In Baltimore and Beyond, a Stolen N.S.A. Tool Wreaks Havoc

In Baltimore and Beyond, a Stolen N.S.A. Tool Wreaks Havoc
American cities are being hijacked with an N.S.A. cyberweapon that has already done billions of dollars in damage overseas. The N.S.A. will say nothing.
By Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane
May 25 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/25/us/nsa-hacking-tool-baltimore.html

For nearly three weeks, Baltimore has struggled with a cyberattack by digital extortionists that has frozen thousands of computers, shut down email and disrupted real estate sales, water bills, health alerts and many other services.

But here is what frustrated city employees and residents do not know: A key component of the malware that cybercriminals used in the attack was developed at taxpayer expense a short drive down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at the National Security Agency, according to security experts briefed on the case.

Since 2017, when the N.S.A. lost control of the tool, EternalBlue, it has been picked up by state hackers in North Korea, Russia and, more recently, China, to cut a path of destruction around the world, leaving billions of dollars in damage. But over the past year, the cyberweapon has boomeranged back and is now showing up in the N.S.A.’s own backyard.

It is not just in Baltimore. Security experts say EternalBlue attacks have reached a high, and cybercriminals are zeroing in on vulnerable American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.

The N.S.A. connection to the attacks on American cities has not been previously reported, in part because the agency has refused to discuss or even acknowledge the loss of its cyberweapon, dumped online in April 2017 by a still-unidentified group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. Years later, the agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation still do not know whether the Shadow Brokers are foreign spies or disgruntled insiders.

Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University, called the Shadow Brokers episode “the most destructive and costly N.S.A. breach in history,” more damaging than the better-known leak in 2013 from Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

“The government has refused to take responsibility, or even to answer the most basic questions,” Mr. Rid said. “Congressional oversight appears to be failing. The American people deserve an answer.”

The N.S.A. and F.B.I. declined to comment.

Since that leak, foreign intelligence agencies and rogue actors have used EternalBlue to spread malware that has paralyzed hospitals, airports, rail and shipping operators, A.T.M.s and factories that produce critical vaccines. Now the tool is hitting the United States where it is most vulnerable, in local governments with aging digital infrastructure and fewer resources to defend themselves.

On May 7, city workers in Baltimore had their computers frozen by hackers. Officials have refused to pay the $100,000 ransom..

Before it leaked, EternalBlue was one of the most useful exploits in the N.S.A.’s cyberarsenal. According to three former N.S.A. operators who spoke on the condition of anonymity, analysts spent almost a year finding a flaw in Microsoft’s software and writing the code to target it. Initially, they referred to it as EternalBluescreen because it often crashed computers — a risk that could tip off their targets. But it went on to become a reliable tool used in countless intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism missions.

EternalBlue was so valuable, former N.S.A. employees said, that the agency never seriously considered alerting Microsoft about the vulnerabilities, and held on to it for more than five years before the breach forced its hand.

The Baltimore attack, on May 7, was a classic ransomware assault. City workers’ screens suddenly locked, and a message in flawed English demanded about $100,000 in Bitcoin to free their files: “We’ve watching you for days,” said the message, obtained by The Baltimore Sun. “We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up!”

Today, Baltimore remains handicapped as city officials refuse to pay, though workarounds have restored some services. Without EternalBlue, the damage would not have been so vast, experts said. The tool exploits a vulnerability in unpatched software that allows hackers to spread their malware faster and farther than they otherwise could.

North Korea was the first nation to co-opt the tool, for an attack in 2017 — called WannaCry — that paralyzed the British health care system, German railroads and some 200,000 organizations around the world. Next was Russia, which used the weapon in an attack — called NotPetya — that was aimed at Ukraine but spread across major companies doing business in the country. The assault cost FedEx more than $400 million and Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, $670 million.

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Why it’s so alarming that Trump shared an edited video of Pelosi

Why it’s so alarming that Trump shared an edited video of Pelosi
By WP Editorial Board
May 24 2019
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/social-platforms-cant-fix-a-president-intent-on-deceiving-the-public/2019/05/24/e55fb5d0-7e43-11e9-8bb7-0fc796cf2ec0_story.html

DID PRESIDENT TRUMP share a fake clip of Nancy Pelosi? The seemingly simple question is a vexing one to answer. Passing judgment on his behavior is less challenging.

