Monday, December 7, 2020

Hackers have targeted organizations involved in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, according to IBM researchers

A government-linked attack group was engaged in a spear phishing campaign focused on companies involved in the storage and transport of COVID-19 vaccines that require temperature-controlled environments, known as the “cold chain.” The phishing campaign’s goal was to steal credentials in order to get future access to networks and sensitive information of COVID-19 vaccine distribution organizations. The attackers focused on organizations associated with the Cold Chain Equipment Optimization Platform (CCEOP) program of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. The hackers posed as a business executive from Haier Biomedical, a qualified supplier for the CCEOP program. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an alert recommending that organizations involved in vaccine storage and transport review the IBM report and adopt security best practices to prevent compromise. (Security Intelligence)


Mystery object is 54-year-old rocket, not asteroid

Researchers say that an object that was first thought to be a new asteroid circling the Earth is actually the upper stage of a Centaur rocket sent into space in 1966. The object entered Earth’s orbit last month but will return to its own orbit around the sun in March. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. A team at University of Arizona used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth. The data from the images matched. The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles. It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036. (Associated Press)


30 people in their underwear found inside southwest Houston home in human smuggling operation

Authorities are investigating a possible human smuggling operation at a southwest Houston, Texas home. Houston police say they have rescued two dozen people from a home. Police say they received a call about a man running down the street in his underwear yelling that he was kidnapped. The caller told police that he was kidnapped and was able to get away. That’s when the male advised that thirty more people were being held hostage in the house. Officers made entry and rescued approximately 29 men and one woman. Most of them were found in their underwear. Police believe that was a tactic used to prevent them from escaping. At least three people were detained and are being questioned. Police say most of the victims were picked up from the Brownsville area within the last week. They are said to be from various other countries including Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. (Fox 4 News)


House passes historic bill to decriminalize cannabis

The United States House of Representatives voted Friday (12/4) on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, which decriminalizes cannabis and clears the way to erase nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. The Senate is unlikely to approve the bill. The MORE Act also creates pathways for ownership opportunities in the emerging industry, allows veterans to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from Veteran Affairs doctors, and establishes funding sources to reinvest in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. Friday’s vote was the first time a full chamber of Congress has taken up the issue of federally decriminalizing cannabis. (NBC News)


The pandemic accelerated retirement

The unemployment rate may have fallen in recent months, but some economists believe the reason behind it may not be so positive. The pandemic may have pushed many baby boomers to retire earlier than planned, they say. It has also pushed many women, especially those with younger children, to curtail or stop working entirely. Some in lower-paying jobs in the retail and restaurant industries may also have stopped looking for work altogether. The effects of this drop in participation in the labor market could be long lasting and hit women’s progress especially hard. (The Wall Street Journal)


Invoking “Tiger King”, House passes bill banning big cat ownership

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would ban private ownership of big cats like lions and tigers, after the wildly popular Netflix docuseries “Tiger King” helped renew attention on the issue. The “Big Cat Public Safety Act” passed the House on a 272-114 vote. The bill’s main author, Democratic Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, said the legislation passage is “one step closer to ensuring these animals are treated humanely and to keeping the public safe from dangerous big cats. Big cats are wild animals that simply do not belong in private homes, backyards, or shoddy roadside zoos.” (USA Today)


The United States Department of Justice is suing Facebook

The Department of Justice is accusing the social media giant of discriminating against American workers by illegally preserving positions for temporary visa holders that it wanted to sponsor. The DOJ said Facebook failed to consider “qualified and available U.S. workers” for more than 2,600 positions that paid an average salary of $156,000 between 2018 and 2019. The Permanent Labor Certification Process (PERM) mandates U.S. employers prove to the Labor Department that they couldn’t find a qualified American worker before they attempt to sponsor an international worker on a temporary work visa. A two-year investigation found that Facebook deliberately hid positions it wanted to fill with a temporary worker. As a result, it received between 0 to 1 applications from American workers for 99.7% of PERM positions. The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal issues Facebook has endured in recent years as it’s expected to face 20 to 30 state antitrust lawsuits this week. An antitrust lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission is also expected to come within the near future. (United States Department of Justice)


Vehicle travel on Thanksgiving fell by just 5%, despite appeals from public health officials to skip traveling this year to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic

In early November, vehicle travel had fallen by 20% from 2019, however, it started to increase the week of Thanksgiving. Air travel also rose during the Thanksgiving weekend as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened one million people each day between Thursday and Sunday. The TSA screened 1.17 million people on November 29th, the most in a single day since March 16th, but 41% less than 2.9 million people screened on the same day in 2019. (Forbes)


President Trump signed an executive order that directs federal agencies to consider nine principles when developing, acquiring, and using AI

