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What Changes Are Coming in the Wake of Last Week’s Colonial Pipeline Hearing?   

The issue of cybersecurity affects all Americans.

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Last week, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline finally had to answer to lawmakers for the May hack that temporarily halted fuel delivery to the East Coast of the United States. One of the main points of interest was the $4.4 million ransom netted by Russia’s DarkSide Ransomware Gang

The decision to actually pay the hackers was criticized in many circles, as it is widely accepted that the payout will only encourage more attacks against critical infrastructure in the future. In fact, paying these ransoms in many cases is not only discouraged, but may actually lead to civil penalties for American businesses.

In October of 2020, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a directive laying out the fact that potential civil damages would be incurred by violators found to have made payments to groups that are already under US sanctions and noted that, “ransomware payments made to sanctioned persons or to comprehensively sanctioned jurisdictions could be used to fund activities adverse to the national security and foreign policy objectives of the United States.”

In regard to last month’s payment to DarkSide, Colonial CEO Joseph Blount previously admitted to The Wall Street Journal several weeks back that the uncertainty regarding the fallout from the hack compelled him to authorize the massive payout of $4.4 million.

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Blount referenced the OFAC directive in his appearance in Washington last week when he told lawmakers, “I do know that repeatedly throughout the process, the fact of whether DarkSide was on the sanctions list or not was fact-checked repeatedly.” 

Last weeks hearing presented a bi-partisan message to the private sector that additional oversight of matters related to cybersecurity may be coming. Part of the reason may be the increased cost to the intelligence community to bail out companies like Colonial. In just the past few weeks, FBI was forced to invest significant time and resources to help the company recover $2.3 million of the $4.4 million paid to DarkSide.

Although last week’s hearing sent a message globally regarding America’s renewed commitment to cybersecurity, the addition of new protective measures was already well under way. In the wake of the Colonial Hack, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created new guidelines intended to protect American pipeline companies that requires them to immediately report any hacking incidents. 

These measures may help to improve the cyber response within vital American infrastructure, but what about individual Americans who make of the far majority of hacking victims? There are literally thousands of hacking gangs targeting Americans for what is generally considered a much smaller ransom. In some cases, the ransom amount is more than the trouble to most victims, who may simply choose to replace their infected software or hardware. But some of the more experienced ransomware gangs have learned to set their ransom demand in a way that is likelier to produce a payment.

Most of the new attacks cited in the media over the past year have been attributed to members of the STOP/Djvu Ransomware Family. The group seems to produce a new strain almost daily and all of the individual infections are noted by a unique four-letter sequence which is appended to infected files. Some of the more prolific strains of the STOP/Djvu ransomware family are the variants: Nusm, Pahd, Mppq, Paas, Ehiz and numerous others.    

Since the FBI or DHS may not be swooping anytime soon to rescue your $500 dollar laptop, the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to maintain offline backups of your files. This would ensure access as long as you can upload them to a new device. 

The issue of cybersecurity affects all Americans. But the question here becomes, “can an incompetent government that has made a mess of the economy and border actually be trusted to keep America safe from international hacking attacks?” One way or another, we will find out the answer shortly.

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by websites including Newsmax, Townhall, American Thinker and BizPacReview.

 

Opinion

Biden Mandate Busted Again, This Time in Lone Star State

It was a BRUTAL smackdown at that!

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From the very moment that Joe Biden began to speak about a federal vaccine mandate, there were concerns about its constitutionality.  You see, this is a nation founded on the ethos of freedom, and there is nothing more authoritarian than forcing a population to undergo unwanted medical procedures.

And, thusly, in the weeks following the Commander in Chief’s declaration, a number of judicial bodies took up the argument, and with devastating results for the White House.

The latest smackdown comes to us from Texas.

A federal judge in Texas Friday blocked the federal government from enforcing President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees, arguing that he didn’t have the authority to do so “with the stroke of a pen and without input from Congress.”

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Biden has pushed several different iterations of vaccine mandates in recent months, including one for large businesses which the Supreme Court blocked and another for healthcare workers which it allowed to go into effect.

There was no beating around the bush, either.

Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Friday ruled against the administration on a separate mandate generally applying to federal employees.

“While vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to avoid serious illness from COVID-19, there is no reason to believe that the public interest cannot be served via less restrictive measures than the mandate, such as masking, social distancing, or part- or full-time remote work,” Brown wrote. “Stopping the spread of COVID-19 will not be achieved by overbroad policies like the federal-worker mandate.”

And, given the narrowest of margins in Congress, there is little doubt that any attempt to ratify this mandate legislatively would fail.