Conservative accounts on social media circulated a clip this week deliberately distorted to make it seem as if the speaker of the House was slurring her speech: “Drunk as a skunk,” commentators declared. The video, which some declared a “deepfake,” employed much too simple technology to merit that term. Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to synthesize human images into a reality that is entirely fabricated; the smear of Ms. Pelosi merely slowed down parts of an existing interview and modified her pitch.

The clip Mr. Trump tweeted alongside the words “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE” was part of the same narrative, but it was not distorted, or even doctored, so much as it was edited. The clip splices together short segments of Ms. Pelosi (D-Calif.) stuttering in a lowlight reel that offered a misleading impression of a perfectly coherent 21-minute news conference. Mr. Trump did not make this video, or pull it from the right-wing fever swamps of social media. He took it instead from the fever swamp of Fox Business Network.

The clamor for firms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove or limit the distribution of these clips as misinformation invites a vexing debate about what counts as fake in the first place. The “slurring” video, accompanied by manufactured accusations of drunkenness, may fall on one side of the line. The stammering video may fall on the other. But drawing that line at all has far-reaching implications. People edit videos all the time, sometimes for fun and sometimes to prove a political point. When does editing become doctoring, and when does doctoring become distorting? Is distorting always impermissible, or does it depend on intent, effect or something else altogether?

These difficulties both are caused by and contribute to the erosion of trust in today’s America, where it is hard to say what there is more of: false cries of “fake news,” or viral “news” that is actually fake. Technology certainly has helped this issue along, providing both an easy means to craft propaganda and an easy means to promote it. The increasing sophistication of image editing that creates the threat of actual deepfakes filling the Web will make that worse.

In the best of circumstances, the emergence of these tools for mass deception would be disturbing. It becomes absolutely alarming at a time when America is led by somebody who is intent on deceiving. The role of a responsible leader is to be a bulwark against an assault on truth, yet instead Mr. Trump is a battering ram. That’s not a problem Twitter or any other platform can solve.

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Europe’s surging, far-right, “anti-establishment” parties: funded by billionaires, voting for billionaire-friendly policies, lining their own pockets

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Europe’s surging, far-right, “anti-establishment” parties: funded by billionaires, voting for billionaire-friendly policies, lining their own pockets
By Cory Doctorow
May 25 2019
https://boingboing.net/2019/05/25/turkeys-vote-for-christmas.html

On May 26th, Europeans will vote for the next EU Parliament, and the region’s far-right, “nationalist/anti-establishment” parties (AfD Germany, UKIP/Brexit UK, PiS/Poland, etc) are expected make large gains, possibly prompting a realignment of power in the EU; the far-right parties have campaigned as “anti-establishment,” tapping into frustration with elites and their corruption.

But careful research from the Corporate Europe Observatory (previously) reveals the massive gap between the far-right parties’ rhetoric and their actions. 

Even as these parties are campaigning as insurgent anti-establishment forces, they have been largely funded by massive cash infusions, sometimes laundered through financial secrecy havens like Switzerland, sometimes openly attributed to the richest, most powerful people in Europe. What’s more, the voting records of these parties reflect their debt to the super-rich, consistently opposing progressive taxation, anti-tax-evasion measures, strong labour laws, social benefits, and other measures that would benefit the voters who have backed these parties.

Predictably, the leadership of the far-right parties have been frequently embroiled in corruption scandals, lining their own pockets with taxpayers’ funds, embezzling millions from party coffers, and handing out patronage appointments and lucrative contracts to connected insiders.

Some of these scandals have revealed that Russian billionaires and banks with close ties to the Kremlin are funding these parties, either through cash loans or out-and-out gifts in the millions.

Getting turkeys to vote for Christmas is a time-honoured tradition in right wing circles: convincing working people that they are temporarily embarrassed millionaires who should vote for policies that benefit the rich people they’re sure they’ll be someday. But Europe’s far-right has perfected the tactic. 

These parties have become water-carriers for giant, rootless multinationals, including the fossil fuel industry, and the oligarchs that own them, and if their past records are anything to go on, they will spend the next five years enabling looters, money-launderers, environmental criminals and tax-dodgers, at the expense of useful idiots who voted for them because they promised to mount spectacular shows of performative cruelty to brown people, Muslims and women.

