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Why Katharina Gehra Thinks Blockchain Will Change Everything

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Katharina Gehra is convinced that blockchain technologies are going to transform the world. “We see blockchain driving the whole economy,” Gehra says. “We’re already seeing exponential growth in areas such as Ethereum transactions, but there is so much more to come: the superior attributes of the blockchain compared to the internet as it stands today are going to ensure that.”

As Gehra points out, the advance of blockchain tools for a broad range of use cases is already very rapid. From delivering greater supply chain visibility to underpinning national and international digital currencies, the technology is already changing the way we work and live. But what’s more exciting, suggests Gehra, is the potential for use cases we haven’t yet imagined. “We haven’t even scratched the surface.”

Gehra sounds like something of a blockchain visionary – and that is certainly how others see her. In her day job, she serves as CEO of Immutable Insight, the business she helped to found in 2018 to put the data of the blockchain to work. But she has also been appointed as an adviser to the German government on blockchain-related topics, sits on a World Economic Forum working party on decentralised finance, and has been nominated both for Capital Magazine’s “Top 40 under 40” list and Handelsblatt newspaper’s “Top 50 most influential woman in Tech” ranking.

All this from someone who only four years ago was still working in a private equity role at Interritus and who started out in consultancy at Boston Consulting Group. Initially, explains Gehra, it was the idea of digital currencies that piqued her interest in blockchain technology, because she’d spent time looking at currency systems as part of a Master’s Degree at the London School of Economics. “I was so intrigued by the potential, and then a friend introduced me to my cofounder.”

That proved serendipitous. Gehra’s very first meeting with Volker-Henning Winterer took place at a popular tourist spot on the shores of Lake Constance – Winterer talked her through a laptop presentation on his knees – and convinced her she needed to change direction. “It was so compelling that I just dropped what I had been working on,” she recalls.

Immutable Insight was born out of that meeting. The business is focused on using analytics tools to generate insight about blockchain applications which, assuming Gehra’s vision of the future is accurate, will become ever-more valuable. The question in the short term, however, is how to monetise such expertise. After all, if we have yet to imagine all the potentially transformative use cases from blockchain, it is a little tricky to make any money out of them.

Immutable Insight has some answers, however. One is its move into asset management, where the business runs the first cryptocurrency fund recognised by by the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority. Elsewhere the business has developed tools to help businesses with know-your-customer and anti-money laundering regulation. It is also focused on sustainability, with Gehra arguing that blockchain technologies can help investors and other stakeholders secure crucial data on energy usage and emissions.

And while the idea of blockchain as a force for environmental good might sound surprising given the furore over the energy impact of bitcoin mining, Gehra points to the growing use of “proof of state” blockchain technology, which is far less damaging, even carbon neutral in some cases.

Industrial analytics is another priority for the business. Gehra envisages a world where “machines become clients”. Electric cars, for example, can become self-sustaining economic entities, she argues, with wallets to pay for charging and road use, and funding from passengers and drivers.

“The token economy creates the opportunity and the potential we see is just enormous,” Gehra says. “We’ve already seen the creation of things like crypto currency and NFTs, but they are really just digital versions of something that already exists; the big question is going to be what is the first token business model that exists ‘sui generis’.”

There is, of course, some nervousness about how these questions will play out, particularly among governments and other policymakers. To them, the word decentralized implies loss of power and control. However, Gehra believes the genie is out of the bottle. “How would you stop it?”, she asks, pointing to the impossibility of simply switching off large chunks of digital connectivity. Besides, China, the largest economy in the world, has already thrown its weight behind digitalization, launching a digital version of its own currency. Western governments need to seize the agenda or risk being left behind, Gehra warns.

“People sometimes think I’m talking crazily, when I discuss these issues, but I believe the adoption rate for these new technologies will be very high and very rapid,” Gehra says. “We are at a similar point to where we were with the internet in the middle of the 1990s – looking at those early home pages and just beginning to glimpse what might be possible.”

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Snowflake 101: 5 ways to build a secure data cloud 

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Today, Snowflake is the favorite for all things data. The company started as a simple data warehouse platform a decade ago but has since evolved into an all-encompassing data cloud supporting a wide range of workloads, including that of a data lake

More than 6,000 enterprises currently trust Snowflake to handle their data workloads and produce insights and applications for business growth. They jointly have more than 250 petabytes of data on the data cloud, with more than 515 million data workloads running each day.

