The growing threat of ransomware attacks - Axios
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The growing threat of ransomware attacks

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Get used to the kind of ransomware attack that crippled critical infrastructure and shut down major corporations yesterday. It was an escalation of the kind of cyber attack that's becoming a regular occurrence worldwide with a reach that's threatening key elements of national security.

Why it matters: These kinds of attacks are affecting more people as they spill out of the cyber realm and impact hospitals, power grids, and multi-national corporations. At the same time, consumer anxiety about security is at an all-time high, according to the recent Unisys Security Index, and EY's Global Capital Confidence Barometer, which shows cybersecurity concerns are delaying business deals. The physical and digital worlds are converging, and consumers are more vulnerable to threats as our lives become more connected than ever.

Ukraine's prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, called yesterday's cyberattack — which targeted government workstations, power companies, banks, state-run TV stations, airports and ATMs — "unprecedented" in scope. The so-called Petya attack reboots victims' computers, encrypts their hard drive's master file (instead of individual files) and renders their entire hard drive inoperable. The ransom requested for access to an infected computer is $300 in bitcoin, and "doesn't seem consistent with state-sponsored attackers," Bret Padres, a former intel official and CEO of The Crypsis Group, tells Axios, although he would not rule out a state-sponsored attack.

An escalation: Monzy Merza, Director of Cyber research for Splunk, told us the attack is "a change in behavior" by hackers. It comes just over a month after the massive WannaCry ransomware attack, conducted by a North Korean hacking group, spread to 300,000 breaches across 150 countries. "As far as we can tell this is an escalation or at least a similar attack as the WannaCry ransomware," Padres said. Plus, if Ukraine is really a "testing ground" as Merza suggests, this ransomware attack shows the perpetrators are trying to perfect their techniques before carrying out another, potentially larger one.

Implications for the U.S. Padres says that "Eastern European systems are more likely to be running unpatched and could be more vulnerable to this type of attack," but the "bulk of the U.S. capability in cyber security is in it's offensive operations. We are in a very vulnerable place when it comes to defenses." A State Department official said, "We are actively monitoring the situation."

The attacks and its results are becoming more targeted. While it may seem that attacks are happening more frequently, what's actually happening is that hackers are choosing to publicly showcase the ramifications of the attack:

  • During WannaCry, consequences, such as preventing hospital systems from working, showed how a virus can bring vital technology systems to a screeching halt.
  • During Petya, attackers aimed to show their ability to destroy the systems that just about everyone relies on, from power grids to banks to a country's oil supply.
Need for proactive policy: Carl Herberger, Vice President of security at Radware, said the attack has highlighted the need for an international organization to better police and protect against the rise in global cyber-threats. "The FBI was created as a result of the pandemic of interstate bank recoveries and the need to hold criminals across borders accountable for their unjust actions. In a way, that is what we need right now," said Herberger.
The real payday: Only a few dozen people appear to have paid the ransom, according to Raj Samani, head of strategic intelligence at McAfee. But the real cost comes to governments and companies — like major advertising agency WPP that had to shut down some offices for the day — reeling from the impact.
  • "There's something to be said that if you target critical infrastructure and the like, putting safety at risk, you are a little closer to the 'payday' you are after – especially if the time to recover through in-house processes is longer than is acceptable," said David Kennerley, director of threat research at Webroot.
  • For example, the attack had direct ramifications for Ukraine's nuclear power management:

Be smart: Herberger says that no matter the size of your business, you can become a victim in today's cyber-landscape. So "patch your systems, properly back up your network, educate your employees on potential threats, and should you fall victim to an attack, don't pay the ransom."

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Sen. Corker won't seek re-election

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee won't run for re-election next year, according to the Tennessean newspaper. Corker says he wants to act "thoughtfully and independently" for the rest of his term without worrying about running for re-election.

Why it matters: Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was a reliably GOP establishment vote. According to the Tennessean, Corker had "agonized" about running again in the face of a possible challenge from more conservative Republican opponents.

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More STD cases recorded in 2016 than ever before

The bacteria which causes Chlamydia, the most prevalent STD in 2016. Photo: CDC via AP

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded over 2 million cases of STDs in 2016, the highest-ever number. The most prevalent disease, with 1.6 million cases, was chlamydia, followed by gonorrhea, with 470,000 cases.

Why it matters: The number of reported cases is on the rise. There were 4.7% more cases of chlamydia in 2016 than 2015, and an 18.5% increase in gonorrhea during that time period. Cases of syphilis, which are much less prevalent than chlamydia or gonorrhea, saw a 17.6% bump from 2015 to 2016.

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Women in Saudi Arabia will soon be able to drive legally

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday that it will lift its ban on female drivers. Photo: Hasan Jamal / AP

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday that it will lift its ban on female drivers in June 2018, per the New York Times. The move is a victory for women's rights groups who have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and marks the end of what has long been known around the world as a symbol of the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia.

Between the lines: Despite the advancement, the country still has a ways to go in helping society adjust to the change. As the NYT points out, the kingdom has no processes in place to teach women how to drive or to obtain drivers licenses. Police will also need to be trained to interact with women, something that men and women in their Saudi society rarely do.

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Sen. Blumenthal "99% sure" Manafort and Flynn will be charged

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-Conn. talks to media. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Politico on Tuesday that he's "99 percent sure there will be some criminal charges" from the Russia investigation, and that Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort "are the most prominent" people for whom charges are near-certain.

Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said there could be others charged, but he's unsure whether they might include President Trump himself. Roger Stone said today after a closed-door appearance before the House Intelligence Committee that Manafort's lawyers believe he will be indicted soon.

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Study: Autism is rooted mostly in genetics

People commemorating World Autism Awareness Day (April 2) in Brazil. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP

The risk of developing autism is 83% genetic and 17% due to environmental factors, according to a new model, TIME reports. Scientists studied sibling pairs — ranging from half siblings who share one biological parent to identical twins who share 100% of their DNA — and tracked diagnoses of autism among them, per the study. They also accounted for the fact that siblings may be diagnosed at different times.

Why it matters: The new model adds perspective to the debate over whether the disorder is rooted in genetics or environmental factors. Previous studies of just twins have found a 90% correlation between developing autism and genetics.

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McConnell: Graham-Cassidy is dead, moving on to tax reform

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Graham-Cassidy bill is dead, and the Senate's focus is now on tax reform. Photo: Ron Sachs / MediaPunch via IPx

Senate GOP leaders announced Tuesday that they will not hold a vote on the Graham-Cassidy health bill before the Saturday deadline, with Sen. Bill Cassidy conceding, "we don't have the votes." Mitch McConnell said the Senate will now focus its energy on "our next priority," tax reform, and added that they will return to health care once that's dealt with.

Go Deeper: What the Dems are saying

Next steps: McConnell said the Senate Budget committee will mark up the FY18 budget next week, which will set up the tax overhaul process.

Key quotes from the Senate GOP's briefing:

Mitch McConnell:

  • "We haven't given up on changing the American health care system. We're [just] not going to be able to do that this week."

Lindsey Graham:

  • "With a process that gives more attention and time, we will repeal and replace Obamacare with a block grant to pass Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson... It's a matter of if, not when."
  • "The leadership team has done everything we've asked them... anyone out there who thinks Mitch has not done all he could, I don't know what you're talking about."

Bill Cassidy:

  • "We don't have the votes. We made the decision that because we don't have the votes, we will postpone the vote."
John Cornyn:
  • "I think we ought to leave the health care debate for a different track." Added that he wants the FY2018 budget reconciliation instructions to focus on taxes, not health care.
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Senate Dems say it's time for bipartisan Affordable Care Act fix

Chuck Schumer takes questions from reporters at the Capitol. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Following news that the Graham-Cassidy health care plan would not receive a vote, Senate Democrats said that they were ready to move forward with the GOP to better the Affordable Care Act. At the Democrats' weekly press conference, Chuck Schumer said, "We are ready at this moment to roll up our sleeves and work in a bipartisan way to stabilize this system and make improvements."

One more thing: Schumer said that he'd spoken with Puerto Rico's governor and pushed back on President Trump's comments that recovery efforts in Puerto Rico were going well, saying, "I'm not blaming. I'm beseeching for quick action…It is not going fine. Absolutely not. They need help now."

Go Deeper: What the Republicans are saying

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Alabama Republicans go to the polls

Roy Moore (L) and Luther Strange (R) arrive to vote. Photo: Eric Schultz / AP

When most senate candidates arrive to vote, they don't have to tie up their horses first. Luther Strange, the Trump-nominated incumbent, arrived on foot, while Roy Moore, the Bannon-backed front-runner, was on horseback.

Polls close at 7pm local time (8pm Eastern) in the Republican runoff for senate.

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Facebook to stream NFL recaps, highlights

C_osett/flickr

Facebook and the NFL have finally struck a deal to stream game recaps and highlights, per Reuters. Some NFL documentaries will be included in the deal.

Why it matters: The move comes as both companies start to invest heavily in streaming video. Facebook launched its video platform "Watch" for video viewing across devices, especially on digital TV. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in June, "There has been a dramatic shift … This year we're with Amazon and for us the future is OTT [streaming services.}"

Rounding it up: Discussions about streaming have been ongoing between the NFL and Facebook. The NFL has been aggressive about striking distribution partnerships with social platforms and Facebook has been aggressive about striking sports partnerships with leagues. Earlier this year, Facebook lost a bid to stream Thursday night NFL games to Amazon — which won the contract for $50 million dollars for the season. Twitter announced in May it will stream exclusive NFL content. Facebook landed professional baseball and soccer distribution deal earlier this year.

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Apple, Fitbit and Samsung part of FDA trial aimed at speeding tech development

AP file photo

Some of the biggest names in tech and health care are taking part in a pilot program from the FDA that looks to make it easier for companies looking to offer technology approaches to issues that fall under the agency's purview.

Why it matters: A lot of tech companies have been focusing on relatively modest products in the "wellness" space rather than more ambitious efforts that require cumbersome and time-consuming regulatory approval.

"We need to modernize our regulatory framework so that it matches the kind of innovation we're being asked to evaluate, and helps foster beneficial technology while ensuring that consumers have access to high-quality, safe and effective digital health devices," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. "These pilot participants will help the agency shape a better and more agile approach toward digital health technology that focuses on the software developer rather than an individual product."

Who's in: Apple, Fitbit, Verily (the health unit of Google parent Alphabet), Samsung, Roche, Johnson & Johnson, Pear Therapeutics, Tidepool and Phosphorus.

How it works: The program looks to those with a proven process in place to make it easier for the companies to more quickly create new products and update existing ones.