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US tech titans look to ditch passwords

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US tech giants are out to make stolen passwords such as these displayed as part of The Glass Room pop up exhibition in San Francisco tech world relics with new standards providing a more secure way to access accounts or devices.
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Apple, Google and Microsoft said Thursday they are looking to get rid of passwords and replace them with a more secure way to access accounts or devices.

The US tech titans jointly announced support for a common standard that will let people sign in by unlocking their mobile phones, say, with fingerprint or face recognition.

“The complete shift to a passwordless world will begin with consumers making it a natural part of their lives,” said Microsoft vice president Alex Simons.

“By working together as a community across platforms, we can at last achieve this vision and make significant progress toward eliminating passwords.”

Reliance on passwords alone is decried as a major security flaw on the internet, with people keeping them overly simple or using the same one repeatedly to make it easier to manage many accounts.

Adopting standards created by the FIDO Alliance and the Word Wide Web Consortium will let websites and device makers build secure, passwordless options into their offerings, the groups said in a release.

Using secure keys instead of passwords would stymy phishing scams that trick people into disclosing log-in credentials and hackers that steal such data.

“Today is an important milestone in the security journey to encourage built-in security best practices and help us move beyond passwords,” US cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency director Jen Easterly said.

Support for password-free log-ins will be woven into Android and Chrome software over the course of the coming year, said Google product manager and FIDO Alliance president Sampath Srinivas.

Apple and Microsoft announced plans to do likewise with their software.

“This will simplify sign-ins across devices, websites, and applications no matter the platform – without the need for a single password,” Srinivas said in a blog post.

“When you sign into a website or app on your phone, you will simply unlock your phone.”

Mobile phones will store a FIDO credential referred to as a “passkey” that will be used to unlock online accounts, Srinivas explained.

“To sign into a website on your computer, you’ll just need your phone nearby and you’ll simply be prompted to unlock it for access,” Srinivas said.

Eliminating passwords was billed as more secure than two-factor authentication that involves getting one-time passcodes texted or emailed as secondary confirmation when logging into sites or services.

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Musk secures $7.1 bn to finance Twitter deal

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Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has raised $7.1 billion from wealthy investors and funds to finance his Twitter takeover
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Elon Musk has raised $7.1 billion for his Twitter acquisition from investors that include Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, according to a securities filing Thursday.

Musk, chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, listed 18 investors who agreed to cash investments including Ellison ($1 billion), Sequoia Capital ($800 million) and Vy Capital ($700 million). 

The Saudi prince, the head of the Kingdom Holding Company conglomerate, agreed to contribute about 35 million Twitter shares worth $1.9 billion so as to retain a stake in the company post-acquisition, the filing said.

Alwaleed had previously balked at Musk’s $54.20 per share offer as too low, but praised Musk on Twitter on Thursday, saying “I look forward to roll our ~$1.9bn in the ‘new’ @Twitter and join you on this exciting journey.”

The investments will reduce a $12.5 billion margin loan organized through Morgan Stanley and other banks to $6.25 billion, the filing said.

The new financing means less of Musk’s Tesla shares will be used as collateral under the margin loan. 

Musk “may receive additional financing commitments to fund additional portions of the total Merger Consideration,” the filing said, adding that the Tesla chief is in talks with former Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey and others who may contribute shares to maintain an equity stake.

The Twitter takeover is expected to close later in 2022. 

CNBC reported that upon completion of the deal, Musk is expected to serve as temporary CEO of Twitter for a few months, the network said, citing unnamed sources.

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Lufthansa optimistic for 2022 as tourist demand bounces back

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Lufthansa warns that 'ticket prices will have to rise' due to the surge in fuel costs
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German national carrier Lufthansa on Thursday said it slashed its losses in the first quarter and set its sights on a record summer for tourist traffic as demand recovers from the pandemic. 

The airline group’s net loss over the first three months of 2022 came to 584 million euros ($620 million), down from one billion euros in the same quarter last year.

The improved result was due in part to the rise in air traffic as coronavirus-related restrictions were rolled back in many countries and fears over the Omicron variant ebbed.

The number of passengers on Lufthansa flights “more than quadrupled” in the first quarter to 13 million, from three million in 2021, when travel restrictions in many markets were more severe.

“New bookings are increasing from week to week,” Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said in a statement, with demand rising particularly strongly among leisure travellers. 

“We are expecting strong growth in the summer and probably more holiday-makers than ever before,” Spohr said in a press conference.