Now, when the scale is this big, cybersecurity concerns are bound to come across. Snowflake recognizes this and offers scalable security and access control features that ensure the highest levels of security for not only accounts and users but also the data they store. However, organizations can miss out on certain basics, leaving data clouds partially secure. 

Here are some quick tips to fill these gaps and build a secure enterprise data cloud.

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1. Make your connection secure

First of all, all organizations using Snowflake, regardless of size, should focus on using secured networks and SSL/TLS protocols to prevent network-level threats. According to Matt Vogt, VP for global solution architecture at Immuta, a good way to start would be connecting to Snowflake over a private IP address using cloud service providers’ private connectivity such as AWS PrivateLink or Azure Private Link. This will create private VPC endpoints that allow direct, secure connectivity between your AWS/Azure VPCs and the Snowflake VPC without traversing the public Internet. In addition to this, network access controls, such as IP filtering, can also be used for third-party integrations, further strengthening security.

2. Protect source data

While Snowflake offers multiple layers of protection – like time travel and fail-safe – for data that has already been ingested, these tools cannot help if the source data itself is missing, corrupted or compromised (like malicious encrypted for ransom) in any way. This kind of issue, as Clumio’s VP of product Chadd Kenney suggests, can only be addressed by adopting measures to protect the data when it is resident in an object storage repository such as Amazon S3 – before ingest. Further, to protect against logical deletes, it is advisable to maintain continuous, immutable, and preferably air-gapped backups that are instantly recoverable into Snowpipe.

3. Consider SCIM with multi-factor authentication

Enterprises should use SCIM (system for cross-domain identity management) to help facilitate automated provisioning and management of user identities and groups (i.e. roles used for authorizing access to objects like tables, views, and functions) in Snowflake. This makes user data more secure and simplifies the user experience by reducing the role of local system accounts. Plus, by using SCIM where possible, enterprises will also get the option to configure SCIM providers to synchronize users and roles with active directory users and groups.

On top of this, enterprises also should use multi-factor authentication to set up an additional layer of security. Depending on the interface used, such as client applications using drivers, Snowflake UI, or Snowpipe, the platform can support multiple authentication methods, including username/password, OAuth, keypair, external browser, federated authentication using SAML and Okta native authentication. If there’s support for multiple methods, the company recommends giving top preference to OAuth (either snowflake OAuth or external OAuth) followed by external browser authentication and Okta native authentication and key pair authentication.

4. Column-level access control

Organizations should use Snowflake’s dynamic data masking and external tokenization capabilities to restrict certain users’ access to sensitive information in certain columns. For instance, dynamic data masking, which can dynamically obfuscate column data based on who’s querying it, can be used to restrict the visibility of columns based on the user’s country, like a U.S. employee can only view the U.S. order data, while French employees can only view order data from France.

Both features are pretty effective, but they use masking policies to work. To make the most of it, organizations should first determine whether they want to centralize masking policy management or decentralize it to individual database-owning teams, depending on their needs. Plus, they would also have to use invoker_role() in policy conditions to enable unauthorized users to view aggregate data on protected columns while keeping individual data hidden.

5. Implement a unified audit model

Finally, organizations should not forget to implement a unified audit model to ensure transparency of the policies being implemented. This will help them actively monitor policy changes, like who created what policy that granted user X or group Y access to certain data, and is as critical as monitoring query and data access patterns. 

To view account usage patterns, use system-defined, read-only shared database named SNOWFLAKE. It has a schema named ACCOUNT_USAGE containing views that provide access to one year of audit logs.

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WhatsApp rolls out new ‘Message Yourself’ feature globally • TechCrunch

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PDT, subscribe here.

We’re joining the Cyber Monday fun with 25% off annual subscriptions to TechCrunch+ content and analysis starting today until Wednesday, November 30. Plus, today only, get 50% off tickets to discover the vast unknown and attend TechCrunch Sessions: Space in Los Angeles!

