8:10 AM 3/29/2018 – Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says

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Weekly Print Edition Thursday Mar 22, 2018 Please visit: http://www.sanjuanweeklypr.com/index.html 

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Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says
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Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says
 

mikenova shared this story .

“We now have evidence they’re sitting on the machines, connected to industrial control infrastructure, that allow them to effectively turn the power off or effect sabotage,” said Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, a digital security firm.

“From what we can see, they were there. They have the ability to shut the power off. All that’s missing is some political motivation,” Mr. Chien said.

American intelligence agencies were aware of the attacks for the past year and a half, and the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. first issued urgent warnings to utility companies in June. On Thursday, both agencies offered new details as the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations it accused of election meddling and “malicious cyberattacks.”

It was the first time the administration officially named Russia as the perpetrator of the assaults. And it marked the third time in recent months that the White House, departing from its usual reluctance to publicly reveal intelligence, blamed foreign government forces for attacks on infrastructure in the United States.

In December, the White House said North Korea had carried out the so-called WannaCry attack that in May paralyzed the British health system and placed ransomware in computers in schools, businesses and homes across the world. Last month, it accused Russia of being behind the NotPetya attack against Ukraine last June, the largest in a series of cyberattacks on Ukraine to date, paralyzing the country’s government agencies and financial systems.

But the penalties have been light. So far, Mr. Trump has said little to nothing about the Russian role in those attacks.

The groups that conducted the energy attacks, which are linked to Russian intelligence agencies, appear to be different from the two hacking groups that were involved in the election interference.

That would suggest that at least three separate Russian cyberoperations were underway simultaneously. One focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups. Another, by a St. Petersburg “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency, used social media to sow discord and division. A third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations.

For years, American intelligence officials tracked a number of Russian state-sponsored hacking units as they successfully penetrated the computer networks of critical infrastructure operators across North America and Europe, including in Ukraine.

Some of the units worked inside Russia’s Federal Security Service, the K.G.B. successor known by its Russian acronym, F.S.B.; others were embedded in the Russian military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U. Still others were made up of Russian contractors working at the behest of Moscow.

Russian cyberattacks surged last year, starting three months after Mr. Trump took office.

American officials and private cybersecurity experts uncovered a series of Russian attacks aimed at the energy, water and aviation sectors and critical manufacturing, including nuclear plants, in the United States and Europe. In its urgent report in June, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. notified operators about the attacks but stopped short of identifying Russia as the culprit.

By then, Russian spies had compromised the business networks of several American energy, water and nuclear plants, mapping out their corporate structures and computer networks.

They included that of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear plant near Burlington, Kan. But in that case, and those of other nuclear operators, Russian hackers had not leapt from the company’s business networks into the nuclear plant controls.

Forensic analysis suggested that Russian spies were looking for inroads — although it was not clear whether the goal was to conduct espionage or sabotage, or to trigger an explosion of some kind.

In a report made public in October, Symantec noted that a Russian hacking unit “appears to be interested in both learning how energy facilities operate and also gaining access to operational systems themselves, to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so.”

The United States sometimes does the same thing. It bored deeply into Iran’s infrastructure before the 2015 nuclear accord, placing digital “implants” in systems that would enable it to bring down power grids, command-and-control systems and other infrastructure in case a conflict broke out. The operation was code-named “Nitro Zeus,” and its revelation made clear that getting into the critical infrastructure of adversaries is now a standard element of preparing for possible conflict.

The Russians have gone farther.

In an updated warning to utility companies on Thursday, Homeland Security officials included a screenshot taken by Russian operatives that proved they could now gain access to their victims’ critical controls.

American officials and security firms, including Symantec and CrowdStrike, believe that Russian attacks on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and 2016 that left more than 200,000 citizens there in the dark are an ominous sign of what the Russian cyberstrikes may portend in the United States and Europe in the event of escalating hostilities.

Private security firms have tracked the Russian government assaults on Western power and energy operators — conducted alternately by groups under the names DragonFly, Energetic Bear and Berserk Bear — since 2011, when they first started targeting defense and aviation companies in the United States and Canada.

By 2013, researchers had tied the Russian hackers to hundreds of attacks on energy grid and oil and gas pipeline operators in the United States and Europe. Initially, the strikes appeared to be motivated by industrial espionage — a natural conclusion at the time, researchers said, given the importance of Russia’s oil and gas industry.

But by December 2015, the Russian hacks had taken an aggressive turn. The attacks were no longer aimed at intelligence gathering, but at potentially sabotaging or shutting down plant operations.

