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America’s cyber security still under threat as attack by Russian spies continues

America’s cyber security still under threat as attack by Russian spies continues

Last year SolarWinds was hacked by a Russian hacking group, Nobelium. These hackers were behind the successful breach in 2020 for compromising the safety details of companies. Microsoft disclosed that US federal agencies compromised privacy net of 14 technology firms since May as part of another apparent espionage campaign.

Microsoft explained that these hackers have been hitting a different part of the supply chain than in the 2020 breach: companies that buy and distribute software and manage cloud computing services. Although, the name of the victim companies is not disclosed so as not to reveal whom all are these Russian spies targeting.

An official from Microsoft who is closely working on the case mentioned that the Russian hacking group had been leveraging compromised technology vendors to try to infiltrate US and European government networks in previously unreported activity.

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Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president customer security and trust further added that with this recent activity, it is another indicator that Russia is trying to gain long-term, systematic access to a variety of points in the technology supply chain and establish a mechanism for surveilling. It is happening now or in the future for the targets of interest to the Russian government.

The spies carefully planned their execution and instead of attacking the website directly, they spiraled it through the indirect method. This is being called a ‘Supply Chain’ attack. Instead of directly attacking the federal government or a private organisation’s network, the hackers target a third-party vendor, which supplies software to them. In this case, the target was IT management software called Orion, supplied by the Texas-based company SolarWinds. Orion has been dominant software from SolarWinds with clients, which include over 33,000 companies. SolarWinds says 18,000 of its clients have been impacted. Incidentally, the company has deleted the list of clients from its official websites after the attack.

Maduro ally in court to face corruption charges

Maduro ally in court to face corruption charges

Venezuela Venezuela -Venezuela’s government announced on Saturday to halt negotiations with its political opponents – in retaliation for the extradition of a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro.

Prosecutors believe the ally could be a significant witness to corruption in the South American nation.

A businessman who prosecutors think as a major conduit for corruption by Maduro’s inner circle appeared in Miami’s federal court on Monday. His appearance came after the weekend extradition that further strained relations between Venezuela’s socialist government and the U.S.

Alex Saab’s legs shook nervously as he waited, handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit, for the hearing to begin. Only hours after Saab sat on a Department of Justice aircraft, Saturday, Maduro’s government halted negotiations with Venezuela’s US-backed opposition. On the other hand, it also threw six American oil executives – accused of corruption – back into jail. It merits mentioning that they have been under house arrest in a politically charged case amid allegations of wrongful detention.

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Meanwhile, the Chair of Venezuelan opposition’s negotiating team has urged President Maduro’s administration to resume dialogue soon after the government halted its participation this weekend.

Maduro’s government put the conversations on ice after Alex Saab, a Venezuelan envoy, was taken to the United States to face corruption charges from Cape Verde on Saturday.

It was the latest hit at Norwegian-sponsored talks among the two sides, which are yet to make concrete advances toward diminishing Venezuela’s prolonged economic and social crisis.

It is pertinent to mention that most Venezuelans live in extreme poverty, suffering gasoline shortages and power blackouts. Furthermore, millions have fled the country, seeking employment and better living conditions.

“We ask our counterpart to restart the negotiations as soon as possible,” opposition negotiator Gerardo Blyde said from Mexico City.

Norway furthered that call on Twitter, saying the only solution is negotiation.

Chaos vaccines: in the US, FDA must decide to recommend or not Moderna and J&J further booster

Chaos vaccines: in the US, FDA must decide to recommend or not Moderna and J&J further booster

 America America– In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory authority that approves drugs and vaccines, is called upon to decide this week on the so-called booster dose. Americans vaccinated with Pfizer are already rolling up their sleeves for the third dose, always done with Pfizer. Less apparent at the moment is what to do for those who have had Johnson & Johnson or Moderna. FDA is questioning the need for a third injection for those who have had Moderna, or a second for those who have had Johnson & Johnson, previously believed in providing immunization with a single dose.