Okay, we haven’t done a newsletter since Wednesday, and while the U.S. team was chillin’ like villains, the rest of the team was hard at work, so here’s some of the highlights from the last half-week of TechCrunchy goodness! — Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Talking to yourself just went digital: Instead of having that internal monologue stay in your head, now you can play out all of your thoughts to yourself in WhatsApp, Jagmeet writes. The messaging platform began rolling out an easier way to talk to yourself today after completing beta testing.
  • Great Wall of porn: That’s how Rita and Catherine describe the bot surge in China that is making it difficult to get any legitimate Twitter search results when trying to find out something about Chinese cities. Why, you ask? Rita writes that “the surge in such bot content coincides with an unprecedented wave of (COVID) protests that have swept across major Chinese cities and universities over the weekend.”
  • Your calendar, only more productive: Get ready for your calendar to be more than just a place to record things you have to do that day. Romain writes about Amie, a startup that grabbed $7 million to link your unscheduled to-do list with your calendar. The app also enables users to be social with coworkers.

Startups and VC

Dubai-based mass transit and shared mobility services provider SWVL has carried out its second round of layoffs, affecting 50% of its remaining headcount, Tage reports. The news is coming six months after SWVL laid off 32% (over 400 employees) of its workforce in a “portfolio optimization program” effort geared toward achieving positive cash flow next year.

There’s a couple of new funds in town, too! Harri reports that Early Light Ventures plots a second, $15 million fund for software ‘underdogs,’ while Mike writes that BackingMinds raises a new €50 million fund to fund normally overlooked entrepreneurs. He also writes about Pact, an all-women led VC for mission-driven startups, backed by Anne Hathaway.

And we have five more for you:

Lessons for raising $10M without giving up a board seat

Blackboard showing soccer strategy

Image Credits: Ihor Reshetniak (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Over the last two years, intelligent calendar platform Reclaim.ai raised $10 million “using a more incremental approach,” writes co-founder Henry Shapiro.

“We’ve done all this without giving up a single board seat, and Reclaim employees continue to own over two-thirds of the company’s equity,” rejecting conventional wisdom that founders should “raise as much as you can as fast as you can.”

In a TC+ post, Shapiro reviews the process they used to identify follow-on investors, shares the email template used to pitch the SAFE, and explains why “a larger cap table means more founder control.”

Three more from the TC+ team:

TechCrunch+ is our membership program that helps founders and startup teams get ahead of the pack. You can sign up here. Use code “DC” for a 15% discount on an annual subscription!

Big Tech Inc.

Amazon’s recent cost-cutting measures seem to be affecting more than just its delivery business. Manish writes that the company is shutting down its wholesale distribution business, called Amazon Distribution, in India. Amazon had started this unit to help neighborhood stores secure inventory. The company didn’t say why it was closing this particular business down, but Manish notes that this is the third such Amazon unit to be shuttered in India.

Meanwhile, Natasha L reports that Meta has gotten itself into trouble again with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (aka, the agency that regulates data protection). Facebook’s parent company is being hit with $275 million in penalties for what the agency said was breaches in data protection that resulted in some 530 million users’ personal information being leaked.

Now enjoy six more:



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French Court Says Man Was Wrongfully Fired For Not Being ‘Fun’

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You can’t be fired because a company doesn’t think you’re “fun” enough.



Frédéric Soltan I Getty Images

The Court of Cassation in Paris.

At least, that’s according to France’s highest court, The Court of Cassation, which ruled earlier this month that a man who was fired for not wanting to participate in certain company activities billed as part of their “fun” culture was wrongfully terminated, according to The Washington Post.

The man’s legal team said their client wasn’t seen as “fun” because he refused to engage in corporate events with large amounts of drinking. The man also claimed a work culture where people did activities such as miming sexual acts, sharing beds with other employees at work events, and giving people uncouth nicknames, per the outlet.

A Google translation of the court documents characterized these acts as “practices advocated by the associates linking promiscuity, bullying, and incitement to various excesses.”

The decision says the man was fired in March 2015 for not embracing the company’s “fun” culture (calling it “professional incompetence,”) as well as being more rigid of personality, the documents claim.

The company in question is Cubik Partners, a management consulting firm. It did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

France is known for its pro-employee labor laws and well-known jokes about how it’s impossible to get fired there. That is also generally true for other countries in Europe, including Ireland, where Elon Musk’s Twitter has already faced a temporary injunction for firing an executive based there.

In this case, the court ruled that firing an employee for not doing the activities in question constituted a violation of “his freedom of expression,” and that it is a “fundamental freedom” to not engage in some sort of social activity.

The fired employee had asked for over $400,000 USD, which the Paris Court of Appeals rejected last year. This ruling turned over that court’s rejection in part, ordered the company to give the former employee $3,000 euros, and said it would look at his demand for damages at some point in the future, per Insider.

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