These parties’ voting records in the European Parliament show disdain for policies aimed at supporting working people or low income communities, such as on tax and workers’ rights. Our research shows that none of the parties studied voted to support a minimum 25 per cent corporate tax rate across member states, while almost all voted to oppose or abstain on creating a pan-EU tax evasion authority…

Much of their political rhetoric centres on some form of “draining the swamp” of corruption in politics; yet what is most notable about many of these parties’ national and EU politicians, is the consistency with which they have been caught up in numerous scandals, from political corruption, to dodgy donations, to personal enrichment schemes, to fraud. For example under the Fidesz regime in Hungary corruption levels have increased; ANO’s leader is being investigated by Czech authorities for funnelling EU money for his own use; Rassemblement National politicians have been indicted on charges of funding misuse in France; large fines have been levied against UKIP and the AfD; a bonus scandal has rocked the PiS government in Poland; the Lega Transport Under-secretary is currently being investigated in Italy for supposed bribery; raids have taken place in FPÖ offices in Austria; and there are ongoing European Anti-Fraud Office investigations into several EU groups closely connected to authoritarian parties. Far from being on a mission to tackle ‘corrupt politicians’, these parties are among the perpetrators…

[snip]

Netflix Has 175 Days Left To Pull Off A Miracle… Or It’s All Over

Netflix Has 175 Days Left To Pull Off A Miracle… Or It’s All Over
By Stephen McBride
May 21 2019
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenmcbride1/2019/05/21/netflix-has-175-days-left-to-pull-off-a-miracle-or-its-all-over/

Last year, half of Americans aged 22 to 45 watched zero hours of cable TV. And almost 35 million households have quit cable in the past decade.

All these people are moving to streaming services like Netflix (NFLX). Today, more than half of American households subscribe to a streaming service.

The media calls this “cord cutting.”

This trend is far more disruptive than most people understand. The downfall of cable is releasing billions in stock market wealth.

Combined, America’s five biggest cable companies are worth over $750 billion. And most investors assume Netflix will claim the bulk of profits that cable leaves behind.

So far, they’ve been right. Have you seen Netflix’s stock price? Holy cow. It has rocketed 8,300% since 2009, leaving even Amazon in the dust:

But don’t let its past success fool you.

Because Netflix is not the future of TV. Let me say that one more time… Netflix is not the future of TV.

The Only Thing That Matters

Netflix changed how we watch TV, but it didn’t really change what we watch…

Netflix has achieved its incredible growth by taking distribution away from cable companies. Instead of watching The Office on cable, people now watch The Office on Netflix.

This edge isn’t sustainable.

In a world where you can watch practically anything whenever you want, dominance in distribution is very fragile.

Because the internet has opened up a whole world of choice, featuring great exclusive content is now far more important than anything else.

For example, about 20 million people tuned in to watch the first episode of the latest season of hit show Game of Thrones.

It was one of the most-watched non-sporting events in TV history.

Netflix management knows content is king. The company spent $12 billion developing original shows last year. It released 88% more original programming in 2018 than it did the previous year.

And spending on original shows and movies is expected to hit $15 billion this year.

It now invests more in content than any other American TV network.

To fund its new shows, Netflix is borrowing huge sums of debt. It currently owes creditors $10.4 billion, which is 59% more than it owed this time last year.

The problem is that no matter how much Netflix spends, it has no chance to catch up with its biggest rival…

Disney Enters the Race

The Walt Disney Company (DIS) is one of America’s most iconic companies.

Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse way back in 1928. Over the following eight decades the company built an empire.

Over 160 million people visited its theme parks last year. And it’s among the world’s largest media companies.

[snip]

What if we covered the climate crisis like we did the start of the second world war?

What if we covered the climate crisis like we did the start of the second world war?
In the war, the purpose of journalism was to awaken the world to the catastrophe looming ahead of it. We must approach our climate crisis the same way
By Bill Moyers
May 22 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/22/climate-crisis-ed-murrow-bill-moyers

Today marks the official launch of Covering Climate Now, a project co-sponsored by The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Joined by The Guardian and others partners to be announced, Covering Climate Now will bring journalists and news outlets together to dramatically improve how the media as a whole covers the climate crisis and its solutions. 

The following is an abridged version of the conference keynote speech by iconic TV newsman Bill Moyers, as prepared for delivery. A video version of the speech is available here. See here for more about the Covering Climate Now project.

*

I have been asked to bring this gathering to a close by summing up how we can do better at covering the possible “collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world,” to quote the noted environmentalist David Attenborough, speaking at the recent United Nations climate summit in Poland.