While Pfizer’s decline in efficacy six months after vaccination became clear in studies conducted by the pharmaceutical company, the situation is less clear-cut for Moderna. This latest vaccine uses triple RNA-based active ingredients compared to Pfizer (100 micrograms instead of 30). The decline in antibodies over time, in some studies, appeared more modest. Some efficacy studies among vaccinated people in the general population, not in trials, have suggested a decline in the efficacy of Moderna’s vaccine in preventing infection with symptoms, due to both the passage of time and the Delta variant Scientists who act as advisors to the FDA write in an opinion.

Other studies have not shown this decline.” The experts note that the vaccines currently available in the US protect against serious illness and death in any case. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are valid in the US, while the FDA has never approved AstraZeneca. In its decision expected by today, the authority may not take into account the opinion of its experts. On 22 September last, it already happened when the US regulatory agency greatly expanded the categories to be revaccinated with Pfizer. The scientific consultants had not felt like recommending the third dose to everyone.

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On 18 September, they had expressed themselves suggesting it only to the over 65 and the weak. The FDA then added a long list of people exposed to the virus to the booster dose for professional reasons, from letter carriers to supermarket clerks. The decision is based on a plethora of data on Pfizer’s effectiveness from Israel, which Moderna cannot exhibit with the same wealth of detail.

The real issue on the table is not so much the effectiveness of the third dose, which no one doubts, as the presence of rare side effects affecting the heart with RNA vaccines. Some cases of myocarditis or pericarditis occurred among young males immunized with Pfizer or Moderna. These are not severe heart inflammations – there have been no deaths – and are very infrequent, but the regulatory authorities still monitor carefully. The American data speak of a minimum of 72.4 cases and a maximum of 283.7 points per million vaccinated between 18 and 25 years. An option discussed by the FDA could be using half dosage for the Moderna booster: 50 micrograms instead of 100.

Today’s meeting will also talk about the effectiveness of the so-called mix and match: the use of vaccines different for the decoys. Preliminary data speak of an increase in protection, compared to always using the same brand. Therefore, it is likely that those who have had Johnson & Johnson (a vaccine that uses the viral vector method) will also receive a booster with an RNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna). Even Europe has practically abandoned viral vector vaccines (we also used AstraZeneca). All new injections, and even third doses, are done using RNA vaccines.

Venezuela brings in new currency with 6 Fewer zeros

Venezuela brings in new currency with 6 Fewer zeros

Venezuela Venezuela Venezuela brought forth a new currency with six fewer zeros on Friday, whose money has been hit by the world’s worst inflation.

However, the new bills were hard to find in the capital, where consumers’ fears proved to be right that prices would continue to spiral upward.

Prior to the adjustment, the peak denomination was a 1 million bolivar bill – worth slightly less than a quarter as of Thursday.

Venezuela’s new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, slightly less than $25 — but fears are that inflation will start to eat away that as well.

The change is intended to make accounting and cash transactions more straightforward, which are complicated by a string of unwieldy zeroes.

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It merits a mention that inflation had led banks to put a limit on how much cash individuals could take out in a day and forced many of the residents to use either US dollars or electronic payment methods.

Furthermore, Venezuela’s gross domestic product or GDP has dropped by 80 per cent since 2013 because the price of oil crashed and output dropped during decades of government mismanagement and under-investment.

The bolivar lost nearly all of its value in just ten years  – shedding almost 73 per cent in 2021 alone.

It must be remembered that Venezuela’s central bank does not publish inflation statistics anymore. The IMF estimates that the country’s rate will be at 5,500 per cent at the end of 2021.

As of Friday, the highest denomination was seen as people were asked to pay in cash for one loaf of bread.

In the highly competitive times of crypto mining, economically battered Venezuela has one advantage – extremely cheap electricity.

The energy prices are as low as 0.06 cents per kilowatt/hour; mining cryptocurrencies is exceptionally lucrative in a country riddled by economic uncertainty.

Voting Rights Under Attack in Texas: New Voting Law Includes 7 Sweeping Changes

Voting Rights Under Attack in Texas: New Voting Law Includes 7 Sweeping Changes

The US state of Texas is under scrutiny and condemnation over controversial law. Last week saw anti-abortion law passed in Texas and this week is the voting law. On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the voting bill into law that imposes a series of restrictions on voting rights in the state that is considered a rapidly diversifying state in the country.

