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Baltimore Held Hostage in Ransomware Attack

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  • A ransomware attack in Baltimore has shut down numerous government servers, preventing citizens from using essential services and blocking city employees from accessing their emails and computers.
  • The attack has been going on for two weeks and Baltimore has refused to pay the ransom.
  • This is the second attack on Baltimore in the last 15 months.
  • A similar attack in Atlanta last year cost the city an estimated $17 million in fixes.

Cyber Attack

Government computer servers in Baltimore, Maryland have been held hostage by hackers for two weeks, preventing citizens from accessing essential services and impending government functions.

The attack occurred on May 7, when hackers breached nearly 10,000 government computers and demanded the city pay them 13 bitcoins, now about $100,000, to get their system networks back.

According to the Baltimore Sun, who obtained a copy of the ransom note, the hackers said they would increase the ransom if the city did not pay in four days. If the city did not pay in 10 days, they said it would not get their information and data back at all.

Both those deadlines have come and gone, and the city has refused to pay the ransom, meaning that the servers that were shut down by the attack are still offline.

The hackers used ransomware called RobbinHood, which uses software to block access to servers. In order to get that access back, you need a sort of “digital key.” If the ransom is paid, the hackers would give the city that key. According to experts, replicating the key without the help of the hackers is essentially impossible.

Baltimore officials were first alerted to the ransomware attack when the Department of Public Works reported that their email servers had been shut down.

Once the city realized what was going on, the Office of Information Technology shut down most of the city’s non-emergency system, so the attack would not spread further.

Impact

It is not clear how widespread the attack was because the infected systems are still down.

City officials have said that emergency services like 911 dispatch were not affected by the attack, but it has still impacted the citizens of Baltimore and city employees.

Certain systems are down, so residents have not been able to access essential services, like the websites where they pay water bills, property taxes, and parking tickets.

City employees have been locked out of their emails for two weeks now, forcing them to use their own laptops and personal e-mail addresses to get work done.

The issue of government employees using private servers and personal accounts could raise questions about transparency and accountability, as those are practices usually not allowed under normal circumstances.

The attack has also hurt Baltimore’s property market because officials cannot access systems required for real estate sales.

“We are well into the restorative process, and as I’ve indicated, are cooperating with the FBI on their investigation. Due to that investigation, we are not able to share information about the attack.” Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said in a press release. “As I’ve mentioned previously, we engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts who are on-site 24-7 working with us.”

Mayor Young did not say how bad the damage was, nor did he give a definitive timeline for recovery.

“Some of the restoration efforts also require that we rebuild certain systems to make sure that when we restore business functions,” he said. “I am not able to provide you with an exact timeline on when all systems will be restored.”

Other Instances of Cyber Attacks

The attack on Baltimore has raised questions about the importance of safeguarding cities against cyber attacks. This is especially true for Baltimore, as the ransomware marks the second cyber attack the city has had in the last 15 months.

Just last March, a different attack shut down the city’s 911 system for nearly a whole day, forcing dispatchers to give first-responders essential information about emergencies by phone instead of electronically.

While any number of cities or companies are susceptible to being hacked, some experts have argued that Baltimore is especially vulnerable.

“I think broadly they are not prepared for these sorts of things, they do not have the budget,” said Bill Siegel, a chief executive at Coveware told the Wallstreet Journal. His firm helps various entities that have experienced cyber attacks and he said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that they have not been able to stay ahead of it.”

That is not for lack of trying. After last year’s attack, Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott pushed city officials to invest in strengthening the city’s cyber defenses.

According to Ars Technica, Baltimore’s information security manager also warned that the city needed a formal policy to address cybersecurity during budget hearings last year.

However, the budget did not include any funding for that policy or any other investments in information technology infrastructure. Now it’s coming back to bite them.