I don’t come with a silver bullet. And I’m no expert on the topic. Like you, I am just a journalist whose craft calls for us to explain things we don’t understand. There’s so much I don’t understand that journalism became my continuing course in adult education. The subjects were so fascinating, and the work so fulfilling, that I kept at it “full speed ahead” for half a century, until two years ago, at the age of 83, I yielded finally to the side effects of a long life and retired (more or less). This is the first opportunity I have had since then to be with so many kindred spirits of journalism, and the camaraderie reminds me how much I have missed your company.

Many of us have recognized that our coverage of global warming has fallen short. There’s been some excellent reporting by independent journalists and by enterprising reporters and photographers from legacy newspapers and other news outlets. But the Goliaths of the US news media, those with the biggest amplifiers—the corporate broadcast networks—have been shamelessly AWOL, despite their extraordinary profits. The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 2018—a drop of 45%, reported the watchdog group Media Matters.

Meanwhile, about 1,300 communities across the United States have totally lost news coverage, many from newspaper mergers and closures, according to the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. Hundreds of others are still standing only as “ghost newspapers.” They no longer have resources for even local reporting, much less for climate change. “Online news sites, as well as some TV newsrooms, are working hard to keep local reporting alive, but these are taking root far more slowly than newspapers are dying,” observes Tom Stites of Poynter in a report about the study. And, alas, many of the news outlets that are still around have ignored or misreported the climate story and failed to counter the tsunami of deceptive propaganda unleashed by fossil-fuel companies and the mercenaries, ideologues, and politicians who do their bidding.

But events educate, experience instructs, and so much destructive behavior has been caused by climate disruption that more Americans today than ever seem hungry to know what’s causing it, what’s coming and what can be done about it. We journalists have perhaps our last chance to help people grasp the magnitude of the threat. My friend and journalist-turned-citizen-activist Bill McKibben told me last week that because of the looming possibility of extinction, and in response to it from the emerging leadership among young people, we have reached a ‘climate moment’ with real momentum, and our challenge as we go forward is to dramatically change the zeitgeist—“to lock in and consolidate public opinion that’s finally beginning to come into focus.”

So, while I did not come with a silver bullet—there’s no such thing—I do want to share a couple of stories that might help us respond to this daunting task.

I’ll begin with how I first heard of global warming—before many of you in this room were born. It was 54 years ago, early in 1965, at the White House. Before I became President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary (“over my dead body,” I might add,) I was his special assistant coordinating domestic policy. One day, two members of the president’s science-advisory committee came by the office. One of them was the famous oceanographer, Roger Revelle. Famous because only a few years earlier he had shaken up the prevailing consensus that the oceans were massive enough to soak up any amount of excess of carbon released on earth. Not so, Revelle discovered; the peculiar chemistry of sea water actually prevents this from happening.

Now, he said, humans have begun a “vast geophysical experiment.” We were about to burn, within a few generations, the fossil fuels that had slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years. Burning so much oil, gas, and coal would release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it would trap heat that otherwise would escape into space. Earth’s temperature could rise, causing polar ice to melt and sea levels to rise, flooding the earth’s coastal regions.

President Johnson took scientists seriously; as vice president, he had been chosen by President Kennedy to chair the intergovernmental committee overseeing NASA’s charge to put a man on the moon. So Revelle and his colleagues got the green light, and by the fall of 1965 they produced the first official report to any government anywhere on the possible threat to humanity from rising CO2 levels. On November 6, Lyndon Johnson became the first president to mention the threat in a message to Congress.

[snip]

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple will haul mail for USPS in two-week pilot

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple will haul mail for USPS in two-week pilot
By Kirsten Korosec
May 21 2019
https://techcrunch.com/2019/05/21/self-driving-truck-startup-tusimple-will-haul-mail-for-usps-in-two-week-pilot/

TuSimple, the self-driving truck startup that reached unicorn status earlier this year with a $1 billion valuation, is getting two weeks to prove its tech to the United States Postal Service.

The company announced Tuesday that it was awarded a contract to complete five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the postal service’s Phoenix and Dallas distribution centers. A safety engineer and driver will be on board throughout the pilot.

TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, along Interstates 10, 20 and 30 corridors to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The pilot is an important milestone for TuSimple. It marks the company’s first foray into Texas; it’s also a chance for TuSimple to validate its system with the U.S. government.

