- Russian hackers are suspected of breaching various U.S. government agencies, including most recently, the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
- The National Nuclear Security Administration controls America’s nuclear weapon stockpile; however, the agency has reported that no critical infrastructure or information was compromised in the attack.
- This attack is the latest in what’s been dubbed the SolarWinds attacks, named after the company that makes a networking software used by the vast majority of U.S. companies and governments that had been infiltrated by the hackers.
- The U.S. agency in charge of cybersecurity, CISA, has increasingly come under scrutiny from President Trump, leaving the agency without seasoned leadership and under strain from the scale of the SolarWinds attacks.
U.S. Government Agencies Widely Hacked
An increasing number of U.S. federal agencies and at least three states were hacked as part of a suspected Russian cyber-attack. A recent report from Politico published on Thursday indicates that the U.S. Department of Energy and some of its subsidiaries were targeted and some access was gained into their systems.
The U.S. Energy Department, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains America’s nuclear weapon stockpile, and the semi-autonomous Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) say that while they were part of a widespread and coordinated attack, the hackers didn’t affect “mission-essential national security functions,” according to Shaylyn Hynes, an Energy Department spokeswoman.
“At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only,” she added.
The attacks are believed to be part of a wider hacking effort by Russian actors. These attacks have been dubbed the SolarWinds hack and it’s believed that the hackers were able to gain access to widespread business and government agencies that use SolarWinds’ Orion program, a near-ubiquitous network management tool used across America’s governments and businesses.
The entities targeted include a vast list of Fortune 500 companies, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, and the State Department.
It was initially reported by Reuters that Microsoft was among the initial targets, and from there, hackers managed to gain access to other entitie s. Microsoft denies this version of events, with spokesperson Frank Shaw stating that the company found malicious code “in our environment, which we isolated and removed.”
“We have not found evidence of access to production services or customer data,” he said in a tweet. “Our investigations, which are ongoing, have found absolutely no indication that our systems were used to attack others.”
On Dec. 18, The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said the hackers posed a “grave risk” to federal, state, and local governments. The agency added, “This is a patient, well-resourced, and focused adversary that has sustained long duration activity on victim networks.”
CISA has increasingly faced shortages of manpower and seasoned leadership during the last few months of the Trump administration as President Trump has been combative with the agency and its leaders. Several high-profile figures, including former director Christopher Krebs, have either been fired or resigned in recent weeks. In response to the lack of resources, the Department of Energy announced that it would increase its funding of internal investigations into the hack of its own systems, including that of the FERC.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like hackers gained any access to critical nuclear infrastructure, whether civilian or military.
President Trump has yet to make any remark regarding the SolarWinds hack. Meanwhile, President-Elect Joe Biden pledged in a statement on Dec. 17, “I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office.”
For their part, Russian officials have denied any involvement with the attacks.
AMC Will Set Movie Ticket Prices Based on Seat Locations
The decision has faced backlash, but AMC executives claim it will ensure that “guests have more control over their experience.”
Sightline by AMC
AMC, the largest movie theater chain in the U.S., is changing its price metric by charging more at admission for preferred seats and offering value seats at a lower cost.
The new pricing experiment is called Sightline by AMC, and it offers three different tiers. Value Sightline includes the seats right next to the screen, while Preferred Sightline includes seats that are centered and in the middle of the theater. The average seats, or Standard Sightline, will remain at the normal price of admission.
“While every seat at AMC delivers an amazing moviegoing experience, we know there are some moviegoers who prioritize their specific seat and others who prioritize value moviegoing,” AMC’s executive vice president and CMO Eliot Hamlisch said to Variety. “Sightline at AMC accommodates both sentiments to help ensure that our guests have more control over their experience, so that every trip to an AMC is a great one.”
However, Sightline will not apply to AMC’s Discount Tuesday deal — every ticket will still be offered at $5 regardless of seat location. Sightline will also only apply to evening shows after 4:00 p.m.
The movie theater giant has faced backlash for this new price structure, including from people in the entertainment industry.
“This is absurdly stupid & only creates unnecessary classism,” actor and director Seth Green wrote on Twitter. “AMCTheatres clearly focused on squeezing new profits anywhere possible. Trying to get people back into theaters? Don’t penalize folks with less to spend.”
Actor Elijah Wood also condemned the change for disproportionately impacting lower-income families.
“The movie theater is and always has been a sacred democratic space for all and this new initiative by AMCTheatres would essentially penalize people for lower income and reward for higher income,” Wood wrote.
This is not the first time AMC has experimented with its pricing. During the opening weekend of “The Batman” last year, AMC announced it would be charging $1 to $2 more for it compared to other movies playing at the same time. Back in 2019, the chain tested a different pricing initiative, charging more for movies “of the highest appeal” and making less in-demand movies cheaper.
Neo-Nazi Leader Charged in Plot to “Destroy Baltimore” By Attacking Substations — a Growing Trend
Experts say that far-right extremist attacks on energy infrastructure have grown significantly in the last few years.
Conspiracy to Attack Maryland Energy Systems
A neo-Nazi leader who was recently released from prison and a woman he met while incarcerated were arrested on Monday for plotting to “completely destroy” the power grid in Baltimore, Maryland.
Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI field office in Baltimore said in a press conference that the two had “conspired to inflict maximum harm on the power grid,” by targeting five electrical substations that serve 1.2 million people in central Maryland.
He noted that the pair ”were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.”
Their plot, however, was foiled by law enforcement before they could put it into action, in large part because both extensively detailed their plans to an FBI informant on encrypted messaging apps.
Sobocinski described their extremist views as “racially or ethnically motivated.”
The neo-Nazi leader is the founder of a small but dangerous group called the Atomwaffen Division, which uses civil disorder and violence because they believe it will help spark a race war in the U.S. — a white supremacist theory known as “accelerationism.”
Authorities say that he previously plotted with his roommates — also members of the group — to attack energy facilities in Florida. Before he could, he was arrested and put in federal prison for possessing bomb-making materials.
During that time, he began to communicate with the woman, who was serving time in a separate facility in Maryland after being charged with robbing multiple convenience stores with a machete.
Authorities point to several pieces of evidence that indicate she too had been radicalized, including a statement she wrote that prosecutors say resembles a manifesto, in which she references Hitler, the Unabomber, and a far-right Norwegian terrorist and stated: “I would sacrifice **everything** for my people.”
The woman’s mother also told The Washington Post that she had become involved with neo-Nazi beliefs in prison, which she has been in and out of since 2006.
A Growing Trend
Federal law enforcement officials have said there is “no indication” the planned attack in Baltimore was connected to other attacks. The plot, however, comes on the heels of similar events.
In early December, there were a series of attacks on substations in North Carolina that were very reminiscent of what the pair in Maryland were plotting. In fact, prosecutors even said the neo-Nazi leader sent the FBI informant a video about that attack.
While authorities have provided little information on a suspect or motive in North Carolina, it has been reported that they have zeroed in on two possibilities that both center around far-right extremism.
Around the same time in December, there were also a series of attacks on the grid in the Pacific Northwest.
Researchers and homeland security officials have said that far-right extremists have been increasingly targeting energy infrastructure while operating under the neo-Nazi theory of accelerationism.
According to a study by the program on extremism at George Washington University released in September, white supremacist attempts to target energy systems “dramatically increased in frequency” from 2016 to 2022.
“Since 2019, white supremacist attacks plots against critical infrastructure systems have distinctly increased,” the study found.
Brian Harrell, a former Homeland Security official who oversaw infrastructure protection at the department, told The Post that he saw a noticeable surge in violent extremists talking about carrying out these attacks online.
“When digging into the ‘dark web,’ social media portals and chat rooms, we quickly see that targeting and destroying energy infrastructure is a tactic many extremist groups fantasize about,” he said.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders, suspected mass murderers, or those accused of committing violent crimes who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
As requested by DeSantis, the College Board removed lessons on contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and reparations.
College Board Rolls Out Curriculum
The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement high school courses, announced an official curriculum framework for its new, landmark Advanced Placement African American studies on Wednesday.
The announcement, made on the first day of Black History Month, has faced scrutiny for seeming to scale back a number of relevant subjects that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state education officials had criticized.
In January, DeSantis said that the new course would be banned in Florida unless changes were made, arguing that a draft version of the course was “woke.”
Education officials claimed that the class, which had been in the making for nearly a decade, violated a recent state law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation regulates public school instruction on race by banning critical race theory and any education that describes some groups as oppressed and others as privileged based on race or sex.
Democrats denounced DeSantis’ action as a political stunt and urged the College Board to maintain its principles.
According to reports, many historical topics like slavery largely remain intact from the previous draft. However, important contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer studies, reparations, and intersectionality — all of which Florida leaders objected to — were removed from curriculum requirements and are no longer part of the AP exam.
Instead, those areas of study have been downgraded to be part of a list of options students can pursue for a mandatory research project. The College Board also added a new research project idea to that list that will certainly please the right: “Black conservatism.”
It has additionally been reported that the organization pulled names of multiple Black authors the state education officials had flagged as problematic, including many famous and pioneering Black scholars who wrote about critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism.
The College Board defended itself against criticism in a press release announcing the changes, claiming that the process of developing the framework “has operated independently from political pressure.”
DeSantis’ Ongoing Culture War
DeSantis’ attempts to influence the national curriculum of an AP course are just his latest in a much broader effort to control what is and is not taught in public schools.
Just one day before the College Board announced the revised course, the governor outlined what The New York Times described as “his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment.”
Specifically, he proposed a massive overhaul to higher education in the state that would defund and eliminate diversity and equity programs, mandate courses on Western civilization, and reduce tenure protections that are essential to ensure professors have freedom of expression.
Furthermore, the effects of another law DeSantis signed last year are now just beginning to materialize. The policy, which went into effect this July, requires every school book to be age-appropriate, “free of pornography,” and “suited to student needs.”
To follow those guidelines, school books have to be approved by a certified media specialist who has undergone specific training.
Notably, the law also states that teachers can be charged with third-degree felonies if they “knowingly or unknowingly” give students access to a book that the specialists say is harmful — meaning that they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Last month, the state education department clarified that the rule does not just apply to school libraries, but also to any books a teacher keeps in their classroom too.
Multiple outlets reported this week that records they obtained show at least two school districts have now directed teachers to either remove their books or hide them until review to avoid the possibility of going to jail.