Electronic Arts, a video game maker, is the latest company to be hacked.

Daily Business Briefing

June 21, 2021, 9:20 a.m. ET

June 21, 2021, 9:20 a.m. ET

Electronic Arts, the maker of popular video games including the FIFA, Madden, Sims and Medal of Honor series, said Thursday that it was investigating an intrusion into its network that resulted in game source code and tools being stolen.

“We’ve already made security improvements and do not expect an impact on our games or our business,” an E.A. spokeswoman said, adding that the company was working with law enforcement officials to investigate. The company said no player data was affected.

The hacker or hackers claimed to have stolen important source code for the 2021 edition of the popular soccer game FIFA, as well as data related to a gaming creation engine called Frostbite, according to online posts made in early June on an underground forum frequented by cybercriminals. E.A. confirmed that portions of FIFA and Frostbite code had been stolen.

The posts were reviewed by Intel 471, a cybercrime intelligence firm, which said the hackers were advertising about 800 gigabytes worth of data. The incident was reported earlier by Vice News.

Michael DeBolt, Intel 471’s senior vice president of intelligence, said a hacker was advertising stolen E.A. data on a Russian-language forum as long ago as early May. That hacker offered the stolen information for a starting bid of $500,000, Mr. DeBolt said, but it was unclear whether a sale had been made or if there was a connection between the various people advertising the data.

Now, he said, a squabble has broken out on the online forums over which thief can lay claim to the crime and deserves to make money off the stolen material. “All other offers are scam or fake,” one user wrote, according to a screenshot.

“Surprisingly, cybercriminals can’t work nicely together and say nice things about each other,” Mr. DeBolt said.

He said that at least one of the people had offered some evidence through screenshots of access to stolen E.A. files. “It lends to the assessment that this claim could be credible and it needs to be investigated fully,” he said.

E.A. is the latest in a series of companies to be hit with cyberattacks in recent months, including the world’s largest meat processor, JBS, and the Colonial Pipeline, which provides fuel along the East Coast. Those hacks were ransomware attacks, where thieves try to shut down systems until a ransom is paid, but E.A. said it had not received any ransom requests.

The closed Cinerama Dome movie theater in Los Angeles. The Small Business Administration has overhauled a program meant to help music clubs, movie theaters and other venues.
Credit…Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

The Small Business Administration has essentially ousted the leaders of a deeply troubled $16 billion relief effort for live-events businesses, bringing in a new team to take over and fix the program.

More than six weeks after the long-delayed program started taking applications, 14,000 businesses have applied for a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Only 90 have been awarded one. Thousands of applicants are tangled in technical glitches and bureaucratic messes, including an error that led to many people being inaccurately declared dead.

The program, which was enacted into law in December to help music clubs, movie theaters and other venues that were forced to shut down because of the pandemic, had been managed by a team from the S.B.A.’s Office of Disaster Assistance, which also oversees the agency’s $200 billion disaster loan effort.

But on Wednesday, the agency told industry groups that it was shifting the program’s leadership to a group of employees from its Office of Capital Access, which coordinated the $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program and the $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

On a Thursday morning call with industry groups, Patrick Kelley, associate director of the S.B.A.’s Capital Access Office, said the agency would quickly resolve the mistaken death reports and speed up the review process, according to two participants on the call.

The Small Business Administration is supposed to review and approve applications in tiers, with those who suffered the deepest financial losses helped first, but its deadline for addressing the first tier of applications was Wednesday — and thousands of those applicants are still waiting. Carol Wilkerson, an agency spokeswoman, said those applicants “remain at the front of the line.”

The changes followed repeated pleas for help from lawmakers and industry advocates. “The agency’s rollout and execution of the grant program has been a disaster,” Representative Greg Stanton, an Arizona Democrat, wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Isabella Casillas Guzman, the S.B.A. administrator.

Seven trade groups also sent a letter on Wednesday asking the S.B.A. to “immediately fully fund” eligible applications. Entertainment venues are “experiencing a talent drain, cannot reopen and are hanging on by a thread because this funding is not arriving quickly enough,” they wrote.

The problem is becoming especially dire for businesses trying to salvage their summer season. Without money from the grant program, many are unable to hire staff, book performers, stock up on supplies and pay overdue bills.

