Top White House cyber aide says recent Iran hack on water system is call to tighten cybersecurity

Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, speaks during a news briefing at the White House, Monday, March 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP)
Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, speaks during a news briefing at the White House, Monday, March 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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Top White House cyber aide says recent Iran hack on water system is call to tighten cybersecurity

Top White House cyber aide says recent Iran hack on water system is call to tighten cybersecurity
  • A recent global study by the cybersecurity firm Sophos found nearly two-thirds of health care organizations were hit by ransomware attacks in the year ending in March, double the rate from two years earlier but dipping slightly from 2022

WASHINGTON: A top White House national security official said recent cyberattacks by Iranian hackers on US water authorities — as well as a separate spate of ransomware attacks on the health care industry — should be seen as a call to action by utilities and industry to tighten cybersecurity.
Deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger said in an interview on Friday that recent attacks on multiple American organizations by the Iranian hacker group “Cyber Av3ngers” were “unsophisticated” and had “minimal impact” on operations. But the attacks, Neuberger said, offered a fresh warning that American companies and operators of critical infrastructure “are facing persistent and capable cyberattacks from hostile countries and criminals” that are not going away.
“Some pretty basic practices would have made a big difference there,” said Neuberger, who serves as a top adviser to President Joe Biden on cyber and emerging technology issues. “We need to be locking our digital doors. There are significant criminal threats, as well as capable countries — but particularly criminal threats — that are costing our economy a lot.”
The hackers, who US and Israeli officials said are tied to Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, breached multiple organizations in several states including a small municipal water authority in the western Pennsylvania town of Aliquippa. The hackers said they were specifically targeting organizations that used programmable logic controllers made by the Israeli company Unitronics, commonly used by water and water treatment utilities.
Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium.
The Aliquippa hack prompted 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 hacks, which authorities said began on Nov. 22, come as already fraught tensions between the US and Iran have been heightened by the two-month-old Israel-Hamas war. The White House said that Tehran has supported Houthi rebels in Yemen who have carried out attacks on commercial vessels and have threatened US warships in the Red Sea.
Iran is the chief sponsor of both Hamas, the militant group which controls Gaza, as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The US has said they have uncovered no information that Iran was directly involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the massive retaliatory operation by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza. But the Biden administration is increasingly voicing concern about Iran attempting to broaden the Israeli-Hamas conflict through proxy groups and publicly warned Tehran about the Houthi rebels’ attacks.
“They’re the ones with their finger on the trigger,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters earlier this week. “But that gun — the weapons here are being supplied by Iran. And Iran, we believe, is the ultimate party responsible for this.”
Neuberger declined to comment on whether the recent cyberattack by the Iranian hacker group could portend more hacks by Tehran on US infrastructure and companies. Still, she said the moment underscored the need to step up cybersecurity efforts.
The Iranian “Cyber Av3ngers” attack came after a federal appeals court decision in October 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.
Neuberger said that measures spelled out in the scrapped rule to beef up cybersecurity for water systems could have “identified vulnerabilities that were targeted in recent weeks.”
The administration, earlier this year, unveiled a wide-ranging cybersecurity plan that called for bolstering protections on critical sectors and making software companies legally liable when their products don’t meet basic standards.
Neuberger also noted recent criminal ransomware attacks that have devastated health care systems, arguing those attacks spotlight the need for government and industry to take steps to tighten cybersecurity.
A recent attack targeting Ardent Health Services prompted the health care chain that operates 30 hospitals in six states to divert patients from some of its emergency rooms to other hospitals while postponing certain elective procedures. Ardent said it was forced to take its network offline after the Nov. 23 cyberattack.
A recent global study by the cybersecurity firm Sophos found nearly two-thirds of health care organizations were hit by ransomware attacks in the year ending in March, double the rate from two years earlier but dipping slightly from 2022.
“The president’s made it a priority. We’re pushing out actionable information. We’re pushing out advice,” Neuberger said. “And we really need the partnership of state and local governments and of companies who are operating critical services to take and implement that advice quickly.”
 

 


Sweden arms exports rose 18 percent in 2023 with Pakistan among top destinations

Sweden arms exports rose 18 percent in 2023 with Pakistan among top destinations
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Sweden arms exports rose 18 percent in 2023 with Pakistan among top destinations

Sweden arms exports rose 18 percent in 2023 with Pakistan among top destinations
  • Sweden has a growing defense industry with Saab making the Gripen fighter jet, the Global Eye surveillance aircraft and anti-tank weapons
  • Top 10 destinations for Swedish arms exports includes the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Germany, India and Norway

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s arms exports rose 18 percent in 2023 to reach 1.6 billion euros as the Russia-Ukraine war drove a search for weaponry, a government agency said Monday.

Most of the exports went to European Union countries and 39 countries which Sweden cooperates with, the Swedish Inspectorate for Strategic Products (ISP) said in a statement.

Sweden has a growing defense industry with Saab making the Gripen fighter jet, the Global Eye surveillance aircraft and anti-tank weapons.

“The degradation of the security situation and the continuing rearmament in the world means that the Swedish defense industry can expect many orders for a long time,” said ISP director general Carl Johan Wieslander in a statement.

“Swedish military equipment is attracting great interest, particularly in Ukraine,” he added.

Turkiye also benefited from Swedish arms, according to ISP, with exports in 2023 worth four million Kronor (356,000 euros).

In 2019, Stockholm introduced restrictions on arms sales to Ankara in response to Turkiye’s military incursion into Syria.

The embargo was lifted following negotiations between the two countries during Sweden’s NATO accession process.

“The resumption of arms exports to Turkiye clearly shows that Sweden places greater importance to NATO membership than to respecting human rights, democracy and international law,” said the peace and disarmament NGO Svenska Freds in a statement.

“The arms industry wants to present itself as a contributor to freedom and democracy, but Swedish arms companies also export (their products) to undemocratic regimes, countries that violate human rights and international law,” the NGO added.

People in these countries “pay a high price” for flourishing arms industry, it said.

The top 10 destinations for Swedish arms exports are the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Norway, France and the Czech Republic.


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.”


Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference

Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference
Updated 04 March 2024
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Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference

Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference
  • Afghanistan is a landlocked country with no naval forces
  • Afghan delegation joins over 60 other countries at the Doha 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 the 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 Minister of National Defense Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, who is accompanied by the Chief of Army Staff Mohammad Fasihuddin Fitrat.

“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.

“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 the agenda 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.”