hackers reportedly targeted IT company Kaseya, which gave them access to other companies using Kaseya’s corporate server software, in what’s known as a supply-chain attack. REvil reportedly demanded $70 million in order to return Kaseya’s access to its data. In response to the attack, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency has said it will take action against the cyber gang.
- The takeaway: REvil is thought to be responsible for the May 2021 cyberattack on JBS SA, the world’s largest meat producer. Hackers attacked JBS’ computer networks, causing a temporary shutdown of all beef plants in the U.S. Increasingly, ransomware attacks, in which hackers access a company’s information and lock the company out in demand for compensation, have become a problem for companies, and for the government. Months ago, hackers from the cybercrime gang DarkSide allegedly stole 100 gigabytes of data from Colonial Pipeline in a ransomware attack. The hack caused the pipeline company, which provides 45% of gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel to the East Coast, to shut down temporarily. In March, the Department of Homeland Security announced a 60-day sprint against ransomware attacks. The Department of Justice has also created a task force to investigate.
Return of the Jedi. The Pentagon announced last week that it will cancel a $10 billion dollar contract that had been awarded to Microsoft to build cloud-computing services for the Department of Defense, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). The Trump Administration awarded the contract to Microsoft after hearing competing offers from Microsoft, Amazon, and others. In January, the Pentagon had said that it was looking into whether or not President Trump had interfered in the contract decision. The Pentagon said it decided that lengthy and expensive legal battles over the contract would make the technology outdated once completed.
- The takeaway: The contract was meant to help the Defense Department modernize its computer systems and protect sensitive classified material. Before Microsoft received the contract, Amazon was thought to be the frontrunner. Amazon sued the government over the contract, saying that the decision had been made based on President Trump’s contentious relationship with former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Moving forward, the Pentagon said it would no longer award a single contract to one company but instead buy technology from both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, in a project called the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability.
App angst. Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C. filed an antitrust lawsuit against search-engine giant Google challenging its control over the Android app store. The lawsuit, filed in California, reportedly centers on Google’s plans to force developers using its Play Store to pay a 30% commission on future sales, starting in September. Those plans allegedly led to a backlash from companies including Netflix, Spotify, and Matchgroup, which have largely avoided commissions for their Android apps, according to reports. In response, Google has said that companies will only need to pay 15% on the first $1 million in sales.
- The takeaway: Google faces at least three other antitrust lawsuits in the U.S., related to its dominance in the search engine and advertising technology markets. Google’s most recent lawsuit is also the latest attempt by state and federal governments to curb the power of big technology companies including Google, Facebook, and Apple. However, this fight took a hit weeks ago, when a federal judge threw out suits from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the attorneys general from 46 states against Facebook, alleging that Facebook participated in monopolization by buying up social media rivals Whatsapp and Instagram. The judge said that the suits lacked sufficient legal standing.
Here’s what we covered in last week’s Scan:
- Jeff Bezos officially steps down as Amazon’s CEO.
- Juul settles its first lawsuit over marketing e-cigarettes to young people.
- Hertz emerges from bankruptcy.