At Symantec, researchers discovered that Russian hackers had begun taking screenshots of the machinery used in energy and nuclear plants, and stealing detailed descriptions of how they operated — suggesting they were conducting reconnaissance for a future attack.

As the American government enacted the sanctions on Thursday, cybersecurity experts were still questioning where the Russian attacks could lead, given that the United States was sure to respond in kind.

“Russia certainly has the technical capability to do damage, as it demonstrated in the Ukraine,” said Eric Cornelius, a cybersecurity expert at Cylance, a private security firm, who previously assessed critical infrastructure threats for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.

“It is unclear what their perceived benefit would be from causing damage on U.S. soil, especially given the retaliation it would provoke,” Mr. Cornelius said.

Though a major step toward deterrence, publicly naming countries accused of cyberattacks still is unlikely to shame them into stopping. The United States is struggling to come up with proportionate responses to the wide variety of cyberespionage, vandalism and outright attacks.

Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who has been nominated as director of the National Security Agency and commander of United States Cyber Command, the military’s cyberunit, said during his Senate confirmation hearing this month that countries attacking the United States so far have little to worry about.

“I would say right now they do not think much will happen to them,” General Nakasone said. He later added, “They don’t fear us.”

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Department of Justice inspector general investigating alleged FISA abuses
 

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The Department of Justice’s internal watchdog announced Wednesday that it will review the DOJ and FBI’s compliance with the law and their own policies related to applications for secret surveillance warrants made “related to a certain U.S. person,” in response to requests from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Congress.

The DOJ did not name the “certain U.S. person,” but some Republican members of Congress have asked DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to look into how the DOJ and FBI obtained warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Page and the procurement of warrants through the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil him were the subjects of a controversial memo from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, which prompted Democrats on the committee to issue their own memo in response. Sessions had already announced the DOJ IG would look into the matter — the statement from the IG’s office makes it official.

Mr. Trump has also railed against the FISA process, but he publicly attacked Sessions for requesting a DOJ IG review, saying it would take too long.

“As part of this examination, the [Office of the Inspector General] also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source. Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications,” the DOJ IG said in its release Wednesday. “If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.”

Some Republicans have alleged the federal government relied too much on a dossier authored by former British spy Christopher Steele in obtaining the warrants for Page.

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Puerto Rico Report: Senate Resolution Supporting Puerto Rico on Hurricane Marias 6-month Anniversary
 

mikenova shared this story from PRN from mikenova (108 sites).

On March 22, the United States Senate passed a resolution marking the 6-month anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The resolution, titled “Marking the 6 month anniversary of the devastation of Puerto Rico and the united States Virgin Islands by Hurricane Maria,” explains facts surrounding the devastation of Hurricane Maria and concludes with support for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico – those who have chosen to move to a state as well as those who continue to live in the U.S. territory.

It’s customary for congressional resolutions to begin with a list of statements beginning with “Whereas.” The whereas clauses for this resolution began with a reminder that Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territories on September 13th, reaching Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 miles per hour and continued with the observation that “[w]hereas, 6 months since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico more than 120,000 people are still without electricity, and hundreds of thousands of people continue to lose power on a temporary basis[.]”

The resolution continued with additional points showing the severity of the continuing problems in the territories, including the fact that “tens of thousands” of people still are homeless, or are living in homes which would not generally be considered habitable in the United States. The uncertain death toll in Puerto Rico and the startling amount of debris still needing to be removed were also listed, along with the large numbers of people giving up on the possibility of a future in Puerto Rico and moving to the States.

The resolution goes on to point out the debt and healthcare crises, both of which caused severe problems in Puerto Rico before the hurricanes. Both these factors have made recovery more difficult.

In light of all these facts, the resolution concludes,

“Resolved, that the Senate pledges continued support to (A) the millions of citizens of the United States living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and (B) to the citizens of the United States who have relocated from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the mainland of the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.”

The resolution was introduced by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The resolution passed unanimously with no amendments on March 22, the same day it was introduced.

Read the resolution.

The post Senate Resolution Supporting Puerto Rico on Hurricane Maria’s 6-month Anniversaryappeared first on Puerto Rico Report.

 Puerto Rico Report

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Gay Nagle MyersAs Puerto Rico continues to recover from the September hurricanes, the new CEO of the Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) already has plans for marketing strategies and initiatives.

Brad Dean, who will take up the reins in late April after he transitions from his duties as president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, faces a host of challenges as CEO of the DMO, which was created a year ago through a merger of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. and Meet Puerto Rico.

“Up until the creation of the DMO, the tourism leadership in Puerto Rico had been conducted in silos by two separate organizations,” he said. “We need to transition beyond that, and my long-term vision is to implement an iconic global plan.”


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