From the very moment that Joe Biden began to speak about a federal vaccine mandate, there were concerns about its constitutionality.  You see, this is a nation founded on the ethos of freedom, and there is nothing more authoritarian than forcing a population to undergo unwanted medical procedures. And, thusly, in the weeks following the Commander in Chief’s declaration, a number of judicial bodies took up the argument, and with devastating results for the White House. The latest smackdown comes to us from Texas. A federal judge in Texas Friday blocked the federal government from enforcing President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees, arguing that he didn’t have the authority to do so “with the stroke of a pen and without input from Congress.” Biden has pushed several different iterations of vaccine mandates in recent months, including one for large businesses which the Supreme Court blocked and another for healthcare workers which it allowed to go into effect. There was no beating around the bush, either. Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Friday ruled against the administration on a separate mandate generally applying to federal employees. “While vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to avoid serious illness from COVID-19, there is no reason to believe that the public interest cannot be served via less restrictive measures than the mandate, such as masking, social distancing, or part- or full-time remote work,” Brown wrote. “Stopping the spread of COVID-19 will not be achieved by overbroad policies like the federal-worker mandate.” And, given the narrowest of margins in Congress, there is little doubt that any attempt to ratify this mandate legislatively would fail.

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Fact Checkers Make Exception for Liberal-Leaning News Outfit

Perhaps one of the several other “fact checking” corporations would like to take a stab at it?

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If there was ever a reason to doubt the authority and authenticity of the mission of the so-called “fact checker” organizations it is this:  There are more than one of them.

You see, if “facts” and “truth” were binary, there wouldn’t be a glut of competing companies out there attempting to sell their services to social media corporations and other media outlets.  We wouldn’t have any disparity whatsoever.  There would be one fact-checking group because, as stated in their creeds, there should be but one set of “facts”.

The entire industry is a bit of a scam, if we’re ready to be that honest with ourselves.  And, if we’re not, there are plenty of examples out there of these companies massaging the narrative in order to maintain their lucrative contracts.

NewsGuard, the establishment “news rating” project that claims to fight untrustworthy media outlets, is cautiously defending NPR as the establishment media outlet continues to claim that U.S. Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonya Sotomayor are at odds over masks, even after a statement from both Justices and Chief Justice John Roberts debunking the story.

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On Tuesday, NPR released a story claiming that Justice Sotomayor had opted to work remotely after Justice Gorsuch refused a request from Chief Justice Roberts that all justices mask up when on the bench.

Later in the day, a Supreme Court source told Fox News that neither Justice Roberts nor Justice Sotomayor had made any such request.

But then:

Despite the total breakdown of the initial story, Newsguard refuses to make any judgments on NPR’s reporting, arguing that the situation is still unfolding.

Prior to the statement from Chief Justice Roberts, Newsguard maintained that the facts of the story were still unclear.

“There are two conflicting reports, one from NPR and one from Fox News, both citing anonymous sources,” said Matt Skibinski, general manager of Newsguard. “It’s hard to say anything definitive about either report without more information.”

But Newsguard cannot hide from this fact:

However, even after all three Justices named in the story – Gorsuch, Sotomayor, and Roberts – made public statements debunking it, while NPR refused to issue a correction, Newsguard maintained that the story was still unfolding.

Perhaps one of the several other “fact checking” corporations would like to take a stab at it?

If there was ever a reason to doubt the authority and authenticity of the mission of the so-called “fact checker” organizations it is this:  There are more than one of them. You see, if “facts” and “truth” were binary, there wouldn’t be a glut of competing companies out there attempting to sell their services to social media corporations and other media outlets.  We wouldn’t have any disparity whatsoever.  There would be one fact-checking group because, as stated in their creeds, there should be but one set of “facts”. The entire industry is a bit of a scam, if we’re ready to be that honest with ourselves.  And, if we’re not, there are plenty of examples out there of these companies massaging the narrative in order to maintain their lucrative contracts. NewsGuard, the establishment “news rating” project that claims to fight untrustworthy media outlets, is cautiously defending NPR as the establishment media outlet continues to claim that U.S. Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonya Sotomayor are at odds over masks, even after a statement from both Justices and Chief Justice John Roberts debunking the story. On Tuesday, NPR released a story claiming that Justice Sotomayor had opted to work remotely after Justice Gorsuch refused a request from Chief Justice Roberts that all justices mask up when on the bench. Later in the day, a Supreme Court source told Fox News that neither Justice Roberts nor Justice Sotomayor had made any such request. But then: Despite the total breakdown of the initial story, Newsguard refuses to make any judgments on NPR’s reporting, arguing that the situation is still unfolding. Prior to the statement from Chief Justice Roberts, Newsguard maintained that the facts of the story were still unclear. “There are two conflicting reports, one from NPR and one from Fox News, both citing…

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