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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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Was an Iowa Official Asked to Resign Over His Love of Tupac? He Says He Doubts It

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  • Jerry Foxhoven, the former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, was ordered to resign from his job days after sending a mass email to all 4,300 employees encouraging them to celebrate Tupac’s birthday. 
  • AP news obtained 350 pages of emails between Foxhoven and staff, which included quotes, lyrics, or other references to the rapper that he sent in hopes of uplifting his staff.
  • The messages were mostly met with praise, but at least one staff member complained. 
  • Foxhoven was abruptly asked to resign without an explanation other than the office wanting to move “in a new direction,” but he says he doesn’t believe his love of Tupac was the reason for the decision.

Foxhoven Asked to Resign

A former Iowa official, who many believe was fired over his love of Tupac Shakur, says he thinks his firing had nothing to do with his support of the rapper. 

Jerry Foxhoven, the former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, was ordered to resign from his job days after he sent a mass email to employees celebrating Tupac. 

On Tuesday, the Associated Press issued a report that said it had obtained emails that showed Foxhoven routinely sent messages to employees about Tupac.  According to AP News, the agency released 350 pages of email with the words “Tupac” or “2Pac” in then, which were sent to and from Foxhoven’s account during is two-years on the job.

The mass email in question was sent on June 14 and was sent to all 4,300 agent employees. In it, Foxhoven reminded employees that Father’s day was just a few days away and coincided with Tupac’s birthday. He encouraged staff to celebrate by listening to one of his songs and included what he said was an “inspiration quote” from the artist: “Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back, it simply means that you are 2 steps ahead.” 

Along with celebrating the rapper’s birthday, Foxhoven also noted that he was celebrating his two-year anniversary as director and thanked the staff for their work. 

The following workday, Governor Kim Reynolds’ chief of staff asked him to resign. 

Longrunning Love For Tupac 

Foxhoven says he had been a huge Tupac fan since the ‘90s. “I’m a 66-year-old white guy from the Midwest who likes rap music, who likes Tupac!” he told NPR. 

Foxhoven hosted weekly “Tupac Fridays” to play his music in the office and even celebrated his 65th birthday with Tupac-themed cookies, including ones decorated with the words “Thug Life.” 

However, he was also known to quote other celebrities in holiday-themed messages. In other emails, Foxhoven marked the anniversary of the rapper’s death and sent a Valentine’s day message that shared lyrics and quotes about love.

Foxhoven also allegedly told employees that Tupac’s lyrics inspired him to improve the company’s culture, specifically pointing to lyrics like “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.”

Many praised Foxhoven for using his love of hip hop music to lift up the workplace, “I love your 2Pac messages,” one manager wrote June 14. “And the fact that you still send them (despite the haters) makes me appreciate them even more.”

“You are such a breath of fresh air Jerry!” another staff member wrote. “Thanks for all you do, to lift us up and help us feel better about what we do than we have felt in a long time!”

However, not everyone was a fan of the messages. According to AP News, at least one person complaining to lawmakers last year about them. 

Motivation For Firing Unclear

Foxhoven’s departure comes after numerous controversies at the agency including difficult contract negotiations with companies that run the Medicaid program, a trial concerning alleged mistreatment of boys at a state juvenile home, and an increase in deaths at a center for the disabled. 

While it hasn’t been confirmed that Foxhoven was pushed to leave over various Tupac messages, the timing is making many suspicious. Employees have been speculating that the two must be linked, thought Foxhoven has said they might not be. 

In a text message to AP News, he said believed that the governor had made the decision to “go in a different direction” before he sent his mass email. He said he wasn’t given a reason for the resignation request, but added that he doubted Tupac was a factor.

“I think it’s a coincidence,” Foxhoven told The New York Times in a phone interview, adding that the governor’s office had requested a meeting with him days before he sent the email. 

“I always try to assume the best of everybody, and I can’t imagine that [the governor] would base her decision on the Tupac incident,” he told NPR. “If this is the reason, I’m really disappointed.”

However, Foxhoven also told NPR that his tenure at the Department of Human Services ended without warning or a chance for an orderly transition. He said he was not even granted a meeting with Reynolds and added that the governor’s chief of staff confiscated his cellphone and ID cards on the spot, ordering him not to return to his office. 

Foxhoven also said that many directors do not serve long terms and said that his two-year tenure meant that he had outlasted many of his predecessors. Foxhoven, who had previously worked as a lawyer, professor, and children’s rights advocate, told the Times that he believed Reynolds was simply filling posts with “more political people.”

Pat Garrett, a spokesperson for the governor, told the AP: “As the governor has said, a lot of factors contributed to the resignation of Jerry Foxhoven and now Gov. Reynolds is looking forward to taking DHS in a new direction.”