The USPS is just one of many (ahem Amazon) in the logistics and shipping business interested in using autonomous vehicle technology to cuts costs and improve safety and operations.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Ariz., has been running daily routes for customers in Arizona. The company recently raised $95 million in a Series D funding round led by Sina Corp. The company is preparing to scale up its commercial autonomous fleet to more than 50 trucks by June.

TuSimple has raised $178 million to date in rounds that have included backers such as Nvidia and ZP Capital. Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, is one of TuSimple’s earliest investors.

16-Year-Olds Want a Vote. Fifty Years Ago, So Did 18-Year-Olds.

16-Year-Olds Want a Vote. Fifty Years Ago, So Did 18-Year-Olds.
By Maggie Astor
May 19 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/19/us/politics/voting-age.html

JAMESBURG, N.J. — Stuart Goldstein still has the red-and-white bumper stickers and other artifacts from 1969, when he helped persuade New Jersey lawmakers that 18-year-olds should be able to vote.

He was 18 himself then, working with two other college students, David DuPell and Ken Norbe, to build a political network that grew to 10,000 volunteers. They took students to Trenton in busloads and even sneaked into a Richard Nixon rally seeking his support. Theirs was an early salvo in a movement that would end in 1971 with the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 from 21.

Fifty years later, there is a nascent movement to change the voting age again — this time to 16 — but there are some big differences between the efforts.

Then, liberal and conservative activists united behind a powerful argument that went back to World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the draft age to 18: Young people were being conscripted to fight America’s wars but couldn’t vote in its elections.

Today, there is no similarly popular argument. Indeed, a recent poll found that 75 percent of registered voters opposed letting 17-year-olds vote, and 84 percent opposed it for 16-year-olds. In March, when Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts proposed a 16-year-old voting age amendment to House Democrats’ sweeping voting rights bill, it failed 126 to 305, with almost half of her fellow Democrats voting against it and only one Republican in support.

Opponents in both parties have expressed doubts that 16-year-olds are mature enough to vote. But local, youth-led campaigns to lower the voting age have persisted since at least 2013, when Takoma Park, Md., gave 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in municipal elections.

The New York Times recently spoke with activists from the movement 50 years ago, and people on different sides of the issue today, about the cause and the challenges of lowering the voting age.

1969: ‘Old enough to fight’

By the time New Jersey took it up in 1969, the voting age had been on the national radar for decades because of the draft. Through World War II, Korea and the early years of Vietnam, every president suggested it should change. But it didn’t — until the 1960s knocked American politics off its axis.

The activism of the era made it easy to mobilize liberals and students, many of whom were already involved in the antiwar and civil rights movements. “People were pretty revved up during that time to get involved in something,” said Mr. DuPell, who started the New Jersey campaign and recruited Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Norbe to join him. But campus unrest and violent protests helped fuel pushback that they were too immature to vote.

“It was kind of an uphill battle for us trying to convince people young people were responsible, because it was an era when, from a national political point of view, the national leaders were pitting young against old,” Mr. Goldstein, now 68, said. “Our thing was, ‘We’re going to try and work within the system.’ There was all this tumult going on across the country. We didn’t think that would help us convince people that they should lower the voting age.”

In April 1969, the Republican-led New Jersey Legislature approved a state constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 18. And when summer came, Mr. DuPell, Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Norbe went home to build their organization — they called it the Voting Age Coalition Inc. of New Jersey — and round up support for the voter referendum needed to ratify the amendment.

They appointed county leaders, who appointed municipal leaders. They sold membership cards for a dollar and told the buyers to recruit 10 volunteers apiece. When President Nixon came to campaign for William Cahill, who was eventually elected governor, Mr. Goldstein and Mr. DuPell forged press credentials and sneaked into the rally with a sign seeking Nixon’s endorsement. Mr. Goldstein recalled that Secret Service agents carried him out, but their sign ended up in a front-page photo the next day.

Similar efforts were bubbling up in other states. Sometime in the spring, a group of students in Ohio contacted the New Jerseyans and asked if they, too, could use the “Voting Age Coalition” name. By January 1970, students in 13 states were organizing to lower the voting age.

Voters in New Jersey rejected their amendment, and the Voting Age Coalition started trying to lower the age to 19 instead. But it soon became clear that the momentum in Washington, driven by the combined force of the states, was building faster.

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