Delay in Creating New US Cybersecurity Board Prompts Concern

It’s a key part of President Joe Biden’s plans to fight major ransomware attacks and digital espionage campaigns: creating a board of experts that would investigate major incidents to see what went wrong and try to prevent the problems from happening again — much like a transportation safety board does with plane crashes.

But eight months after Biden signed an executive order creating the Cyber Safety Review Board it still hasn’t been set up. That means critical tasks haven’t been completed, including an investigation of the massive SolarWinds espionage campaign first discovered more than a year ago. Russian hackers stole data from several federal agencies and private companies.

Some supporters of the new board say the delay could hurt national security and comes amid growing concerns of a potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine that could involve nation-state cyberattacks. The FBI and other federal agencies recently released an advisory — aimed particularly at critical infrastructure like utilities — on Russian state hackers’ methods and techniques.

“We will never get ahead of these threats if it takes us nearly a year to simply organize a group to investigate major breaches like SolarWinds,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Such a delay is detrimental to our national security and I urge the administration to expedite its process.”

Biden’s order, signed in May, gives the board 90 days to investigate the SolarWinds hack once it’s established. But there’s no timeline for creating the board itself, a job designated to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, DHS said in a statement it was far along in setting it up and anticipated a “near-term announcement,” but did not address why the process has taken so long.

Scott Shackelford, the cybersecurity program chair at Indiana University and an advocate for creating a cyber review board, said having a rigorous study about what happened in a past hack like SolarWinds is a way of helping prevent similar attacks.

“It sure is taking, my goodness, quite a while to get it going,” Shackelford said. “It’s certainly past time where we could see some positive benefits from having it stood up.”

The Biden administration has made improving cybersecurity a top priority and taken steps to bolster defenses, but this is not the first time lawmakers have been unhappy with the pace of progress. Last year several lawmakers complained it took the administration too long to name a national cyber director, a new position created by Congress.

The SolarWinds hack exploited vulnerabilities in the software supply-chain system and went undetected for most of 2020 despite compromises at a broad swath of federal agencies and dozens of companies, primarily telecommunications and information technology providers. The hacking campaign is named SolarWinds after the U.S. software company whose product was exploited in the first-stage infection of that effort.

The hack highlighted the Russians’ skill at getting to high-level targets. The AP previously reported that SolarWinds hackers had gained access to emails belonging to the then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

The Biden administration has kept many of the details about the cyberespionage campaign hidden.

 

The Justice Department, for instance, said in July that 27 U.S. attorney offices around the country had at least one employee’s email account compromised during the hacking campaign. It did not provide details about what kind of information was taken and what impact such a hack may have had on ongoing cases.

The New York-based staff of the DOJ Antitrust Division also had files stolen by the SolarWinds hackers, according to one former senior official briefed on the hack who was not authorized to speak about it publicly and requested anonymity. That breach has not previously been reported. The Antitrust Division investigates private companies and has access to highly sensitive corporate data.

The federal government has undertaken reviews of the SolarWinds hack. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this month on the SolarWinds hack and another major hacking incident that found there was sometimes a slow and difficult process for sharing information between government agencies and the private sector, The National Security Council also conducted a review of the SolarWinds hack last year, according to the GAO report.

But having the new board conduct an independent, thorough examination of the SolarWinds hack could identify inconspicuous security gaps and issues that others may have missed, said Christopher Hart, a former National Transportation Safety Board chairman who has advocated for the creation of a cyber review board.

“Most of the crashes that the NTSB really goes after … are ones that are a surprise even to the security experts,” Hart said. “They weren’t really obvious things, they were things that really took some deep digging to figure out what went wrong.”

your ad here

read more

FDA Limits Use of Regeneron, Lilly COVID-19 Antibody Treatments 

The U.S. health regulator on Monday revised the emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly to limit their use, as the drugs are unlikely to work against the omicron variant. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the treatments are currently not cleared for use in any U.S. states or territories but may be authorized in certain regions if they work against potential new variants. 

The agency highlighted other therapies that are expected to be effective against omicron, including a rival antibody drug from GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology as well as recently authorized antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck & Co. 

The U.S. government in December had paused distribution of Regeneron and Lilly’s treatments and said the halt would continue until new data emerges on their efficacy against omicron. 

The highly contagious new variant was estimated to account for more than 99% of cases in the United States as of Jan. 15. 

GSK and Vir Biotech are boosting production of their drug sotrovimab to help meet soaring demand in the United States. The FDA has also expanded its approval for the use of Gilead Sciences’ antiviral COVID-19 drug remdesivir to treat non-hospitalized patients aged 12 years and above. 

The Washington Post earlier in the day reported that the FDA was expected to revise authorizations for Regeneron and Lilly’s treatments. 

A Regeneron spokesperson had said the regulator would provide any potential communication on the topic. 

Lilly had no immediate comment but pointed to its statement from December saying its antibody candidate, bebtelovimab, maintains neutralization activity against all known variants of concern, including omicron. 

your ad here

read more

Judges Approve Special Grand Jury in Georgia Election Probe

Judges have approved a request for a special grand jury by the Georgia prosecutor who’s investigating whether former President Donald Trump and others broke the law by trying to pressure Georgia officials to throw out Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last week sent a letter to county superior court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher asking him to impanel a special grand jury. Brasher issued an order Monday saying the request was considered and approved by a majority of the superior court judges. 

The special grand jury is to be seated May 2 for a period of up to a year, Brasher’s order says. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney is assigned to supervise and assist the special grand jury. 