For business travel, the recovery was slower, with the group expecting traffic to reach “around 70 percent” of its pre-coronavirus level by the end of the year, the group said in a statement.

In all, Lufthansa expected to offer “around 75 percent” of its pre-crisis capacity over the year.

– ‘On track’ –

Lufthansa’s cargo division had a “record result” in the first quarter, the carrier said, as demand for freight remained high amid turmoil in global supply chains. 

The segment recorded an operating result — a key measure of underlying profitability — of 495 million euros, up from 315 million euros in the first quarter of 2021.

Europe’s largest airline group — which includes Eurowings, Austrian, Swiss and Brussels Airlines — struggled at the outbreak of the pandemic and was saved from bankruptcy by a government bailout.

But business has picked up and Lufthansa said last November it had repaid the nine-billion-euro loan it had received from the government. 

The group was now “on track” to make a positive operating profit in the second quarter and over the year, chief financial officer Remco Steenbergen said at a press conference.

Nonetheless, the group would not include the target in its official guidance because of the “extremely volatile” price of fuel, a factor outside Lufthansa’s control.

The surge in energy costs, driven by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was “too high to be offset by additional cost reductions”, Steenbergen said, concluding that “ticket prices will have to rise”.

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Shell profit up as high oil prices offset Russia hit

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Oil prices have surged in recent months
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British energy giant Shell on Thursday logged soaring first-quarter net profit as surging oil prices offset a sizeable charge linked to its Russia exit.

Profit after tax leapt 26 percent to $7.1 billion (6.7 billion euros) from a year earlier, Shell said in a statement.

While the group took a $3.9-billion charge on its exit from Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine, it saw lower costs elsewhere.

Underlying earnings spiked almost three-fold to a quarterly record of $9.1 billion, sparking fresh calls in Britain for a windfall tax on energy majors.

UK consumers are enduring a cost-of-living crisis caused by the highest rate of inflation in decades, also as economies reopen from pandemic lockdowns.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who faces a key mid-term test in local elections Thursday, has dismissed calls for a windfall levy on oil giants, arguing it would slow their efforts to invest in cleaner energy.

Yet environmental campaigners and opposition politicians are calling for a one-off tax to ease household budgets and curb reliance on fossil fuels.

– Windfall tax –

“A windfall tax on these unexpected record profits of unimaginable sums would be the fastest and fairest way to ease pressure on households feeling the pinch and reduce our dependence on oil and gas, which is the root cause of the cost of living crisis,” said Greenpeace UK’s Philip Evans.

Shell added Thursday that revenues rallied 51 percent to $84.2 billion in the first three months of the year.

Oil prices have surged in recent months on concerns over tight supplies following the invasion of Ukraine by major oil and gas producer Russia.

“The war in Ukraine is first and foremost a human tragedy, but it has also caused significant disruption to global energy markets and has shown that secure, reliable and affordable energy simply cannot be taken for granted,” noted chief executive Ben van Beurden.

“The impacts of this uncertainty and the higher cost that comes with it are being felt far and wide.”

The London-listed group last month flagged it would take a hit of between $4 billion and $5 billion in the first quarter as a result of impairment from assets and additional charges relating to its Russian activities.

Shell announced in late February that it would sell its stakes in all joint ventures with Russian state energy giant Gazprom after the Kremlin launched its assault on Ukraine.

– Share buyback –

The company then decided in March to withdraw from Russian gas and oil in line with UK government policy.

Britain, which is far less dependent than the rest of Europe on Russian energy, plans to phase out oil imports by the end of 2022 and eventually stop importing its gas. 

Shell’s British rival BP on Tuesday booked its biggest-ever quarterly loss, at $20.4 billion, after a mammoth $25.5 billion charge on its Russian withdrawal.

However, BP also logged record-high underlying profits for the first quarter on high oil prices.

Shell has meanwhile begun the second tranche of its $8.5-billion share buyback unveiled in February.

The group’s share price rallied 3.1 percent to £22.95 in morning deals on London’s rising stock market.

“The recovery in energy prices from the depths of the pandemic had already allowed Shell to reduce net debt and begin a renewed focus on shareholder returns,” said Interactive Investor analyst Richard Hunter

World oil prices rocketed close to $140 per barrel in early March, although they have since fallen back to around $100.

Both BP and Shell had suffered vast losses in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic slashed energy demand and prices.

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