Tracey Tee, the chief executive of Band of Mothers Media, which puts on a women’s comedy tour, got an email from the S.B.A. last week with the same news that has bedeviled thousands of venue owners and producers around the country. “Your name,” the email said, “appears on the Do Not Pay list with the Match Source DMF.”

Translated from bureaucratic jargon, it told Ms. Tee that she was considered dead.

“We are in debt up the wazoo,” Ms. Tee said. “We can’t afford to put shows back on the road because there’s no cash.”

Like virtually all producers, Band of Mothers — which puts on a “moms’ night out” music and comedy event called “The Pump and Dump Show” — was grounded by the pandemic last year, and has had little opportunity for revenue since. At the beginning of 2020, the company employed 13 people — most of them mothers of young children — but has since reduced its staff to two.

After receiving the email, Ms. Tee began a Kafkaesque effort to prove that the government’s information was incorrect. She called the Social Security Administration, which she said was unhelpful. An operator at her local office was friendly but said: “I think you’re being spammed or scammed,” Ms. Tee recalled.

The Small Business Administration has said little about the problem publicly. But in correspondence among applicants, the agency has acknowledged that the problem seemed to be a result of conflicts between employee identification numbers, which apply to businesses and nonprofit groups, and Social Security numbers, which apply to individuals. If a company has the same employee identification number as a dead person, the agency flagged that application as flawed.

Ms. Wilkerson, the S.B.A. spokeswoman, said the agency was working to clear up the problem and move applications forward. Mr. Kelley said on Thursday’s call that applicants should finally see the results of those efforts — and a wave of approvals — next week, according to participants on the call.


Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing company, made its initial public offering filing public on Thursday, as ride-hailing services begin reviving with the receding of the pandemic.

Founded in Beijing in 2012, Didi began as a taxi-hailing service before expanding into other forms of transportation. In 2015, it merged with another Chinese rival, Kuaidi Dache, to form what became Didi Chuxing.

Didi has since been dominant in China. In 2016, Uber, which had been spending heavily to grow in China, sold its Chinese operations to Didi. (Uber was granted a stake in the resulting company.) Didi now operates in 15 countries, including Brazil and Mexico.

The company’s I.P.O. is likely to be closely scrutinized amid a wave of other technology offerings and as Beijing has begun to rein in domestic tech giants. Didi was valued at $56 billion in 2017 and its investors include SoftBank of Japan and Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi state fund.

Didi’s filing, made under its formal name, Xiaoju Kuaizhi, showed that revenues declined 8 percent to $21.63 billion last year as passenger numbers slid during the pandemic. The company lost $1.6 billion last year, though it reported a profit of $30 million in the first quarter of this year. Like most ride-hailing companies, Didi has historically been unprofitable.

Didi said that an I.P.O. would fund an expansion.

“We aspire to become a truly global technology company,” Didi’s founders, Cheng Wei and Jean Liu, wrote in a letter included with the filing. “What we have learned and built is relevant across the globe — in Latin America, Russia, South Africa or anywhere where affordable, safe and convenient mobility is valuable.”

Other ride-hailing services have reported that business has been recovering. Last month, Uber said revenue for the first three months of the year — excluding the costs of a settlement — was up 8 percent from a year ago, to $3.5 billion. The company lost $108 million.

Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. On Thursday he called the actions that got him fired from The New Yorker “deeply moronic and indefensible.”
Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

The journalist Jeffrey Toobin has resumed his role as chief legal analyst at CNN eight months after he exposed himself on a Zoom call with colleagues at The New Yorker, where he had been a longtime staff writer.

After the October incident, the magazine fired Mr. Toobin and he took an indefinite leave from CNN, where he had been one of the cable channel’s most recognizable commentators. On Thursday, he reappeared on the network — to the surprise of some journalists there — and apologized again for his actions, saying, “It was wrong, it was stupid, and I’m trying to be a better person.”

Mr. Toobin spoke with the anchor Alisyn Camerota, who summed up the events that had prompted his temporary departure from the public eye.