Willis wrote in her letter to Brasher that her office “has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the State of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020, including the State’s election of the President of the United States, was subject to possible criminal disruptions.” She said her office has “opened an investigation into any coordinated attempts to unlawfully alter the outcome of the 2020 elections in this state.” 

The special grand jury “shall be authorized to investigate any and all facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to alleged violations of the laws of the State of Georgia, as set forth in the request of the District Attorney,” the order says. 

Willis has declined to speak about the specifics of her investigation, but in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month, she confirmed that its scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger; a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger; the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021; and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election. 

In a statement last week, Trump called his call to Raffensperger “perfect” and said he did not say anything wrong. Graham has also denied any wrongdoing. 

Special grand juries, which are not used often in Georgia, can help in the investigation of complex matters. They do not have the power to return an indictment but can make recommendations to prosecutors on criminal prosecutions. 

Willis wrote in her letter that the special grand jury is needed because it can serve for longer than a normal grand jury term, which is two months in Fulton County. It also would be able to focus on this investigation alone, allowing it to focus on the complex facts and circumstances. And having a special grand jury would mean the regular seated grand jury would not have to deal with this investigation in addition to their regular duties, Willis wrote. 

Willis’ investigation became public last February when she sent letters to top elected officials in Georgia instructing them to preserve any records related to the general election, particularly any evidence of attempts to influence election officials. The probe includes “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” the letters said. 

 

your ad here

read more

WHO Chief: World Will Live with COVID for Foreseeable Future

The head of the World Health Organization warned Monday that COVID-19 will be around for the foreseeable future, and everyone will have to learn to live with it. The WHO chief issued the warning at the opening of the agency’s weeklong executive board meeting.

Two years ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. Then there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths reported outside China. Those numbers now stand at nearly 350 million cases and more than 5.5 million deaths.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is hard to know when the pandemic will end. However, while the coronavirus is circulating, he said it will continue to mutate in unpredictable and dangerous ways. 

“It is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame. On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge,” he said.

Tedros said countries must learn to manage this deadly disease and use the knowledge gained to prepare for future pandemics. To change the course of the pandemic, he said the conditions driving it must change.

He said the acute phase of the pandemic can be ended this year if countries use all the strategies and tools available to combat COVID-19. He adds this will work only if all countries, rich and poor alike, have equitable access to vaccines, treatments, and other tools.

“Vaccines alone are not the golden ticket out of this pandemic. But there is no path out unless we achieve our shared target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population of every country by the middle of this year. We have a long way to go,” he said.

The WHO chief notes 86 countries have not been able to reach last year’s target of vaccinating 40 percent of their populations.

He warned the emergency phase of the pandemic will not end until the gap between the have and have-not countries is bridged. 

your ad here

read more

Ghanaian Football Team Scores Against Sea Turtle Poachers

The coast of Ghana is home to five of the world’s endangered sea turtles, which are threatened by fishing nets and poachers who sell their meat and eggs. To help revive the turtle populations, a group of young footballers have taken it upon themselves to guard turtle nests and rescue turtles captured by fishermen.  

Empty sea turtle shells are commonly found on the beach along Ghana’s coastal Gomoa Fetteh community.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says six out of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered.

Peter Kusaana of the Environmental Justice Foundation says five of those species used to nest in Ghana, but the numbers have reduced.

“Over the years, we are only now recording about four or three of these species nesting in Ghana, meaning that we have already lost two of these turtle species in Ghana,” he said. 

Fishermen here say about 50 turtles are killed every year along the eight-kilometer shoreline, drowned in fishing nets or poached for their meat and eggs. 

Ama Akorfa, a turtle processor, explains why the locals poach turtles. 

She says the meat is a delicacy. She makes stew with the turtle’s entrails and sells the remaining meat.   

Saving the remaining turtles is a team effort.

The Fetteh Youngsters Football Club since 2019 has taken it upon themselves to protect the turtles.

The team’s coach, Daniel Kwesi Botchwey, says they leverage the community’s support for the team to help save the endangered sea turtles.

“There has been the need for us to educate the community about it. And since the football team is for the community, because I always say, ‘Fetteh Youngsters is a community-based team, it is for the community.’ And the chief of the town, he is the live patron of the club, so everyone in the community supports Fetteh Youngsters. So, we have taken it as a means, as a tool, to educate the community,” said coach Botchwey.

During nesting season, the football team patrols the beaches from dusk until dawn to ward off poachers and other predators that would harm nesting turtles or their eggs.   

The players also engage the turtle meat sellers and fishing community to educate them on the importance of protecting marine life.  

Peter Kusaana of Ghana’s Environmental Justice Foundation says their efforts are paying off.

He explains that turtle poaching reduced from 47 killed in the 2019-2020 nesting season to 26 in the last one, while more nests have been found along the coast.

“The number of nesting events recorded, meaning that the data points that have been captured by our patrollers, has increased,” he said. “In 2019-2020, we had around 50 cases that were recorded in our data sheets. In 2020-2021, we have over 145.” 

They’re team numbers that the Fetteh Youngsters Football Club is proud of.

But eliminating the demand for endangered sea turtles — that’s their top goal, and one they’re playing overtime to score.

your ad here

read more

Ghanaian Football Team Scores Against Sea Turtle Poachers

The coast of Ghana is home to five of the world’s endangered sea turtles, which are threatened by fishing nets and poachers who sell their meat and eggs. To help revive the turtle populations, a young footballers have taken it upon themselves to guard turtle nests and rescue turtles captured by fishermen. Senanu Tord reports from Gomoa Fetteh, Ghana.

your ad here

read more