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)
Short Url
Updated 03 December 2023
Follow

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.

 


White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns

White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns
Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns

White House defends Harris meeting with Israeli Cabinet official despite Netanyahu’s concerns
  • Israel has essentially agreed to the deal, according to a senior Biden administration official, and the White House has emphasized that the onus is on Hamas to come on board

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris and other top Biden administration officials were holding talks on Monday with a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet who came to Washington in defiance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
White House officials said Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival of Netanyahu, requested the meeting and the Democratic administration believed it was important to meet with the prominent Israeli official despite Netanyahu’s objections.
The meeting comes as President Joe Biden, Harris and other senior administration officials have become increasingly blunt about their dissatisfaction with the mounting death toll in Gaza and suffering of innocent Palestinians as the war nears the five-month mark.
“We’re going to discuss a number of things in terms of the priorities that certainly we have, which includes getting a hostage deal done, getting aid in and then getting that six-week ceasefire,” Harris told reporters before her meeting with Gantz.
The US on Saturday carried out the first of what is expected to be ongoing aidrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The moment is reflective of the increasingly awkward dynamics in the US-Israel relationship, with the US forced to fly badly needed aid past its close ally as it looks to ramp up badly needed assistance for civilians in Gaza. The first airdrop occurred just days after more than 100 Palestinians were killed as they were trying to get food from an Israel-organized convoy.
The White House agreed to the meeting with Gantz even as an official from Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party said Gantz did not have approval from the prime minister for his meetings in Washington. Netanyahu gave Gantz a “tough talk” about the visit — underscoring a widening crack within Israel’s wartime leadership.
“We have been dealing with all members of the war Cabinet, including Mr. Gantz,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. “We see this as a natural outgrowth of those discussions. We’re not going to turn away that sort of opportunity.”
In addition to his talks with Harris, Gantz is meeting on Monday with National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser. Gantz was also scheduled to meet on Monday with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And he will meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.
Gantz just before the start of his White House meetings told a reporter with Israel’s public broadcaster Kan: “There will be an open and honest conversation between two friendly and important countries and partners.”
Biden is at Camp David, the presidential retreat just outside Washington, until Tuesday.
Over the weekend, Harris issued a forceful call for a temporary ceasefire deal in Gaza, which administration officials say would halt fighting for at least six weeks, and also increased pressure on Israel not to impede the aid that workers were trying to get into the region. The White House has been advocating for that framework deal for weeks.
Israel has essentially agreed to the deal, according to a senior Biden administration official, and the White House has emphasized that the onus is on Hamas to come on board.
Biden faces mounting political pressure at home over his administration’s handling of the Israeli-Hamas war, which was triggered when militants in Gaza launched an attack, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 people hostage.
In last week’s Michigan presidential primary, more than 100,000 Democratic primary voters cast ballots for “uncommitted.” Biden still easily won the state’s primary, but the coordinated push by voters on the left who are dissatisfied with the president’s unwavering support for Israel as its military operations in Gaza have left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead. The vote totals raise concerns for Democrats in a state Biden won by only 154,000 votes in 2020.
Gantz, who polls show could be a formidable candidate for prime minister if a vote were held today, is viewed as a political moderate. But he has remained vague about his view of Palestinian statehood — something that Biden sees as essential to forging a lasting peace once the conflict ends but that Netanyahu adamantly opposes.
It is also assumed that when the heavy fighting subsides, Gantz will leave the government, which would increase pressure for early elections.
Since Gantz joined Netanyahu’s three-minister war Cabinet in October, US officials have found him to be easier to deal with than either Netanyahu or Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Although Gantz holds many of the same hard-line views as Netanyahu and Gallant, he has been seen as more open to compromise on critical issues, including the increased delivery of humanitarian assistance that will be a prime topic of discussion in the meetings in Washington this week.
Until now, calls for elections have been muted due to the war, but analysts think that when Gantz leaves the government, it will send a signal to the Israeli public that the need for national unity has passed and efforts to oust Netanyahu’s government can begin in earnest.
For his part while in Washington, Gantz aims to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages, according to a second Israeli official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to publicly discuss the disputes within the Israeli government. Gantz is scheduled to head to London for meetings after his US visit.
It remains to be seen if Gantz while in Washington will diverge from Netanyahu’s stances on Palestinian statehood or carrying out an expanded operation in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah. The Biden administration has repeatedly warned Israel against a Rafah operation without a plan to protect civilians.
“I don’t doubt there are some administration officials who believe just by meeting with Gantz they are undermining Netanyahu,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative Washington think tank. “But if Gantz carries the government’s line on key issues of disagreement, these meetings are net-negative for the White House while helpful back home for Gantz.”
 

 


US Internet subsidy program set to run out of money in May

Ethernet cables used for internet connection. (REUTERS)
Ethernet cables used for internet connection. (REUTERS)
Updated 57 sec ago
Follow

US Internet subsidy program set to run out of money in May

Ethernet cables used for internet connection. (REUTERS)
  • Congress previously allocated $17 billion to help lower-income families and people impacted by COVID-19 gain Internet access through a $30 per month voucher to use toward Internet service

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission on Monday said a government broadband Internet subsidy program used by 23 million American households will run out of money in May and be shuttered without action by Congress.
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel told lawmakers in a letter that April is the last month participants will get the full subsidy, with partial subsidies expected in May. Congress previously allocated $17 billion to help lower-income families and people impacted by COVID-19 gain Internet access through a $30 per month voucher to use toward Internet service.
 

