Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say

This photo provided by the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa shows the screen of a Unitronics device that was hacked in Aliquippa, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)
This photo provided by the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa shows the screen of a Unitronics device that was hacked in Aliquippa, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say

Breaches by Iran-affiliated hackers spanned multiple US states, federal agencies say
  • Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the group has expanded and accelerated targeting Israeli critical infrastructure, said Check Point’s Sergey Shykevich

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: A small western Pennsylvania water authority was just one of multiple organizations breached in the United States by Iran-affiliated hackers who targeted a specific industrial control device because it is Israeli-made, US and Israeli authorities say.
“The victims span multiple US states,” the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, as well as Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said in an advisory emailed to The Associated Press late Friday.
They did not say how many organizations were hacked or otherwise describe them.
Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said Thursday that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium.
Cybersecurity experts say that while there is no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Oct. 7 attack into Israel by Hamas that triggered the war in Gaza they expected state-backed Iranian hackers and pro-Palestinian hacktivists to step up cyberattacks on Israeli and its allies in its aftermath. And indeed that has happened.
The multiagency advisory explained what CISA had not when it confirmed the Pennsylvania hack on Wednesday — that other industries outside water and water-treatment facilities use the same equipment — Vision Series programmable logic controllers made by Unitronics — and were also potentially vulnerable.
Those industries include “energy, food and beverage manufacturing and health care,” the advisory says. The devices regulate processes including pressure, temperature and fluid flow.
The Aliquippa hack promoted workers to temporarily halt pumping in a remote station that regulates water pressure for two nearby towns, leading crews to switch to manual operation. The hackers left a digital calling card on the compromised device saying all Israeli-made equipment is “a legal target.”
The multiagency advisory said it was not known if the hackers had tried to penetrate deeper into breached networks. The access they did get enabled “more profound cyber physical effects on processes and equipment,” it said.
The advisory says the hackers, who call themselves “Cyber Av3ngers,” are affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the US designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019. The group targeted the Unitronics devices at least since Nov. 22, it said.
An online search Saturday with the Shodan service identified more than 200 such Internet-connected devices in the US and more than 1,700 globally.
The advisory notes that Unitronics devices ship with a default password, a practice experts discourage as it makes them more vulnerable to hacking. Best practices call for devices to require a unique password to be created out of the box. It says the hackers likely accessed affected devices by “exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses, including poor password security and exposure to the Internet.”
Experts say many water utilities have paid insufficient attention to cybersecurity.
In response to the Aliquippa hack, three Pennsylvania congressmen asked the US Justice Department in a letter to investigate. Americans must know their drinking water and other basic infrastructure is safe from “nation-state adversaries and terrorist organizations,” US Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey and US Rep. Chris Deluzio said. Cyber Av3ngers claimed in an Oct. 30 social media post to have hacked 10 water treatment stations in Israel, though it is not clear if they shut down any equipment.
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the group has expanded and accelerated targeting Israeli critical infrastructure, said Check Point’s Sergey Shykevich. Iran and Israel were engaged in low-level cyberconflict prior to the Oct. 7. Unitronics has not responded to the AP queries about the hacks.
The attack came less than a month after a federal appeals court decision prompted the EPA to rescind a rule that would have obliged USpublic water systems to include cybersecurity testing in their regular federally mandated audits. The rollback was triggered by a federal appeals court decision in a case brought by Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa, and joined by a water utility trade group.
The Biden administration has been trying to shore up cybersecurity of critical infrastructure — more than 80 percent of which is privately owned — and has imposed regulations on sectors including electric utilities, gas pipelines and nuclear facilities. But many experts complain that too many vital industries are permitted to self-regulate.

 


UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats
Updated 7 sec ago
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UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats

UK plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda suffers first parliamentary defeats
LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered his first defeats over his legislation to send asylum seekers to Rwanda after the upper house of parliament demanded greater protections to be introduced before deportation flights can take off.
Under the Rwanda plan, which has yet to be carried out, asylum seekers who arrive on England’s southern coast in small, inflatable boats would be sent to live in Rwanda, but so far no one has been deported because of ongoing legal challenges.
In an effort to overcome resistance from the courts, Sunak’s government is passing legislation through parliament that would block further legal challenges by declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country for asylum seekers.
Unelected members of the House of Lords, largely made of former politicians and government officials, voted in favor of one amendment that would mean flights could only take off when a treaty — that would implement legal safeguards in the Rwandan asylum system — had been fully implemented.
The Lords also voted for an amendment that said the legislation must be fully compliant with international and domestic law, and another that requires proof that Rwanda is safe for refugees before flights can leave.
However, the more powerful elected House of Commons can overturn the changes at later stages in a process known as “parliamentary ping-pong” and the legislation could still enter the statute book unamended.
Some Lords complained that the legislation as currently drafted would require Rwanda to be treated as a safe country regardless of the evidence.
Christopher Tugendhat, a Lord for the governing Conservatives, accused the government of behaving like the ruling party in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
“If this bill goes onto the statute book in its present form, Rwanda will be a safe country regardless of reality,” he said.
Sunak has said he wants the first deportation flights to leave in the next few months — ahead of a general election expected in the second half of this year — so he can meet a pledge to “stop the boats.”
More than 2,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Britain on small boats so far this year. A seven-year-old girl died over the weekend trying to reach Britain after a small boat carrying her capsized off the coast of France.
In the most detailed financial assessment of the Rwanda policy, the British government’s spending watchdog on Friday said it would cost more 600 million pounds ($762 million) to deport the first 300 refugees.

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
Updated 13 min 16 sec ago
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British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth

British Council signs agreement to help empower Jordanian youth
  • Project designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities

AMMAN: The British Council has announced a collaboration with the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, Jordan News Agency reported on Monday.

The JOHUD is a nonprofit organization focusing on promoting sustainable social, economic, and cultural development in Jordan’s local communities.

The agreement was signed as part of the British Council’s Youth Connect project, which is designed to prepare 90 young Jordanians for leadership roles within their communities.

The agreement will help empower younger Jordanians in the Princess Basma Development Centers in Tafilah and Ma’an in southern Jordan, through specialized training sessions in communication skills.

Alexander Lambert, who is Jordan director at the British Council, spoke of the importance of the project as a milestone in the deep-rooted partnership between the council and the JOHUD.

The partnership with the British Council “added to the purposeful and fruitful partnerships that combine efforts with various local institutions to contribute to achieving national goals to enhance the role of youth and women in society,” JOHUD’s Executive Director Farah Daghistani said.
 


Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval

Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval
Updated 04 March 2024
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Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval

Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister, capping weeks of political upheaval
  • This is Sharif’s second term in office, his first one ran from April 2022 to August 2023
  • The new government faces an overlapping trio of political, economic and security troubles

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took oath as Pakistan's prime minister for a second term on Monday, taking over a troubled country of 241 million people that faces profound political, economic and security challenges.

Sharif, 72, officially took up office at a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential office in the nation's capital, Islamabad. 

On Sunday, Sharif, the candidate for his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and coalition allies, secured a comfortable win over Omar Ayub Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former PM Imran Khan. 

His election comes three weeks after Feb. 8 general elections threw up a hung National Assembly, unleashing weeks of protests by opposition parties over allegations of rigging and vote count fraud.

“As prime minister of Pakistan, I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions, honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully in accordance with the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law," Shehbaz said as he took oath.

In his first speech after being voted in on Sunday, Sharif spoke about the struggling $350 billion economy and said it would require "radical reforms" to rid the country of its financial difficulties.

“Can a nuclear-capable Pakistan sustain its existence with the burden of debts,” he had asked. “It will sustain if we collectively decide on a deep surgery and change the system. We have to bring reforms.”

Sharif, the younger brother of former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, played a key role as prime minister in keeping together a coalition of disparate parties for 16 months after parliament voted Imran Khan out of office in April 2022, and in securing a last gasp International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout deal in 2023.

 

 

He now faces an overlapping trio of political, economic and security crises, much like in his previous tenure.

Sharif's first order of business will be negotiating a new bailout deal with the IMF. The current IMF program expires this month. 

A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Inflation touched a high of 38 percent with record depreciation of the rupee currency under Sharif’s last government, mainly due to structural reforms necessitated by the IMF program. Pakistan continues to be enmeshed in economic crisis with inflation remaining high, hovering around 30 percent, and economic growth slowing to around 2 percent.

The new PM will also have to tackle a spike in attacks by the Pakistani Taliban and other groups, including separatists.

But the gravest challenge will be on the political front.

Independent candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats, 93, after the elections, but the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the Bhutto dynasty agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government. No single party won a majority.

The Sunni Ittehad Council backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against it and has called for an audit of the polls. Lowering political temperatures will thus be a key challenge for Sharif as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy. For now, the Khan-led opposition has signaled it would "cooperate" with the new government on issues of public concern but keep protesting the alleged manipulation of election results.

Sharif will also have to manage ties with the all-powerful military, which has directly or indirectly dominated Pakistan since independence. Unlike his elder brother, who has had a rocky relationship with the military in all his three terms, the younger Sharif is considered more acceptable and compliant by the generals, most independent analysts say.