That said, Baltimore is not alone. Just the last year, more than 20 different municipalities have been hit by cyber attacks. Last month, Greenville, North Carolina was hit with a similar attack that used the same RobbinHood ransomware.

Last year, Atlanta made headlines when hackers demanded that the city pay $50,000 in bitcoins in another ransomware attack. Like Baltimore, both Greenville and Atlanta refused to pay the ransom.

While that’s exactly what experts and law enforcement officials recommend, often times, the costs of a cyber attack can be much higher than the ransom requested.

According to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, the attack in Atlanta ended up costing nearly $17 million to fix.

Unlike Baltimore, Greenville and Atlanta had insurance to cover cybersecurity incidents, so hypothetically, Baltimore could pay even more than Atlanta to restore the city after the hack.

Cybersecurity experts had said it probably will take months for Baltimore to recover, and the costs are expected to be extremely high, which is a burden that could end up in the hands of taxpayers.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Baltimore Sun)

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Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl

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  • Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
  • Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
  • Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
  • The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.  

Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police

Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.

The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care. 

During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.

The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.

In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.

Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”

Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.

Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.

Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.

Protests & Response

According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.

The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.

“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”

Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.

“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)

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USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022

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  • The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.

USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.

In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.

Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.

The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.

These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.

Helps Remove Extra Burdens

Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.

“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”

It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (EdSource)

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Chauvin Trial Judge Says Rep. Waters Comments Could Be Grounds for Appeal

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  • Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, said on Monday that Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-Ca.) suggestion that protesters “get more confrontational” if the jury does not return a guilty verdict could be grounds for the case to be appealed.
  • Cahill’s remarks came after Chauvin’s lawyer moved for a mistrial, arguing that  Waters’ comments, made this weekend, amounted to threats and intimidation. Cahill rejected the motion.
  • Republican politicians quickly condemned Waters and claimed she was inciting violence, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), who proposed a measure to censure her.
  • Democrats defended the Congresswoman, arguing she was not encouraging unrest and accused McCarthy of hypocrisy. Others slammed Cahill, arguing he was undermining free speech and pointing to incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

Judge Cahill Admonishes Rep. Waters

The judge overseeing the trial against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, said Monday that comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) over the weekend could be grounds for the entire case to be appealed.

While speaking in Minneapolis on Saturday, Waters said that protesters should “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is acquitted.

Following closing arguments Monday afternoon, Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, asked for a mistrial, arguing that the Congresswomen’s remarks amounted to threats and intimidation against the jury.

Judge Peter Cahill, who ended every day of testimony by telling jurors “have a good night and don’t watch the news,” dismissed the request, arguing that he believed her remarks would not prejudice the jury, but adding a key caveat.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” he said. “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.”

Response & Backlash

Immediately, numerous Republicans seized on Cahill’s comments, condemning Waters and accusing her of inciting violence.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), announced on Twitter that he was introducing a resolution to censure Waters.

Many also defended Waters, claiming she was not inciting violence. That includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) who said her colleague was talking “about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement.” 

Others who took to Twitter echoed that, arguing that McCarthy was being a hypocrite because he himself spread false election claims promoted by former President Donald Trump. Those claims would later incite the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Some additionally accused the minority leader of censuring a Black woman for speaking out against violence in her community but refusing to take any action against members of his party. Many specifically flagged Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), who is being investigated for sex trafficking a minor, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who previously posted racist and antisemitic comments on social media and liked posts calling for Pelosi to be assassinated.

Others took direct aim at Judge Cahill, arguing that he was undermining Waters’ right to free speech and that he was the one who warned the jury not to pay attention to the news but did not sequester them from the get-go.

That point was bolstered by some who pointed out previous incidents where similar remarks were not considered grounds to appeal a case.

“If a statement from Maxine Waters can be used as justification to overturn a guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin on appeal, then courts are gonna have to go back and revisit every single case where Donald Trump made a comment about pending trials for 4 years when he was in office,” CNN commentator Keith Boykin wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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