Category Archives: Cyber

Clinton Campaign Sent Fake Phishing Emails to Its Own Staff

Mother Jones

Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House will be remembered for many things, but information security isn’t likely to be one of them. Her campaign was buffeted by two major hacking episodes. First, the contents of Democratic National Committee servers were stolen and disseminated through WikiLeaks and other news organizations. Then campaign chairman John Podesta had his personal email account hacked and its contents passed to WikiLeaks, which subsequently released the 50,000-email set in chunks over a period of weeks as the presidential election reached fever pitch. The US government’s intelligence community went on to assert that the hacks had been orchestrated at the behest of the Russian government as a deliberate attempt to hurt Clinton’s chances and boost Donald Trump.

But Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, said this week that the hacks didn’t hit the campaign itself, and that’s because the campaign conducted regular security training for staffers, including sending them fake phishing emails to see how they’d be handled.

“We sent out phishing emails of our own to test people and communicate back to team to see how far they were clicking, to educate people, and show their vulnerability and how much their choices matter,” Mook told Dark Reading, a cybersecurity news website, while attending an information security conference in San Francisco.

Mook said there were at least three phishing tests sent out to staffers, and there were also regular emails sent to staff preaching good IT practices. There were signs in the bathrooms “about not sharing passwords and ‘Don’t clink that link, stop and think,'” Mook said.

The Dark Reading piece doesn’t address when the training took place or whether Podesta and his aides were involved. Podesta and Mook did not respond to requests for comment about the IT training during the campaign.

A phishing attack is an attempt to trick a victim into giving up personal information, including logins for email accounts, bank accounts, and other sensitive information. In Podesta’s case, hackers sent a phony warning from Google alerting him that his Gmail password needed to be reset. According to the New York Times, a campaign IT staffer inadvertently advised Podesta and his aides that the warning was legitimate. By using the fake password reset page, Podesta gave the hackers access to his Gmail account and years’ worth of political communications that eventually found their way to WikiLeaks via the Russian operation, according to the US government.

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Clinton Campaign Sent Fake Phishing Emails to Its Own Staff

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Text Messages Might Be the New Way Hackers Try to Steal Your Info

Mother Jones

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Back in 2014, Mexico became the first nation to pass a sugary-drinks tax, overcoming massive pushback from the soda industry. Big Soda resisted the tax for good reason—Mexico boasts the globe’s second-highest per capita soda consumption (trailing only Chile), and Coca-Cola and Pepsi together account for more than 60 percent of the market.

And now, in a strange twist, comes the revelation that several of the most prominent public-health experts who promoted the tax were targeted last summer by malicious spyware from NSO Group—”an Israeli cyberarms dealer that sells its digital spy tools exclusively to governments and that has contracts with multiple agencies inside Mexico,” reports the New York Times.

The attacks came in the form of text messages from unknown numbers with compelling but fake appeals to click infected links: stuff like, “your daughter has been in a serious accident,” with a purported link to a hospital. Once the link is clicked and the phone is hacked, the spyware can “trace a target’s every phone call, text message, email, keystroke, location, sound and sight,” even capturing “live footage off their cameras.”

The cyberattacks, which occurred during the summer of 2016, came just as the researchers were engaged in an ultimately failed campaign to double the tax, the Times notes.

At this point, the source of the attacks is unclear. A spokesperson for ConMéxico, Big Soda’s powerful trade group in the country, told the Times that the industry had no knowledge of the hacks, adding that “frankly, it scares us, too.”

NSO Group, for its part, claims it sells its spyware only to governmental law enforcement agencies, and maintains “technical safeguards that prevent clients from sharing its spy tools,” the Times reports, adding that an NSO spokesman “reiterated those restrictions in a statement on Thursday, and said the company had no knowledge of the tracking of health researchers and advocates inside Mexico.”

While NSO Group says its spyware is designed to be used by governments to track terrorists, criminals, and drug lords, these revelations don’t mark the first time these tools have been turned on other targets, according to the Times: “NSO spyware was discovered on the phone of a human-rights activist in the United Arab Emirates and a prominent Mexican journalist in August.” That journalist, investigative reporter Rafael Cabrera—who has broken several embarrassing stories about President Enrique Peña Nieto—was the target of an unsuccessful hacking attempt with NSO software last year.