“In October, you were on a Zoom call with your colleagues from The New Yorker magazine,” Ms. Camerota recounted. “Everyone took a break for several minutes, during which time you were caught masturbating on camera. You were subsequently fired from that job after 27 years of working there, and you since then have been on leave from CNN. Do I have all that right?”

“You’ve got it all right,” Mr. Toobin replied, adding, “Sad to say.”

CNN confirmed that Mr. Toobin had returned to his role but declined to comment beyond his on-air remarks.

Unlike The New Yorker — which promptly suspended Mr. Toobin, investigated his behavior and subsequently fired him — CNN was opaque in its response to the incident, saying at the time only that it had granted his request for time off “while he deals with a personal issue.”

On Thursday, Mr. Toobin told viewers that he had forgotten to turn off his camera during the call and did not realize his colleagues could see him. “This was deeply moronic and indefensible,” he said, adding that he had spent the last several months — “miserable months in my life” — pursuing “therapy, trying to do some public service, working in a food bank, which I certainly am going to continue to do.”

“I am trying to become the kind of person that people can trust again,” he added.

An on-screen graphic during the interview read: “JEFFREY TOOBIN APOLOGIZES FOR ‘EMBARRASSINGLY STUPID MISTAKE.’”

CNN and its president, Jeff Zucker, in recent weeks have been forgiving of lapses by major network personalities.

Chris Cuomo, CNN’s highest-rated prime time host, apologized on-air last month after it emerged that he had offered political advice to his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who has been facing a series of sexual harassment allegations. It was a clear breach of traditional journalistic ethics, but Chris Cuomo faced no internal discipline.

Several times on Thursday, Mr. Toobin expressed gratitude that CNN had restored his previous role. He said he believed The New Yorker’s decision to fire him “was an excessive punishment,” adding, “I’m incredibly grateful to CNN for taking me back. But, you know, other people are going to weigh in about whether it was appropriate for them to get rid of me, and for CNN to keep me.”

His prediction about criticism quickly came true.

“This is garbage,” Meghan McCain, the conservative co-host of “The View” on ABC, wrote on Twitter after learning of Mr. Toobin’s return. “What does working at a food bank have to do with this?”

In front of the CNN cameras, Mr. Toobin answered several questions from Ms. Camerota about his scandal before turning to the news of the day, offering his analysis of a court ruling that overturned an assault weapons ban in California.

The S&P 500 climbed into record territory on Thursday despite new data showing consumer price inflation rising faster than expected.

Investors have been particularly attuned to inflation, as the potential for fast-rising prices could force the Federal Reserve to rein in its support for the economic recovery. In recent months, signs that prices are rising have led to an increase in government bond yields and turbulence in the stock market.

But many economists and lawmakers have argued that the price increases are likely to be temporary, a result of shortages connected with pandemic lockdowns that will sort themselves out over time. On Thursday, the government reported that airfares and used car prices surged by more than 20 percent in May from a year earlier. Both increases are illustrative of the short-term adjustments as the economy reopens.

More broadly, the Consumer Price Index showed that prices rose 5 percent in May from the year before, the strongest year-over-year reading since 2008 and faster than the 4.7 percent increase expected by economists.

After an early jump, yields on 10-year Treasury notes fell by Thursday afternoon to 1.45 percent. The S&P 500 gained 0.5 percent, crossing above its May 7 closing high. The benchmark index is now more than 25 percent above its prepandemic high.

Concerns about an overheating economy have somewhat eased lately as monthly reports on hiring and unemployment have come in below expectations, highlighting the Fed’s contention that the recovery is far from complete.

The big policy question facing the Fed is when, and how quickly, it will begin to slow its $120 billion in monthly government-backed bond purchases. That policy is meant to keep borrowing of all kinds cheap and stoke demand, and also bolsters stock prices.

The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, and his colleagues have repeatedly said that they need to see “substantial” further progress toward maximum employment and stable inflation that averages 2 percent over time before they pull back from that policy.

Stocks in Europe were mixed on Thursday after policymakers at the European Central Bank said they would hold interest rates at record low and negative levels while continuing to buy bonds in its pandemic response program at “a significantly higher pace” for the next quarter compared with the start of the year — currently, a rate of about 80 billion euros a month.

