- 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.
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.
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)
Purdue Pharma’s $12B Tentative Settlement Faces Push Back from State AG’s
- Purdue Pharma reached a potential $12 billion settlement with 23 states and more than 2,000 individual cases accusing the company of driving the country’s opioid crisis.
- Under the details of the agreement, the company’s owners — the Sacklers —would need to pay $3 billion of the total, apply Purdue for bankruptcy, and dissolve the company.
- A new company would then form, continuing to sell the painkiller OxyContin while also donating addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.
Tentative $12B Settlement
Purdue Pharma tentatively reached a massive settlement with more than 2,000 local governments after being sued for propagating by the United States’ opioid crisis, a move that will reportedly cost the company $12 billion dollars.
The settlement, agreed upon by 23 states, also stipulates that the owners of Purdue — the Sackler family — must relinquish their ownership and pay $3 billion of the grand total over a seven-year period.
Forbes estimates the Sacklers net worth at $13 billion, but the family’s penalty might actually end up coming from the sale of their overseas pharmaceutical company Mundipharma. If, however, the Sacklers make more than $3 billion from the sale of Mundipharma, they could end up paying up to another $1.5 billion.
Purdue manufactures OxyContin, an opioid painkiller that many have claimed drove the opioid crisis the country currently faces. The conglomeration of lawsuits against Purdue seeks to hold the company accountable for hundreds of thousands of overdoses beginning in the mid-1990s.
Purdue would also be expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, effectively dissolving the company. That, in turn, would allow the formation of a new company that would continue to sell OxyContin and other medicine. Money made from those sales would then help pay alleged victims from the lawsuits.
Additionally, Purdue would donate addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.
“Purdue Pharma continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement.
Notably, the settlement allows Purdue to avoid publishing an admission of wrongdoing.
The agreement, however, is not finalized. The company’s board must still agree to the settlement, and a bankruptcy court judge must also approve it.
If the settlement goes through, Purdue will avoid an upcoming October trial in Cleveland, which would be the first federal trial involving a company potentially being held accountable for the opioid epidemic. Attorneys who support the agreement said it is a better solution than a long trial that might not yield better results.
In August, Johnson & Johnson became the first pharmaceutical company to lose a lawsuit concerning the opioid crisis when it was forced to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma. Purdue was also implicated in the same lawsuit, but it settled with Oklahoma to pay $270 million.
In 2007, the company and three executives were forced to shell out $635 million after pleading guilty to lying to doctors and the public about OxyContin’s safety.
Response From States
While the settlement would push a large sum across the country, more than half of the states’ attorneys general criticized the tentative settlement, arguing the amount to be paid does not offset the amount governments have spent and will need to spend to fight the opioid crisis.
It comes in spite of the executive committee of lawyers representing all of the cases recommended states accept the deal.
Because of their response, that has led some commentators to question whether or not a bankruptcy judge will accept the proposal. Now, some of those state attorneys general — including those for Virginia, North Carolina, and Delaware — said they will go after the Sacklers directly.
“These people are among the most responsible for the trail of death and destruction the opioid epidemic has left in its wake,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said of the Sackler family.
Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have suggested taking criminal action against either the company or potentially the Sacklers through proposed legislation.
“If no Sacklers end up behind bars, an entire class of people will continue to feel that writing a check is the worst thing that will happen to them ever no [matter] what they do,” Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford, said.
In a statement, the family said it “supports working toward a global resolution that directs resources to the patients, families and communities across the country who are suffering and need assistance. This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation.”
Other attorneys representing various states called the agreement a win and “historic.”
“Sadly, this agreement cannot bring back those who have lost their lives to opioid abuse,” Ashley Moody, the state attorney general for Florida, said, “but it will help Florida gain access to more life-saving resources and bolster our efforts to end this deadly epidemic.”
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (Washington Post)
Supreme Court Allows for Broad Enforcement of Trump’s Asylum Rule
- The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to enforce a rule that functionally prevents most migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S.
- A federal district judge in California had previously blocked the rule, but the Supreme Court’s new decision means that it can stay in effect while legal challenges to mandate play out.
- Under the rule, migrants who have crossed through other countries to get to the southern border cannot apply for asylum in the U.S. unless they have been denied asylum in another country or have been the subject of “severe” human trafficking.
- The rule will mostly affect Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. from gang violence and high levels of crime in their home countries.
Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court issued an unsigned order Wednesday allowing the Trump administration to enforce a rule that effectively prevents most Central American migrants at the southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S. while legal challenges to the rule play out.