Senate Bill 1 was signed by Gov. Abbott after the Republican-led legislature passed the bill. Previous versions of the bill were blocked by Texan Democrats after they left the state for few weeks thus preventing the House to form the required quorum. So, what does the revised bill turned law include?

So, what does the revised bill turned law include?

Ban on 24 Hour Voting

Counties will be prohibited from holding round-the-clock voting provisions, a very popular move in the 2020 election when Harris County in Houston had opened 8 locations with 24-hour voting that was beneficial for shift workers. Now the voting will be restricted to 6 am to 10 pm.

Ban on Drive-Thru Voting

This ban too targets Harris County that had held 10 drive-thru voting centers to ensure safety during pandemics. This had allowed 127,000 people to cast their ballots through a drive-thru facility.

Ban on Mailing Unsolicited Mail-in Ballot Applications by Officials

It would now be a felony under the new law for any official to send a mail-in ballot application to a person who hasn’t requested it. Pre-filling any part of the application too is a felony under the new law. The new law also prohibits public officials from facilitating unsolicited distribution by third parties of absentee ballots. This means local election officials are not permitted to give absentee ballot request forms to “get-out-the-votes” groups. However, the law permits political parties to send unsolicited absentee ballot applications.

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New Vote-by-Mail ID Rules

Texans who vote by mail are now required to provide an ID – either driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security Number – twice. Once the ID information is to be provided on absentee ballot application forms and the second time on the envelope in which they send.

Texans who are allowed to mail in their votes are those over 65 years of age, who are out of the country on Election Day, or those having illness or disability that prevents them from voting in person.

Poll Watchers are Empowered

Under the new law, poll watchers cannot be denied ‘free movement’ at polling centers. They are only restricted from watching voters cast their votes. Under the new law, they are “entitled to sit or stand near enough to see and hear the activity” at the polling place. They are also entitled to watch closing poll activities “including the sealing and transfer of a memory card, flash drive, hard drive, data storage device, or another medium.” They are also allowed to follow transferring of all election material to regional tabulating locations.

Voter Rolls Check on a Monthly Basis

People who assist voters with disabilities, but are not voters’ caregivers, will now be required to fill a document mentioning their name, address, and relationship to the voter. They would also have to take an oath of following limitations of offering assistance to the voter, promising help would be limited to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.”

After signing the bill into law, Abbott said, “I feel extremely confident that when this law makes it through the litigation phase, it will be upheld. Because exactly what we’ve said, it does make it easier for people to be able to go vote. No one who is eligible to vote will be denied the opportunity to vote.”

back their ballots. These numbers will then be matched against voters’ records to confirm authenticity.

Did the US have a secret arrangement with Taliban to escort out Americans?

Did the US have a secret arrangement with Taliban to escort out Americans?

The United States of America has finally evacuated its troops from Afghanistan by the August 31 deadline decided by the Biden administration, putting an end to the 20 year-long war in the Asian country. Controversies and criticism haven’t left US President Joe Biden and his administration ever since the troop withdrawal deadline was announced.

Experts called it a hasty move that led to rather a quick rise of the Taliban, taking control of country well before anticipation. Now, a new development has resurfaced – according to two defense officials US military had chalked a secret arrangement with the insurgent Taliban group to help evacuate American citizens. Under the arrangement, Taliban members escorted groups of Americans to gates at Kabul airport. 

US operation forces had created a special secret gate at Kabul airport and also established ‘call centers’ to help evacuate the US passport holders. While the arrangement is described as “beautifully orchestrated” by the officials of US defense department, American troops and others involved in process of safely evacuating citizens said that the operation was far from perfect.

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Problems were encountered in evacuation process of vulnerable Afghans and Americans, particularly in the beginning. Taliban was turning away even the American passport holders and legal permanent residents who were supposed to be let through the checkpoints. 

What was the US – Taliban arrangement? 

Pre-set ‘muster points’ were notified to Americans which were close to the Kabul airport. At these sites the Taliban would check their credentials and escort them to the nearby gates which was manned by American troops. They were then taken in by US forces. US troops would come forward in case intervening was required as thousands of desperate Afghans stood at gates waiting to grab any opportunity to flee the country. 