So just as Mexico has emerged as a policy laboratory for reducing soda consumption, it is also demonstrating some pretty innovative tools for keeping tabs on anti-soda agitators. And delivering an important reminder: Think hard before you click on a link texted to you from an unknown number, no matter how compelling the story is.

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Text Messages Might Be the New Way Hackers Try to Steal Your Info

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Nine People Say Mike Flynn Lied About His Phone Calls With the Russian Ambassador

Mother Jones

The routine lying by the Trump administration is just beyond belief. Mike Flynn has consistently denied that he talked to the Russian ambassador in December about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia, but apparently he did exactly that. Here are Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post tonight:

Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.” On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

….The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence…Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

All of those officials said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president. “Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time,” said a former official.

A third official put it more bluntly, saying that either Flynn had misled Pence or that Pence misspoke. A spokesman for Pence did not respond to a request for comment. The sanctions in question have so far remained in place.

Nine officials! And every one of them says Flynn explicitly talked about the sanctions that Obama levied on Russia as retaliation for their cyber-hacking during the campaign. The message: don’t worry about it. We’ve got your back.

Do these guys ever tell the truth? About anything?

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Nine People Say Mike Flynn Lied About His Phone Calls With the Russian Ambassador

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How Trump’s USDA Could Hurt Puppies

Mother Jones

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It may have just gotten a lot harder to spot puppy abusers: A section of the US Department of Agriculture’s website that provided documents detailing animal abuse was taken down last Friday, without warning. For more than 10 years, the government agency posted information on violators of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. Citizens, journalists, and animal advocacy organizations like the Humane Society relied on these reports to identify zoos, animal research labs, horse breeders, and dog breeders who violated the laws.

The USDA said in a statement last week that it had taken action after conducting a review of the types of information it posts, and stated that it is committed to the “privacy of individuals with whom we come into contact.” The agency said people will now have to file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the same information, though this process can take many months, if not years.

The Humane Society says three of its campaigns will be deeply affected by the change. John Goodwin, the senior director of the organization’s Stop Puppy Mill campaign, uses the reports to create the Horrible Hundred—a list of “puppy mills,” or producers who breed large numbers of dogs in unsanitary conditions. “Here we have a government action that benefits no one except people who are caught abusing animals and don’t want the public to know,” Goodwin said.

Marty Irby, a senior director of the Humane Society’s Rural Outreach and Equine Protection, likened the reports to the Department of Justice’s public information on sex offenders. “If your neighbor severely abuses a dog who is kept in a cage for breeding purposes and gets caught,” he said, now “that person is going to be protected.” Irby added that the USDA reports provided an easily accessible resource for people looking to buy or show horses. Now, he argues, violators of the Horse Protection Act can more easily hide.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service stated that a review of this process has been going on for a year and cited the Privacy Act as a reason for removing the information. Yet the decision came at a time when people are paying extra attention to how Trump’s USDA will differ from his predecessor’s. As my colleague Tom Philpott reported last December, Brian Klippenstein, the leader of Trump’s USDA transition team, lobbied against Humane Society-backed initiatives in Massachusetts that would curb the use of pig gestation stalls and chicken cages in the state. Before he was appointed to the transition team, Klippenstein was the executive director of Protest the Harvest, a nonprofit that aims to “inform America’s consumers, businesses, and decision-makers about the threats posed by animal rights groups and anti-farming extremists.” The group makes its feelings about the Humane Society clear on its website, dubbing the organization a “fake charity” and claiming it wants to put breeders out of business by heavily regulating them.

Klippenstein stepped down as executive director of Protect the Harvest in December. A spokeswoman for the nonprofit told Mother Jones that while it had no involvement in the USDA’s decision to remove the reports, the nonprofit is “concerned about the privacy of people who obey the law” and that “all government agencies should be protecting the privacy of people who submit compelling information.” She later called back to say that Protect the Harvest has no position on the issue.

