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.”
 

 


The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats

The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats
Updated 8 sec ago
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The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats

The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats
SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea and the United States began large annual military exercises Monday to bolster their readiness against North Korean nuclear threats after the North raised animosities with an extension of missile tests and belligerent rhetoric earlier this year.
The South Korean and US forces began a computer-simulated command post training called the Freedom Shield exercise and a variety of field exercises for an 11-day run, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
North Korea had no immediate response to the major annual drills it regards as a rehearsal for invasion. The North has staged provocative weapons tests in the past in reaction to its adversaries’ joint drills.
South Korea’s military said last week that it would conduct 48 field exercises with the US forces this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that they would involve live-firing, bombing, air assault and missile interception drills.
Since early 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 rounds of missile tests to modernize its arsenal as talks with the United States and South Korea have been stalled for an extended period. In response, the United States and South Korea have expanded their training exercises and increased the deployment of powerful USmilitary assets such as aircraft carriers and long-range nuclear-capable bombers.
This year, North Korea carried out six rounds of missile tests and barrage of artillery firing drills. Its leader Kim Jong Un also said North Korea would scrap its long-standing goal of peaceful unification with South Korea and take a more aggressive military posture along the disputed sea boundary with South Korea. He also vowed to “annihilate” South Korea and the United States if provoked, a threat that he had previously issued.
The North Korean steps raised worries that it might make provocations along the tense Korean sea and land borders. But experts say the prospect for a full-blown attack by North Korea is dim as the North knows its military is outmatched by US and South Korean forces.
North Korea’s moves to raise tensions are likely related to upcoming elections planned by its rivals: the US presidential election in November and South Korea’s parliament election in April. North Korea believes an advanced nuclear arsenal will increase its leverage in future diplomacy and it can win concessions like the easing of international sanctions, experts say.

4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay

4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay
Updated 1 min 22 sec ago
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4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay

4 new astronauts head to the International Space Station for a 6-month stay

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Four astronauts headed to the International Space Station on Sunday where they will oversee the arrivals of two new rocketships during their half-year stint.
SpaceX’s Falcon rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, carrying NASA’s Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Epps and Russia’s Alexander Grebenkin.
The astronauts should reach the orbiting lab on Tuesday. They will replace a crew from the US, Denmark, Japan and Russia, who have been there since August.
“When are you getting here already?” space station commander Andreas Mogensen asked via X, formerly Twitter, after three days of delay due to high wind. SpaceX Launch Control termed it “fashionably late.”
There was almost another postponement Sunday night. A small crack in the seal of the SpaceX capsule’s hatch prompted a last-minute flurry of reviews, but it was deemed safe for the whole mission.
The new crew’s six-month stay includes the arrival of two rocketships ordered by NASA. Boeing’s new Starliner capsule with test pilots is due in late April. A month or two later, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser, a mini shuttle, should arrive. It is for delivering cargo to the station, but not passengers yet.
Epps was originally assigned to fly Boeing’s Starliner, which got bogged down with problems and stalled. NASA finally switched her to SpaceX.
“I am in a New York state of mind right now, it is amazing,” she said upon reaching orbit, referring to the Billy Joel song.
Epps, who is from Syracuse, N.Y., is the second Black woman assigned to a long station mission. She said before the flight that she is especially proud to be a role model for Black girls, demonstrating that spaceflight “is an option for them, that this is not just for other people.”
An engineer, she worked for Ford Motor Co. and the CIA before becoming an astronaut in 2009. Epps should have launched to the space station on a Russian rocket in 2018, but was replaced for reasons never publicly disclosed.
Also new to space are Dominick, a Navy pilot, and Grebenkin, a former Russian military officer.
Barratt, a doctor on his third mission, is the oldest full-time astronaut to fly in space. He turns 65 in April.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster ride with a bunch of really excited teenagers,” Barratt said after reaching orbit. As for his age, he said before the flight, “As long as we stay healthy and fit and engaged, we’re good to fly.”
Flight controllers are monitoring a growing cabin leak on Russia’s side of the space station. The leak has doubled in size in the past few weeks and the area has been sealed off, NASA program manager Joel Montalbano said. He stressed there is no impact to station operations or crew safety.