Why the secrecy behind arrangement?

US had stayed tight-lipped until now about the arrangements with the Taliban as it was unsure how the group would react to any premature publicity in this direction. The main agenda on mind was to bring home the citizens and vulnerable Afghans. Another reason of secrecy was threats of attacks by ISIS-K if the news of Americans being escorted out was ousted. ISIS, a sworn enemy of Taliban, carried out a suicide attack at airport gate last week killing 13 American troops and over 170 Afghans. 

Congressional Committee Seeks Data Over Capitol Attack From Social Media Companies

Congressional Committee Seeks Data Over Capitol Attack From Social Media Companies

The congressional committee investigation over the January 06 violence at the Capitol is seeking records of communication from social media giants. According to the official media announcement, Chairman Bennie G. Thompson has announced the indeed the Select Committee will need to see records relating to malicious spread of wrong misinformation through social media channels. Some 14 such social media companies have been summoned and asked to shared their records with the committee.

A formal letter has already been sent these companies. This includes all major social media channels like Youtube, Facebook, Google, Parler, Reddit, Telegram, Snapchat, banned Chinese Tik-Tok and Zello as well.

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Records of contacts with law enforcement and intelligence agencies are also being sought. Of them Google has made a public statement saying that it is “committed to working with Congress on this.”

The January 06 riots were well instigated by Trump fan following and presented quite a harrowing picture of wrong leadership. Policemen recounted their horror of living a Bollywood styled movie.

While Twitter has declined to comment, Facebook has said that it is looking forward to “continuing to work with the committee.”

In the formal statement by Mr. Thompson, it is said that “the committee solely plans to examine facts, circumstances, and causes of the attack and relating to the peaceful transfer of power, in order to identify and evaluate lessons learned and to recommend corrective laws, policies, procedure, rules or regulations.”

The committee at the moment comprises seven democrats and two republicans, formed by the House Democrats after a January 06 independent commission was blocked in the Senate by the Republicans. The Committee also plans to seek policy changes from social media companies (if any have been adopted or failed to adopt), to address the spread of false information, violent extremism, and foreign malign influence, including decisions on banning material from platforms and contacts with law enforcement and other government entities.

Brazil government mulls suing newspaper over ‘election threat’ article

Brazil government mulls suing newspaper over ‘election threat’ article

The Brazilian government is weighing on suing national daily Estado de S. Paulo over its July 22 article that claimed Defense Minister Walter Souza Braga Netto threatened to hold the 2022 election. The statement was made by defense minister Braga Netto during an address to Brazilian lawmakers in Brasilia on Tuesday.

According to a Reuters report, Estado de S. Paulo article stated that Braga Netto told head of the country’s lower house that the vote will take place through printed ballot or else the presidential election would not take place. While the Defense Minister and House Speaker Arthur Lira denied the report, Estado de S. Paulo has defended its reporting.

After the newspaper report, Brazilian political leaders are scrambling efforts to ensure the public that the 2022 presidential election will take place. The Estado de S. Paulo story cited anonymous sources.

Bolsonaro calls for changing voting system

This development has come at a time when Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been pushing his claim that the country’s electronic voting system is highly prone to fraud.

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Last week, Bolsonaro suffered a massive defeat in Congress after Brazilian lawmakers rejected proposal to use printed receipted at some electronic ballot boxes. Along with electoral authorities, a number of Bolsonaro’s political allies also rejected the proposal, maintaining that the voting system is fully reliable.

The Brazilian president, likely to seek second term in 2022, has been ensuring all possible efforts to amplify his claims against the voting system across various forms of media. As a result, thousands of his supporters carried out demonstrations across various cities over the weekend to raise demand for a change in the system.

“We cannot have dubious elections in 2022. Public counting of votes is needed,” president Bolsonaro said in a recent radio interview.

TSE to probe Bolsonaro

Earlier this month, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) of Brazil launched an investigation against the President’s claims of fraud in the voting system ahead of 2022 elections. TSE judges have backed the existing voting system, noting that Brazil has eliminated a history of election fraud and never reported any fraud case.