Outside Goldman Sachs headquarters in Manhattan. The bank is requiring all of its employees in the United States to log their vaccination status in the bank’s system.
Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Goldman Sachs wants to know how many of its employees have gotten a Covid-19 shot. The bank sent a memo this week informing employees in the United States that they had until noon on Thursday to report their vaccination status.

“Registering your vaccination status allows us to plan for a safer return to the office for all of our people as we continue to abide by local public health measures,” said a section of the memo, which was sent to employees who had not yet reported their status and was obtained by the DealBook newsletter.

Disclosing vaccination status had been optional at the bank. In May, Goldman told employees that they could go maskless in the Manhattan office if they reported that they had been inoculated.

Now, all Goldman employees in the United States, regardless of whether they choose to wear a mask while in the office, will need to log their status in the bank’s internal app for employees. The app does not ask for proof of vaccination, but it does require employees to record the date they received their shots and the maker of the vaccine. Employees who falsify records will be subject to discipline, including termination of employment. Goldman has also informed employees through the app that their vaccination status may be shared with managers and used for planning.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made clear this month that it is legal to ask employees for their vaccination status so long as firms kept medical records confidential.

Employers are allowed to share vaccination status “with certain individuals if it’s relevant to the individual’s responsibilities, but they can’t share for no reason,” said Jessica Kuester, who specializes in benefits at the law firm Ogletree Deakins.

Goldman has roughly 20,000 employees based in the United States at its New York headquarters and in cities such as San Francisco and Dallas.

Companies across the country are trying to find out how many workers are vaccinated ahead of full office reopenings. They have conducted surveys, given out cash rewards upon proof of vaccination or, like Goldman, made reporting compulsory.

“It’s important to have data to make data-informed decisions,” said Johnny Taylor, chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management. He acknowledged that some may “grimace” at the idea of employers pushing for information like vaccine status.

Understanding what portion of their work force is vaccinated can help companies decide whether to try new incentives for employees to be vaccinated or consider a mandate. Goldman said in its memo that it “strongly encourages” vaccination, though the choice “is a personal one.” The Wall Street firm, which is bringing the majority of its workers back to the office this month, has been offering employees paid time off to get the shots.

“The big focus right now is we’ve got to get people vaccinated — we’ve got to get to the other side,” David Solomon, Goldman Sachs’s chief executive, told Bloomberg in January. Mr. Solomon has called working from home an “aberration.”

Several of Mr. Solomon’s rivals across Wall Street, including Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, have been critical of remote work given the industry’s focus on in-person training and client solicitation. Mr. Dimon said in May that remote work “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle.”

JPMorgan, which opened all of its U.S. offices last month, has encouraged employees in its U.S. corporate offices who want to go mask-free to report their vaccine status. Bank of America has told bankers and traders who want to come in to the office that they may self-report their vaccination status on the bank’s internal portal. Neither bank has mandated vaccines.

“We started to bring vaccinated employees back,” Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s chief executive, said in a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on May 27.

“We had about 50,000 teammates that put the information in and give us the ability to call them back and have them work. In New York City in particular, that’s starting take place,” he said.

A woman in Munich passing a mural showing traditional Bavarian musicians. Europe’s economy has been reviving from the pandemic.
Credit…Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Even as Europe’s economic outlook is rapidly improving, European Central Bank policymakers decided on Thursday to maintain their “very accommodative” monetary stance.

Governments are lifting lockdown restrictions and the vaccine rollout has sped up, which has led to a bounce in the services industry and “ongoing dynamism” in manufacturing, Christine Lagarde, president of the central bank, told reporters at a news conference in Frankfurt.

“We expect economic activity to accelerate in the second half of this year as further containment measures are lifted,” she said.

But Ms. Lagarde stressed thatlots of support was still needed and that policymakers were giving the economy a “steady hand.”

“Uncertainties remain, as the near-term economic outlook continues to depend on the course of the pandemic,” she added.

The bank said it would hold interest rates at record low and negative levels while continuing to buy bonds in its pandemic response program at “a significantly higher pace” for the next quarter compared with the start of the year — currently, a rate of about 80 billion euros a month.

“The ECB is currently choosing to err on the side of caution rather than withdraw monetary stimulus prematurely,” analysts at ING wrote in a note.