According to the AP: “The governor’s office has refused to elaborate on those factors, despite an Iowa law that requires state agencies to release the “documented reasons and rationale” when employees resign instead of being terminated.”

For now, Gerd W. Clabaugh, the director of the Department of Public Health, will serve as interim director of human services.

As for Foxhoven, he told NPR that he was glad his emails are making headlines because it allows for discussions about stereotypes and music. He then noted being especially upset by a recent story about a 17-year-old teen in Arizona who was fatally stabbed by a man who said the victim’s rap music made him feel “unsafe.”

“It’s important for us to break down those stereotypes: if you listen to rap music, you’re a criminal or dangerous. It’s not true at all,” he said., adding that he hoped his situation could lead to “having open discussions about race and what we have in common, instead of what separates us.”

See what others are saying: (AP News) (The New York Times) (NPR)


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Bill Pickett to Lil Nas X: The Untold Story of Black Cowboys…

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Cowboys are the ultimate Americana. They are an image ingrained in our culture and ever-present in film and television throughout the years. There are old western movies starring John Wayne, the classic TV show The Lone Ranger, and famous outlaws like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. What you may not know, however, is some of these classic images have actually whitewashed the real history of cowboys in the American West.

Because while most of our classic references of cowboys are traditionally white men, many cowboys weren’t white. Historians estimate one in four cowboys in the wild west were black. This is the untold story of black cowboys in the American West.

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Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad Discriminated Against Openly Gay Official, Jury Finds

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  • On Monday, an eight-person jury in Polk County, Iowa found that former governor, Terry Branstad, discriminated against a state official because of his sexual orientation. 
  • The former official, Chris Godfrey, filed the lawsuit against Branstad as well as other officials in the state of Iowa in January 2012. 
  • After seven years, the case finally went to trial in June 2019 and ended six weeks later with the jury awarding Godfrey $1.5 million for emotional distress. 
  • Branstad resigned as Governor in May 2017, after he was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to China, a role he still holds. 

The Ruling 

A jury in Iowa awarded former state official Chris Godfrey $1.5 million after they determined that he had been discriminated against for his sexual orientation by the governor at the time, Terry Branstad. 

Godfrey, who was Iowa’s commissioner of workers’ compensation, filed a lawsuit against Branstad, the state of Iowa, and other state officials in January 2012. Court records show that after seven years, the case finally went to trial in June 2019 and ended six weeks later with the decision to award Godfrey.

The former state official was awarded $1 million for being denied his constitutional due process rights and another $500,000 for the discrimination and retaliation he faced. 

How This Happened 

Godfrey was appointed Iowa’s workers’ compensation commissioner in 2006 and was reappointed just before Terry Branstad became Iowa’s governor in 2011. Godfrey says that once Branstad came into office, he asked Godfrey to resign from his role. The state official refused and as a result, his salary was cut by almost $40,000. 

In Iowa, a commissioner holds their position for 6 years to protect it from partisan politics. However, the governor is able to ask a commissioner to step down from their role and if that request is refused, the governor can reduce the commissioner’s pay. According to local reports, Godfrey was one of 29 appointees Branstad asked to resign when he came into office. 

Throughout the lawsuit, Branstad insisted he did not know Godfrey’s sexual orientation and asked him to resign due to concerns that businesses had. 

However as the case continued, Branstad later admitted that Godfrey had only received positive reviews. 

When the lawsuit went to trial in June 2019, Godfrey’s lawyer argued that he was shunned by Branstad’s office because he was the only openly gay man working as an executive at the time. The attorney noted specific examples, like how Godfrey was not invited to a retreat for Branstad’s department heads and executive staff. 

In addition to Godfrey, other officials in Iowa have spoken out about Branstad, like current Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy. 

During the trial, McCoy testified that Branstad’s administration was a “men’s club,” and added that “being gay in 2011 through 2015 was not an easy thing and [Godfrey] was definitely experiencing discrimination.” 

As for Godfrey, he explained that the lawsuit for him was about getting justice. “After I had been asked to resign twice, after my pay was slashed, I felt obviously personally attacked, I needed justice,” he told the court. 

What happened to Branstad?

As for the former governor, in December 2016 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to China by President Donald Trump. Branstad was later confirmed in May 2017, after a vote 82 to 13, and he resigned as governor two days later. 

According to The Economist, Branstad and China’s ambassador are “old friends,” which is considered a great compliment in Chinese culture. The two met in 1985 during Branstad’s first term as Iowa’s governor. The article notes that in 2015, Iowa’s agricultural exports to China made up $1.4 billion of the $2.3 billion exported from the U.S.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (13NOW) (Des Moines Register)

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