The guidelines say government AI must be lawful; purposeful and performance-driven; accurate, reliable, and effective; safe, secure, and resilient; understandable; responsible and traceable; regularly monitored; transparent; and accountable. To enforce the principles, the order puts the White House Office of Management and Budget in charge of creating a roadmap for how the federal government, excluding the military, should use AI software. The roadmap is due out next May. The order directs agencies to still use voluntary standards for AI, which were developed with industries. It also asks agencies to expand job rotation programs to boost their number of AI experts. Federal agencies will have to devise their own inventories of AI use cases and review them annually for consistency. In February 2019, Trump signed a separate executive order that created the American AI Initiative. That program has urged federal agencies to promote and invest more in AI R&D, establish governing standards, and boost their AI resources. More recently, the U.S. signed an agreement with the U.K. to jointly advance trustworthy AI. The partnership, known as the Declaration on Cooperation in Artificial Intelligence Research and Development, will focus on AI R&D, innovations, and workforce development. (Reuters)


A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to fully restore DACA, an Obama-era immigration policy protecting undocumented immigrants if they were brought to the U.S. as children

The Judge of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York ordered the Trump administration to allow newly eligible immigrants to file new applications for protection under the program. Since being passed in 2012, DACA has protected more than 800,000 eligible individuals known as “dreamers,” from legal prosecution or deportation. The new ruling reverses one issued in the summer by acting Secretary of Homeland Security which restricted the program to “dreamers” who were already enrolled and prohibited new enrollees. It’s estimated that the current ruling could affect around 300,000 individuals who previously attempted to enroll. The ruling also reverses a Trump administration change that limited work permits to one year instead of two years. (CBS News)


The Pentagon announced that nearly all U.S. troops in Somalia would be withdrawn by January 15th

Based on orders from the Trump administration. There are only 700 troops in the country. Most of the troops are special operations forces who have been training Somalian fighters and organizing counterterrorism efforts. The Pentagon stated that troops leaving Somalia does not mean the end of U.S. counterterrorism efforts there, as some troops in East Africa may be reassigned. Previously, the Trump administration has also ordered the reduction of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. (The New York Times)


Fourth monolith appears in Texas

As soon as one mysterious monolith appears, it seems to vanish and another is found. The latest copycat structure showed up last Thursday (12/3) night in San Antonio, Texas. Unlike the previous metal monoliths, this version is wooden and painted silver and was set up outside of Canopener Labs, a business near the San Antonio Airport. Images on social media show a group of people installing the makeshift structure. It is the third copycat monolith structure to appear since a team of biologists counting bighorn sheep discovered the first metal structure on November 18th in a southeastern Utah desert. Satellite images indicate that it was installed sometime between August 2015 and October 2016. It was removed November 26th by a group that said “Leave no trace.” Its appearance led to international interest and the creation and discovery of a slightly similar structure in Romania. The poorly crafted pillar appeared November 26th as a prank in the town of Piatra Neamt but disappeared four days later. A 200-pound metal structure was found Wednesday (12/2) atop a hill in Atascadero, California. However, it was toppled early Thursday morning and replaced by a wooden cross by a group chanting “Christ is king.” The monolith structures are all believed to be pieces of art, although the creators and installers of them still remain unknown. (KSAT)


Teacher gets robbed while on Zoom call with student’s family

A special education teacher at Kirtland Local Schools in the Cleveland, Ohio area, who was in session during her 3rd period class with a middle school student and his mom on zoom in the upstairs office of her home, was suddenly interrupted with a loud noise. She heard a glass shattering crash downstairs and said, “I was like, hold on, I think someone is breaking into my house, just joking. I didn’t think anyone would be breaking into my house in the middle of the day.” But that is exactly what was happening. “There was a man walking though my baby gate with a knife in his hand walking upstairs,” she said. “He started threatening me, yelling at me, calling me names. He grabbed me upstairs into my bedroom.” The man began rummaging through her things all the while her student and his family were still on that zoom call listening from Lake County. In the 911 call you can hear the student’s dad try and explain the situation. “The teacher that teaches my son, somebody broke into her house we saw it on the zoom,” said the student’s dad to a Lake County dispatcher. As the robber frantically searched for valuables, the dad gave as much detail to the dispatcher as he could. The teacher told the man he could have her car keys but they were downstairs. He agreed she could go and get them. She said, instead of getting the keys, she let her two dogs out. “When I reached for my keys, instead I opened the gate and I have a German shepherd and a Great Dane-boxer mix. So the German Shepherd stood between myself and this guy, and the Great Dane Boxer mix went at him,” she said. It gave her enough time to think. “I just grabbed a pair of scissors and I chased him to the front door,” the teacher said. She continued to chase him down her street. The teacher said a local contractor working on a house in her neighborhood saw the encounter and tackled the man to the ground and detained him until Cleveland police arrived to arrest. The thief is charged with aggravated robbery and felonious assault as well as other charges. He is a convicted felon, previously serving time behind bars for aggravated robbery. The teacher is still shaken up, but said between her student’s parents, her dogs, her neighbors and random strangers, there’s more heroes in this story than there are villains. “I’m lucky that there’s enough loving people in the world to figure this all out”, she said. (News 5 Cleveland)


Monday Comes Back With:

  • Cotton Candy Day
  • Illinois Day
  • International Civil Aviation Day
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

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