The rule was first issued by the Trump administration in July. It mandates that any migrant who has crossed through another country to get the southern border can not apply for asylum in the U.S.
The only exceptions are for migrants who have been denied asylum in another country or who have been victims of “severe” human trafficking.
However, that does not mean people with those qualifiers will be granted asylum; it just means that they are the only ones who can even try to apply.
The Supreme Court’s order reverses a decision by a lower court to block the rule. Right after the Trump administration announced the mandate, it was challenged by immigrants rights groups in court.
Then, towards the end of July, California Federal District Judge Jon Tigar blocked the rule. In his ruling, Tigar said that the decision to bar a group of people from asylum was a decision that had to be made by Congress
As a result, he decided that the administration’s rule “is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.” He also said that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, which requires that there is a period of public comment before a rule is enacted.
In his decision, Tigar issued a nationwide injunction ordering the administration to continue to allow all asylum applications. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that Tigar did not have the power to make that ruling nationwide.
While they agreed that the rule did go against the APA, they decided that the injunction could only apply to the geographic areas in the 9th District, which includes parts of California and Arizona. Meaning the other border states could still enforce the administration’s new rule.
Last month, Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court, asking them to put a stop on the block and to allow the rule to be implemented nationwide while the legal battle continued.
Francisco argued that Congress gives the departments of Justice and Homeland Security power to place restrictions on asylum seekers that go beyond the scope of the existing federal asylum law.
On Monday, Tigar reinstated his nationwide injunction. Again, it was blocked by the 9th Circuit, and again the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to lift the injunction.
Implications for U.S. Asylum Policy & Asylum Seekers
At the very top level, the rule is a massive change to the way the federal government has treated people seeking asylum under laws that have been in place for four decades.
The current federal law says that any foreign national who “who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States” can seek asylum in the country, as long as they can prove they face persecution in their home country.
A rule that allows the U.S. to deny most people showing up at the southern border the ability to even apply for asylum is a big shift.
According to the legal brief given to the Supreme Court by the ACLU, which represents the immigration rights groups challenging the rule in court, the asylum ban “would upend a forty-year unbroken status quo established when Congress first enacted the asylum laws in 1980.”
“The current ban would eliminate virtually all asylum at the southern border, even at ports of entry, for everyone except Mexicans (who do not need to transit through a third country to reach the United States),” the ACLU continued. “The Court should not permit such a tectonic change to U.S. asylum law, especially at the stay stage.”
The change in asylum policy most heavily impacts Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, many of whom seek asylum in the U.S. from gang violence and high levels of crime in their home countries.
Migrants from those countries by far compose the majority of people seeking asylum in the U.S. in record numbers this year.
According to the New York Times, so far this fiscal year, Border Patrol has arrested 419,831 migrant family members from those countries at the U.S. border. By contrast, just 4,312 Mexican family members have been apprehended.
Most of those families who have tried to enter the U.S. to get asylum have been released to await court hearings, according to the Justice Department, which said that more than 436,000 pending cases also include an asylum application.
Notably, the Trump administration’s new rule also could hurt refugees fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis under the Maduro regime in Venezuela, where more than four million people have already left the country, according to the UN.
That leaves many wondering where all these people will go.
Under the rule, Hondurans and Salvadorans are required to seek asylum in Guatemala or Mexico, and then be denied asylum in those places, before they can apply in the U.S. Guatemalans have to seek and be denied asylum in Mexico.
Both Guatemala and Mexico initially expressed dislike of that plan, because it would basically take the asylum problems the U.S. has and kick the can to those two countries, thus overburdening their asylum systems.
Although both countries eventually tentatively agreed, it was only after President Donald Trump had threatened them with tariffs.
While the U.S. struck a deal with Guatemala to take in more migrants, the country’s Constitutional Court has ruled that it needs further approval.
The Mexican government has also recently pushed back against the agreement that would force them to take in asylum seekers from Guatemala, which is known as the safe-third-country agreement.
The Rule Moving Forward
The Supreme Court’s Wednesday ruling was an unsigned order, and so it did not include any reason or explanation for why they blocked the lower court’s decision.
That does not mean that the highest court agrees one way or the other with the rule; it just means that they decided it can stay while the legal battles progress through court.
That, however, could take months, and until then, the rule will stay in place.
Regardless, this is a huge win on immigration for the Trump administration. Trump noted this on Twitter, writing in a tweet Wednesday, “BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!”
The president also appeared to express his support for the matter again on Thursday, writing on Twitter “Some really big Court wins on the Border lately!”
Trump is not wrong. This most recent decision follows another from the Supreme Court in July to allow the administration to use $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.