In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza

In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza
Updated 59 min 34 sec ago
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In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza

In blunt remarks, US Vice President Harris calls out Israel over ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza
  • Says Israel must open new border crossings, not impose any unnecessary restrictions on aid delivery
  • Urges Hamas to agree to an immediate six-week ceasefire as mediators push for peace in Egypt’s Cairo

CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip: US Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday demanded Palestinian militant group Hamas agree to an immediate six-week ceasefire while forcefully urging Israel to do more to boost aid deliveries into Gaza, where she said innocent people were suffering a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

In some of the strongest comments by a senior leader of the US government to date on the issue, Harris pressed the Israeli government and outlined specific ways on how more aid can flow into the densely-populated enclave where hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine, following five months of Israel’s military campaign.
“Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire,” Harris said at an event in Selma, Alabama. “There is a deal on the table, and as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let’s get a ceasefire.”
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act...The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she said.

 

On Sunday, a Hamas delegation had arrived in Cairo for the latest round of ceasefire talks, billed by many as the final possible hurdle for a truce, but it was unclear if any progress was made. Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth’s online version reported that Israel boycotted the talks after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages who are still alive.
Washington has insisted the ceasefire deal is close and has been pushing to put in place a truce by the start of Ramadan, a week away. A US official on Saturday said Israel has agreed on a framework deal.
An agreement would bring the first extended truce of the war, which has raged for five months so far with just a week-long pause in November. Dozens of hostages held by Hamas militants would be freed in return for hundreds of Palestinian detainees.
One source briefed on the talks had said on Saturday that Israel could stay away from Cairo unless Hamas first presented its full list of hostages who are still alive. A Palestinian source told Reuters that Hamas had so far rejected that demand.

After the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official told Reuters the deal was “not yet there.” There was no official comment from Israel.
In past negotiations, Hamas has sought to avoid discussing the well-being of individual hostages until after terms for their release are set.
In other diplomatic moves, Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz will meet Harris at the White House on Monday and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Tuesday. US envoy Amos Hochstein will visit Beirut on Monday to pursue efforts to de-escalate the conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border.

“Gunfire and chaos“
The death last week of more than 100 Palestinians approaching an aid truck in Gaza has captured the severe humanitarian crisis in the densely-populated enclave, an incident Harris recalled during her speech.
“We saw hungry, desperate people approach aid trucks simply trying to secure food for their family after weeks of barely any aid reaching northern Gaza and they were met with gunfire and chaos,” Harris said.
Israel said on Sunday its initial review of the incident had found that most of those killed or wounded had died in a stampede. Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli troops at the scene initially fired only warning shots, though they later shot at some “looters” who “approached our forces and posed an immediate threat.”

A Palestinian girl carries a child through the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on March 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (AFP)

Muatasem Salah, a member of the Emergency Committee at the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Reuters the Israeli account was contradicted by machine gun wounds.
In her comments, Harris laid out specific ways on how the Israeli government can allow more aid into Gaza. “They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, sites and convoys are not targeted, and they must work to restore basic services and promote order in Gaza, so more food, water and fuel can reach those in need.”
Under pressure at home and abroad, the Biden administration on Saturday carried out its first airdrop of aid into the coastal enclave, with a US military transport plane dropping 38,000 meals along Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline.
Critics of airdrops say they have only a limited impact on the suffering, and that it is nearly impossible to ensure supplies do not end up in the hands of militants.
The United States will continue these airdrops, Harris said, and added that Washington was working on a new route by sea to also send aid.
The war was unleashed in October after Hamas fighters stormed through Israeli towns killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israeli forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.
Swathes of the Gaza Strip have been laid to waste, nearly the entire population has been made homeless, and the United Nations estimates a quarter of Gazans are on the verge of famine.
At a morgue outside a Rafah hospital on Sunday morning, women wept and wailed beside rows of bodies of the Abu Anza family, 14 of whom Gaza health authorities say were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah overnight.
The youngest of the family who were killed were infant twins Wesam and Naaem, the first children of their mother after 11 years of marriage. They were born a few weeks into the Gaza war.
“My heart is gone,” wailed Rania Abu Anza, who also lost her husband in the attack. “I haven’t had enough time with them.”


Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared

Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared
Updated 04 March 2024
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Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared

Malaysia may renew the search for MH370 a decade after the flight disappeared
  • Announcement comes after a US technology firm proposed fresh search in southern Indian Ocean where plane went missing 
  • The Boeing 777 plane, carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, vanished from radar shortly after taking off in Mar. 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia’s government said Sunday it may renew the hunt for MH370 after a US technology firm proposed a fresh search in the southern Indian Ocean where the Malaysia Airlines plane is believed to have crashed a decade ago.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Texas-based Ocean Infinity has proposed another “no find, no fee” basis to scour the seabeds, expanding from the site where it first searched in 2018. He said he has invited the company to meet him to evaluate new scientific evidence it has to find the plane’s final resting place.

If the evidence is credible, he said, he will seek Cabinet’s approval to sign a new contract with Ocean Infinity to resume the search.