Bolsonaro has also stated that he might not accept the result of next year’s elections if polls would be conducted using electronic voting. He has demanded to use printed receipts at the same time in order to count the votes in case of any disputes in the election result.

“There will be printed ballots, because if there are no printed ballots, this is a sign that there will be no election. The message is clear,” Bolsonaro said earlier this month.

Thousands take to roads in Guatemala calling for President’s resignation

Thousands take to roads in Guatemala calling for President’s resignation

Members of one of Guatemala’s most prominent farmers and indigenous groups, on Monday, blocked roads across the nation, calling on the President and his attorney general to resign over the firing of a top anti-graft prosecutor.

It happened for the third time in the last 15 days that people took to the streets to force the ousting of Juan Francisco Sandoval – head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI). He was investigating potential acts of corruption by Giammattei.

Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras said Sandoval had ruined her work and named the electoral crimes prosecutor to take Sandoval’s role.

Police in Guatemala City patrolled government buildings while on the outskirts of the capital as CODECA – the farmers’ rights group – placed wood fitted with nails across highways to stop cars from travelling.

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Guatemalan media and social media showed images of roadblocks in other parts of the country.

“We are asking for the resignation and investigation of President Giammattei and Attorney General Consuelo Porras,” Telma Cabrera, a leader of CODECA and former presidential candidate for the Movement for the Liberation of Peoples Party, told reporters.

Many university students also joined the protests organised by CODECA, which said it plans to have roadblocks throughout the day.

CODECA leaders also announced their plans to protest outside Giammattei’s government office.

The protests highlight growing frustrations in Guatemala over the dismantling of judicial independence and corruption. In 2015, such anti-corruption demonstrations brought the downfall of then-president Otto Perez Molina.

Experts, however, claim that with an approval rating floating around 20%, Giammattei seems pretty secure in his job right now.

They see Sandoval’s removal as part of the reason why Giammattei may feel comfortable, as it has left few independent figures in the country’s justice system. 

Twist in the Tale: former Haitian justice official surfaces as the new key in President Moise’s assassination

Twist in the Tale: former Haitian justice official surfaces as the new key in President Moise’s assassination

 A new twist has come in the mystery around assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise. Colombia’s National Police chief has alleged that Joseph Felix Badio, the former Haitian Justice Ministry official had a key role in assassination of President Moise.

General Jorge Vargas, in an edited video that was made available to the media, said that the new information obtained from investigation indicates that Badio had told two Colombians who are suspected to be part of assassination to carry out the operation. However, no evidence to support the same was provided. General iterated that the information is a result of collaborative commission of Haitian and Colombian authorities that are carrying out the investigation.

Who is Joseph Felix Badio?

Badio was fired from his position at Haitian government’s Anti-Corruption Unit on May 17. He was fired on account of serious breaches in his professional demeanor. A statement by Haitian authorities released on July 13 confirms the same. The statement also mentions a complaint that was filed against Badio on May 20, but no details are disclosed of the complaint.

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Haiti’s elections minister Mathias Pierre told CNN on Friday that Badio, “is effectively in the heart of the assassination, but we believe he is working for big fishes. The intellectual masterminds are bigger than that. Who financed the operation is still the big question mark.”

Port-au-Prince prosecutor’s office issued arrest warrant against Badio on Sunday, accusing him of armed robbery and murder of President Moise.

FBI conducting an investigation

US’s FBI too has initiated interviews in Port-au-Prince into President Moise’s assassination. The US Justice Department said on Monday that it will “investigate whether there were any violations of US criminal law” in relation to the plot to assassinate Moise. Increasing number of Florida connections to the assassination plot signal that at least a part of the plot has its roots in the USA.

Large scale investigation was triggered in aftermath of Moise’s assassination across many countries. The investigations are being supported by the USA’s FBI and Colombian intelligence. At least 39 people have been implicated in the killing. According to Haitian authorities, 26 Colombian suspects were hired and smuggled into Haiti on arrangement of detaining the leader and handing him over to US law enforcement.

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