Epilepsy Foundation Twitter Targeted in Cyberattack With Seizure Inducing Posts
- 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.”
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.
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)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.