“The government is steadfast in our resolve to locate MH370,” Loke told a remembrance event to mark the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of the jet. “We really hope the search can find the plane and provide truth to the next-of-kin.”

The Boeing 777 plane carrying 239 people, mostly Chinese nationals, from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to Beijing, vanished from radar shortly after taking off on March 8, 2014. Satellite data showed the plane deviated from its flight path and was believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

But an expensive multinational government search failed to turn up any clues, although debris washed ashore on the east African coast and Indian Ocean islands. A private search in 2018 by Ocean Infinity also found nothing, but the tragedy sparked moves to bolster aviation safety.

K.S. Nathan, a member of the Voice MH370 group comprising next-of-kin, said Ocean Infinity initially planned a search last year but it was delayed by the delivery of its new fleet of ships and assets. It is now on track to resume the hunt, he said.

Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Punkett was reported as saying by the New Straits Times that the company has been focusing on innovating technologies and robotics to enhance their search capabilities since 2018.

“We now feel in a position to be able to return to the search for MH370,” he told the English-language daily. “We’ve been working with many experts, some outside of Ocean Infinity, to continue analizing the data in the hopes of narrowing the search area down to one in which success becomes potentially achievable.”

Loke declined to reveal the fee proposed by Ocean Infinit y if it finds the plane, as this is subject to negotiation. He said financial cost is not an issue and that he doesn’t foresee any hindrances for the search to proceed if all goes well.

Loke’s response sparked tears of joy in some family members at the event held in a mall in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

“I’m on top of the world,” said Jacquita Gomes, whose flight attendant husband was on the plane. She said she is thankful that she may now have a chance for full closure and say a final goodbye.

“We have been on a roller coaster for the last 10 years. ... If it is not found, I hope that it will continue with another search,” she said.

Family members of passengers from Malaysia, Australia, China and India paid tribute to their loved ones during the event, lighting a candle on stage to remember them.

“No matter if it is 10 years, 20 years or more, as long as we are still alive...we will not cease to press for the truth. We believe the truth will eventually come to light,” said Bai Zhong, from China, whose wife was on the plane.


Nikki Haley says she no longer feels bound by the GOP pledge requiring her to support the eventual nominee

Nikki Haley says she no longer feels bound by the GOP pledge requiring her to support the eventual nominee
Updated 04 March 2024
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Nikki Haley says she no longer feels bound by the GOP pledge requiring her to support the eventual nominee

Nikki Haley says she no longer feels bound by the GOP pledge requiring her to support the eventual nominee
  • Haley had signed the pledge required by the Republican National Committee, but current front-runner Donald Trump did not
  • She said “the RNC is now not the same RNC” as it was at the time of the debates and that she has always had “serious concerns” about Trump

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Sunday she no longer feels bound by a pledge that required all GOP contenders to support the party’s eventual nominee in order to participate in the primary debates.

The Republican National Committee had made the pledge a prerequisite for all candidates, and nearly every major contender signed, except for Donald Trump, the current front-runner, who skipped the debates.
When Haley, Trump’s lone remaining major challenger for the nomination, was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether she was compelled to honor that commitment, she said, “No. I think I’ll make what decision I want to make.”
She said “the RNC is now not the same RNC” as it was at the time of the debates. She also maintained that she has always said she had “serious concerns” about Trump, for whom she served as UN ambassador.
The RNC is in the midst of major changes, with the chair, Ronna McDaniel, set to leave the job on Friday. She was Trump’s hand-picked choice to lead the RNC shortly after the 2016 election, but Trump now is poised to install loyalists atop the organization. He has announced his preference for North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley, a little-known veteran operative, to replace McDaniel. Trump also has picked his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, to serve as committee co-chair.
Haley dismissed questions about whether she would drop out and eventually endorse Trump.
“Right now, my focus is, ‘How do we touch as many voters? How do we win?’” she said. “I want the American people to see that you don’t have to live this way. There is a path forward. And we can do it with someone who can put in eight years, that can constantly focus on results and not the negativity and the baggage that we have right now.”
Trump on Saturday continued his march toward the nomination, winning caucuses in Idaho and Missouri and sweeping the delegate haul at a party convention in Michigan.
Trump’s count is now 244, compared with 24 for Haley. A candidate needs to secure 1,215 delegates to clinch the nomination.
The next event on the Republican calendar was Sunday in the District of Columbia. Two days later is Super Tuesday, when 16 states will hold primaries on what will be the largest day of voting of the year outside of the November election. Trump is on track to lock up the nomination days later.
“I’ve always said this needs to be competitive. As long as we are competitive, as long as we are showing that there is a place for us, I’m going to continue to fight,” Haley said.