Staff members at the central bank also published new forecasts for economic growth and inflation in the region. The eurozone economy will grow 4.6 percent this year and 4.7 percent next year, they said, compared with forecasts from three months ago that predicted 4 percent and 4.1 percent growth.

In the United States, policymakers are watching rising inflation, which rose 5 percent in May, the fastest annual rate since 2008. Economists say a sustained increase in inflation would force the Federal Reserve to pull back its monetary stimulus. But Ms. Lagarde said the American and European recoveries were “a very, very different story.”

In the euro area, inflation is expected to rise over the next few years, including core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, but the increase is “largely” a result of temporary factors, the bank said. The central bank does not forecast price gains to rise above its 2 percent target.

Staff projections, which were revised higher since March, point to a 1.9 percent annual inflation rate in 2021 and 1.5 percent rate next year.

In March, the central bank increased the pace of the assets purchases in its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program, which is scheduled to buy 1.85 trillion euros worth of debt by the end of March. Bond-buying programs are intended to keep interest rates low and smooth access to credit for businesses and households.

Data published earlier this week showed that the eurozone’s economy did not fare as badly in the first quarter as initially expected. Gross domestic product declined 0.3 percent in the first three months of the year, the statistics agency said, not the 0.6 percent decline that was previously estimated.

Ms. Lagarde also said it was too soon for policymakers to even begin discussing when and how it might end its pandemic bond-buying program. “It’s too early, it’s premature, it’s unnecessary,” she said.

  • Initial claims for state jobless benefits declined last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

  • The weekly figure was about 367,000, a decrease of 58,000 from the previous week. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 71,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the prior week. The figures are not seasonally adjusted. (On a seasonally adjusted basis, state claims totaled 376,000, a decline of 9,000.)

  • It was the first time the weekly figure for initial state claims had fallen below 400,000 since the outset of the pandemic.

  • New state claims remain high by historical standards but are one-third the level recorded in early January. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as businesses return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has called for his country to achieve a more “lovable” image, but the legislation on Thursday was the latest sign that this has not led to fundamental shifts in foreign policy.
Credit…Kevin Yao/Reuters

Lawmakers in Beijing approved legislation on Thursday strengthening the authority of ministries to bar companies and individuals from obeying foreign sanctions against China. The new law was the latest in a series of moves by the Chinese government to push back against international pressure on its conduct in Hong Kong and in its far western Xinjiang region.

Passage of the new law means that multinational corporations and their employees could increasingly find themselves in a bind. The United States and the European Union have prohibited any dealings with a lengthening list of businesses and people in China who are accused of human rights violations and other offenses.

Compliance with those American and European laws would now entail a growing risk of violating Chinese laws.

China’s Ministry of Commerce issued regulations on Jan. 9 that prohibited any compliance with foreign sanctions. But the ministry has lacked the authority under that order to impose fines of more than a few thousand dollars for violations, said Nick Turner, a lawyer specializing in economic sanctions in the Hong Kong office of the Steptoe & Johnson law firm.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs then imposed a series of retaliatory measures on foreign companies and individuals in March after Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United States all imposed sanctions on China over its actions in Xinjiang. The foreign ministry’s penalties included seizure of any assets in China belonging to some of the targeted individuals and institutions, denial of visas and a ban on Chinese companies having any commercial relationships with some of them.

But Western lawyers questioned whether the foreign ministry had the legal powers to do this.

The legislature has now “gone back and put in place legal authority which clearly authorizes steps that have already been announced,” Mr. Turner said.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress approved the new law on Thursday afternoon and the congress released the full text late Thursday night in Beijing.

The legislation comes less than two weeks after China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, called for his country to achieve a more “lovable” image. But the legislation on Thursday was the latest sign that this has not led to fundamental shifts in foreign policy.

Joerg Wuttke, the president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce, criticized the secrecy with which the law was suddenly sped through the approval process this week. The law could hurt foreign investment by making companies feel like they are, “sacrificial pawns in a game of political chess,” he said in a statement.


CreditCredit…Simoul Alva

Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that tech isn’t just for nerds anymore, but companies often act as if it is.