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Epilepsy Foundation Twitter Targeted in Cyberattack With Seizure Inducing Posts

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  • The Epilepsy Foundation filed criminal complaints outlining an attack that allowed posts on its Twitter feed designed to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.
  • The attacks are similar to one in 2016 on journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who had a seizure when he was sent a message on Twitter that contained a strobe light GIF after he had been openly critical of Donald Trump.
  • Eichenwald’s alleged attacker was set to appear in court Monday, but the case was pushed to January. He is still expected to plead guilty to aggravated assault, and the case is likely to set a landmark precedent.

Epilepsy Foundation Cyberattack

The Epilepsy Foundation announced Monday that it filed criminal complaints “outlining a series of attacks on its Twitter feed designed to trigger seizure(s) in people with epilepsy” by posting videos and GIFs that included flashing lights.

“The attacks, which used the Foundation’s Twitter handle and hashtags to post flashing or strobing lights, deliberately targeted the feed during National Epilepsy Awareness Month when the greatest number of people with epilepsy and seizures were likely to be following the feed,” the statement continued.

While it is currently unclear how many people saw or clicked on the GIFs or videos, the foundation’s Twitter account currently has more than 33,000 followers.

According to reports, the foundation reported 30 attacks in the first week of November.

The foundation’s statement also said that the attacks they received were similar to attacks involving a man named Kurt Eichenwald.

Kurt Eichenwald’s Story

Eichenwald is a prominent journalist and author who has been open about the fact that he has epilepsy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, he had been openly critical of then-candidate Donald Trump both in articles he wrote and posts he made on Twitter.

In December 2016, Eichenwald opened a message on Twitter that contained a strobe light GIF and the words: “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.”

Source: Eichenwald v. Rivello Court Records

The GIF immediately caused him to have a seizure. Eichenwald has since said that he would have died if his wife did not find him.

Investigators looked into the attack and the user who sent it, who had the Twitter handle @jew_goldstein. They were eventually able to track the account to a man named John Rivello, who was eventually arrested in March 2017 and charged with the attack.

According to court records, investigators found that Rivello had sent several messages to other users hours before Eichenwald’s attack, including one where he wrote, “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and others where he said “Let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”

The court records also said that investigators found a screenshot on Rivello’s iCloud account that showed an edited Wikipedia page for Eichenwald that listed his death date as the day after he received the GIF. 

The page also “included some anti-Semitic references” the court documents said. Eichenwald’s father is Jewish.

Lawsuits

Eichenwald filed a federal civil lawsuit against Rivello in Maryland, where Rivello lives, and a criminal case in Texas, where Eichenwald lives. The suits accuse Rivello of battery and other charges, including hate-crime enhancement.

After Rivello was arrested, a group of neo-Nazis reportedly came to his defense and started a fundraiser to pay for his legal fees. That group has also argued that the issue at hand is freedom of speech.

While legal experts believe that argument will not hold up in court, the case is still believed to be an important testing ground for the legal limits of free speech and cyber attacks.

Rivello’s lawyers also moved to dismiss the battery claim on the grounds that there was no physical contact. Eichenwald’s lawyer, Steven Lieberman, argued that it was still battery because it still had a physical effect. 

“This is an issue of an assault using a new sort of technology,” he said.

Chief Judge James K. Bredar of the U.S. District Court in the District of Maryland who was overseeing the case ultimately agreed with Lieberman, and let the case proceed.

In his decision, Judge Bredar wrote that the “novelty of the mechanism by which the harm was achieved” did not make the actions any less harmful.

Rivello was set to appear in a Dallas County district court on Monday,  but at the last minute, the proceedings were rescheduled to Jan. 31. According to reports, Rivello is still expected to plead guilty to aggravated assault. 

The timing here is significant. Eichenwald’s case has been widely described as the first— or at least one of the first— of its kind, and is an important test case for these kinds of attacks.

That is also relevant because the Epilepsy Foundation announced its criminal charges involving similar attacks the day that the sentence was supposed to be handed down, which makes it clear that they will use this case as a precedent in court moving forward— as will others.

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

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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