If and when the case does go to the Supreme Court, the main issue will be whether or not the administration can change asylum policy in this way without going through Congress.
The Trump administration argues that a provision in the federal law allows the attorney general to “establish additional limitations and conditions, consistent with this section, under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum.”
However, the asylum law only has a few, narrow exceptions to the rule that any foreign national can apply for asylum.
On the other side, the ACLU argued in their Supreme Court brief that “Congress went out of its way to underscore that only bars ‘consistent with’ the entirety of the asylum laws […] were permitted.”
They also added that giving the executive branch so much authority “flouts bedrock principles of separation of powers and administrative law.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
145 CEOs Sign Letter Demanding Gun Control Legislation
- 145 CEOs signed a letter urging the Senate to take legislative action to prevent gun violence in the United States.
- Major companies whose leaders signed the letter include Twitter, Reddit, Uber, Lyft, Conde Nast, Levi Strauss and more.
- They specifically asked to pass legislation on background checks and red flag laws, and added that doing nothing is “simply unacceptable.”
CEOs Sign Letter
The CEOs of 145 companies signed a letter to the Senate urging them to pass gun control legislation, saying that inaction on the matter would be “simply unacceptable.”
Leaders from companies like Levi Strauss, Uber, Lyft, Conde Nast, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Twitter, Reddit, and dozens of other signed the letter, which was first published by The New York Times Thursday.
The joint message opened by addressing the recent shootings in Dayton, Ohio, as well as El Paso and West Texas. The leaders stressed the necessity of gun laws by noting that over 100 people die as a result of gun violence in the United States every day.
“As leaders of some of America’s most respected companies and those with significant business interests in the United States, we are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” the letter said. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.”
“Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it’s preventable,” the group added.
The letter urges the Senate to “stand with the American public and take action on gun safety” and pass gun control-related legislation. Specifically, the CEOs demands a bill requiring background checks on all gun sales and extreme risk laws, also known as red flag laws.
The business heads cite that 3.5 million gun sales have been blocked since the background check system was established 25 years ago, but that it has not been updated to meet the ways people purchase guns today. The group also claims that states with red flag laws have been able to prevent potential tragedies.
“Perpetrators of mass shootings, school shootings, and hate crimes often display warning signs before committing violent acts,” the letter explains. “Additionally, people who end their life with a gun also often show signs that they are in crisis before they act. Interventions in states with Extreme Risk laws have already prevented potential tragedies. Expanding Extreme Risk laws to enable families and law enforcement nationwide to intervene when someone is at serious risk of hurting themselves or others is critical to preventing future tragedies.”
Who Signed the Letter?
Notable companies who signed the joint statement include Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Arianna Huffington, who founded the Huffington Post and signed on behalf of her company Thrive Global. Joshua Kushner also signed for his company Thrive Capital. Joshua Kushner is the brother of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Advisor.
One of the more vocal leaders who signed the document was Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi Strauss. According to the Times, he was a major player in getting others to grab their pens.
“To a certain extent, these C.E.O.s are putting their businesses on the line here, given how politically charged this is,” Bergh told the outlet. “Business leaders are not afraid to get engaged now. C.E.O.s are wired to take action on things that are going to impact their business and gun violence is impacting everybody’s business now.”
He also addressed anticipated criticism of the letter.
“This has been spun by the N.R.A. as we’re trying to repeal the Second Amendment,” he said. “Nothing is further from the truth.”
Reactions to Letter
The letter was met with a variety of reactions. John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety released a statement praising the companies and their executives.
“This diverse coalition of leading companies knows what consumers want and, for the first time, is using its combined clout and knowledge to push for common-sense gun safety legislation,” he said. “This unified corporate action represents a sea change in American culture. The experts on America’s consumers are speaking, and our elected officials should listen.”
NPR reported that the letter had made its way into the hands of senators already. According to their report, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is a prominent figure that gun control activists seek to sway, acknowledged the letter when speaking to reporters.
“What I’ve said consistently is, ‘Let’s see if we can actually make a law here.’ And making a law when you have divided government is challenging. We all have different points of view,” McConnell said.
Notable names missing from the signature spot include tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google. Other companies that have taken recent measures of their own also did not sign, including Walmart and Kroger, who both asked customers to not openly carry weapons in their stores. This prompted retailers like CVS and Walgreens to follow suit.
Walmart also penned a letter announcing that it would be limiting the types of ammunition they sell, and called on Congress to act.
“We encourage our nation’s leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger,” the company’s CEO, Doug McMillon, wrote. “We do not sell military-style rifles, and we believe the reauthorization of the Assault Weapons ban should be debated to determine its effectiveness.”