 


UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
Updated 05 March 2024
Follow

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers

UK charities call for inquiry into treatment of children placed in hotels for asylum seekers
  • Report exposes official's inappropriate guessing game to reveal foster care placements to children
  • Report that found basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were safe in these hotels were not carried out

LONDON: Charities and campaigners have called for a public inquiry into the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, the BBC reported on Monday.

At one point, the Home Office contracted seven hotels to provide temporary accommodation for children while foster care placements were being arranged with local authorities. According to a recently published official report, however, basic checks to ensure unaccompanied children were being kept safe in these hotels were not carried out.

The report, by the former chief inspector of borders, David Neal, and published by the Home Office last week, also revealed a particularly disturbing practice in which a team leader would have children take part in a guessing game to find out who had received a place in foster care.

Inspectors described the practice as “insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.” They noted that it was not widely adopted but nor was it internally questioned when it was.

Eighteen organizations, including the Refugee Council and the British Association of Social Workers, have now signed an open letter in which they highlight this “appalling revelation” that some children were forced to play a game to guess which of them had been allocated a foster home. They described the wider findings of the report as “disturbing, distressing and dystopian.”

The letter also said that hundreds of unaccompanied children who have gone missing from hotels have yet to be found, and that children incorrectly assessed as being of adult age were forced to share bedrooms with grown-up strangers.

The signatories called for an extensive independent investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers aged 17 and younger.

“In our work with refugee children, we repeatedly see how they are being failed... There is a culture of callous disregard for children’s basic right to dignity,” they said in their letter.

“We urgently need to see a fundamental change towards an asylum system that is fair, humane and protects those who are some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”

The Home Office said the welfare of the children was of “utmost priority.” A full investigation into the “inappropriate behavior” of the worker responsible for the guessing game has been launched, it added, and he was removed from his position as soon as his actions were revealed. It also said hotels are no longer used to house child refugees, the BBC reported.

The report was based on inspections of two hotels in Kent that took place in September 2023.

It stated: “Inspectors found that two years on from when the Home Office first moved children into hotels, it was still grappling with the challenges of managing an operation that was only ever envisaged to provide a short-term solution.”


EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
Updated 04 March 2024
Follow

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire

EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers ‘doing everything in its power’ in bid for Gaza ceasefire
  • Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire

LONDON: The EU’s Council of Foreign Ministers “is doing everything in its power to reach an immediate ceasefire and secure the delivery of aid to the Palestinian people,” Belgium’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Hadja Lahbib announced her country’s intention to host an international peace conference in April to discuss Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Lahbib added that she makes international contacts on an almost daily basis to seek a 40-day ceasefire so that Palestinians can receive humanitarian aid.

Israel has sealed off the strip, stormed its towns and pounded it from the sky since its action began in October. More than 30,000 people have been confirmed killed, with thousands more missing.

The majority of the population in the Gaza Strip has been made homeless, and the UN says hundreds of thousands of its people are facing famine.

Lahbib said that Belgium sent direct aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in December, adding that the aid “continues and will not be interrupted.”
 


Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
Updated 04 March 2024
Follow

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead

Rains batter northwest Pakistan leaving 35 people dead
  • Gilgit-Baltistan major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands stranded

PESHAWAR: Thirty-five people have been killed and dozens more injured in the last five days as rains continue to batter Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority said on Monday.

Heavy rains and snowfall last week have damaged hundreds of houses and bridges and shut off road and rail routes in several areas of Pakistan. In the country’s mountainous northern Gilgit-Baltistan, the main Karakoram Highway, Baltistan Road and other major roads remained blocked for a third consecutive day, leaving thousands of tourists, travelers, and traders stranded at various points.

In the southwest of the country, heavy snowfall brought daily life to a standstill in Quetta and other northern parts of Balochistan, with main highways and inter-provincial roads blocked since Saturday, cutting the remote province from other parts of the country.

“During the last five days, 35 people have died and 43 people have been injured as a result of accidents due to ongoing rains across the province,” the PDMA said in a statement, providing figures for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, adding that “346 houses were partially damaged while 46 houses were completely damaged.”

The PDMA said food and other relief items were being sent to the areas of Charsadda, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Malakand, Mohmand, Bannu, Khyber, Bajaur, Nowshera and Peshawar on the orders of the province’s new Chief Minister Ali Amin Khan Gandapur.

“Distribution of relief items underway including blankets, tents, jerry cans, gas cylinders, water coolers, mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, toilet kits, plastic mats, sandbags, tarpaulins,” the PDMA said, adding that the chief minister had ordered that “immediate steps” be taken to open closed roads.

Large swathes of Pakistan were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people and affected over 30 million.

Pakistan received commitments of more than $9 billion from international donors to help recover from the 2022 floods with rebuilding efforts estimated to cost about $16.3 billion, but little aid has come in so far.