For several years, the military has denied it interferes in politics. But it has in the past directly intervened to topple civilian governments and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since independence in 1947.


UN rights chief warns ‘great replacement’ theory inspiring violence

UN rights chief warns ‘great replacement’ theory inspiring violence
Updated 04 March 2024
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UN rights chief warns ‘great replacement’ theory inspiring violence

UN rights chief warns ‘great replacement’ theory inspiring violence
  • Turk insisted that racially mixed and multicultural societies were not something to fear but should be seen as a benefit to people everywhere
  • Concern of the growing influence of so-called ‘great replacement’ conspiracy

GENEVA: The pernicious “‘great replacement’ conspiracy theories” spreading in many countries are “delusional” and racist and are directly spurring violence, the United Nations rights chief warned on Monday.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk also took aim at the “war on woke,” which he stressed was “really a war on inclusion.”
Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk insisted that racially mixed and multicultural societies were not something to fear but should be seen as a benefit to people everywhere.
“In many countries — including in Europe and North America — I am concerned by the apparently growing influence of so-called ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theories, based on the false notion that Jews, Muslims, non-white people and migrants seek to ‘replace’ or suppress countries’ cultures and peoples,” he said.
“These delusional and deeply racist ideas have directly influenced many perpetrators of violence.”
The UN rights chief cautioned that “together with the so-called ‘war on woke’, which is really a war on inclusion, these ideas aim to exclude racial minorities — particularly women from racial minorities from full equality.
“Multiculturalism is not a threat. It is the history of humanity and deeply beneficial to us all.”
He regretted the fact that discriminatory legislation and policies were spreading.


Afghan Taliban attend Doha maritime conference to increase engagement with international community 

Afghan Taliban attend Doha maritime conference to increase engagement with international community 
Updated 04 March 2024
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Afghan Taliban attend Doha maritime conference to increase engagement with international community 

Afghan Taliban attend Doha maritime conference to increase engagement with international community 
  • Afghanistan is a landlocked country with no naval forces
  • Afghan delegation joins over 60 other countries at Qatar event 

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban government said on Monday that its participation at the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference is “very important,” as it seeks to increase engagements with the international community. 

The eighth edition of DIMDEX, which is organized by Qatar Armed Forces and runs from March 4 to 6 at the Qatar National Convention Center, will be attended by official delegations from more than 60 countries, at least five of which are bringing their warships to visit the Hamad Port. 

Despite being a landlocked country with no naval forces, the Afghan delegation is among the participating countries this year and is led by the Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, who is accompanied by the Chief of Army Staff Mohammad Fasihuddin Fitrat. 

Afghanistan's Minister of Defense, Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub Mujahid, and Chief of Staff, Qari Fasihuddin Fitr inspect weapons at the Defense Exhibition of Weapons in Qatar on March 4, 2024. (Photo courtesy: @Zabehulah_M33/X)

“They are going to take part in the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition today … This conference and exhibition is very important for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, particularly for its engagements with the international community,”Suhail Shaheen, Taliban government spokesperson in Doha and permanent representative-designate to the UN, told Arab News on Monday. 

“The invitation for the delegation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in this exhibition means that the world understands the reality of Afghanistan and accepts it … and wants to interact with the IEA … and I think this is part of the process of engagement.” 

The Taliban seized power in August 2021 after two decades of war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans. With most nations having closed their embassies in Kabul following the group’s return to power, the new rulers remained officially unrecognized by any country.

The Taliban government has hosted several meetings with other countries in the hopes of improving ties and gaining formal recognition, including talks hosted by interim Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi in late January that were attended by officials from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia. 

Afghanistan's Minister of Defense, Maulvi Muhammad Yaqub Mujahid, and Chief of Staff, Qari Fasihuddin Fitr inspect weapons at the Defense Exhibition of Weapons in Qatar on March 4, 2024. (Photo courtesy: @Zabehulah_M33/X)

“They will also hold meetings with top Qatari officials and participants from other countries to discuss and have talks on various topics,” Shaheen said. 

Though maritime security may not be top of mind for Taliban officials, the event in Qatar offers opportunities to interact with the wider international community on other issues, said Abdul Waheed Waheed, an international relations expert based in Kabul. 

“Afghanistan may not have military products to showcase and does not have maritime security (concerns), but the Afghan delegates participation at the exhibition in Qatar can still achieve significant outcomes by leveraging the event for networking, diplomatic outcomes, investment attraction, promoting their own military assets, and fostering peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region,” Waheed told Arab News. 

“The ongoing defense exhibition in Qatar provides a valuable platform for the Afghan delegation to engage with global defense stakeholders.”