It’s still unclear whether the removal of the information on the USDA website is a permanent change. In the meantime, this isn’t just bad news for animal welfare advocates. Since 2011, pet store owners in seven states have been required to source puppies from companies that have no USDA violations. Without these reports, business owners will have a tougher time knowing whether their suppliers violate anti-puppy mill laws.

Investigative reporters have referenced the USDA’s documents to uncover and report on animal abuse in the past. Mother Jones senior editor James West used nearly 1,000 USDA documents to investigate severe animal negligence at a roadside zoo in Maine. The zoo owners were subjects of Yankee Jungle, a reality show on Animal Planet that was canceled after MoJo published West’s story.

The Humane Society of the United States filed legal action against the USDA on Monday. Goodwin said the organization plans to fight the USDA’s decision “all the way.” “The USDA has a lot to explain for denying public access to this information,” he said.

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How Trump’s USDA Could Hurt Puppies

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How the Black Lives Matter Movement Is Mobilizing Against Trump

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump repeatedly expressed hostility towards Black Lives Matter activists during his presidential campaign, particularly for their efforts to confront police brutality. Now, faced with a Trump agenda whose repercussions for African Americans could reach far beyond policing, BLM organizers say they are broadly expanding their mission.

Ever since a police officer killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement has grown into a loose-knit web of like-minded groups nationwide that focus primarily on ending police brutality and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. Last August, a coalition of nearly 30 BLM groups, known as the United Front, released a policy platform calling for comprehensive police and criminal justice reforms, economic investments in black communities, and the mobilization of black voters. The shock of Trump’s election has turbocharged their sense of urgency.

Trump’s immigration order barring refugees and immigrants in particular “changed the rules of engagement,” says Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Oakland-based Center for Media Justice, part of the United Front. The new president’s agenda, she says, represents “an escalation of the war on black bodies and lives.” Approximately a quarter of Muslims in America are black, she notes; Trump’s order blocked immigrants from the African countries of Sudan, Libya, and Somalia, among others. “The issue is the culture that gets created that is anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-brown, anti-woman,” she says.

“We have tons of black folks that are going to be affected by the potential cutting of DACA,” says Dante Barry, director of New York City-based Million Hoodies for Justice, referring to Trump’s plan to crack down on undocumented residents. “We’re going to have black folk that are going to be impacted by the cut of the Affordable Care Act.”

Following Trump’s election, I interviewed leaders and local organizers with seven groups participating in the United Front about their plans for confronting the Trump era. I also talked to an organizer with an eighth group, Campaign Zero, whose cofounders include Deray McKesson, perhaps the movement’s most visible organizer. All of these activists reiterated that police and criminal justice reform will remain a priority, but that other issues have become equally urgent.

In the wake of Trump’s immigration order, BLM organizers mobilized their networks to turn out at airports to protest. The groups also fired up their social media networks to amplify calls for the release of detained travelers. BLM leaders say their strategy will evolve as more details become known about what Trump plans to do on matters ranging from policing and reproductive rights to climate change and LGBT issues. They will focus on combating what they see as Trump’s hostile, retrograde agenda—and that of right-wing politicians emboldened by Trump—primarily at the state and local levels.

Immigration concerns are squarely on the radar for Million Hoodies, Barry says. The six current members of the group’s chapter in Greensboro, North Carolina—all college students—are drafting sanctuary campus policies that they plan to pitch to school administrations. The group is also in talks with at least one other local group about how Million Hoodies can bolster their efforts to protect undocumented residents throughout Greensboro. Last fall, Million Hoodies Greensboro also supported a local campaign to repeal North Carolina’s infamous anti-LGBT bathroom bill. “We just show up when folks need support,” member Delaney Vandergrift told me. “Showing up at protests and community meetings. Amplifying on social media. Making signs. Anything that local organizations already doing the work are asking for.”

Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, said her organization of nearly 40 chapters plans to expand its work on reproductive rights from a handful of southern US cities to other parts of country. The network hopes to replicate work like that of its chapter in Louisville, Kentucky, which is part of a repro-rights coalition that meets monthly and includes Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Kentucky. This week, following the opening of the Kentucky legislature’s next session, members from BLM Louisville and its partners plan to go to the statehouse in Frankfort to lobby against a bill that would require women to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion, according to Chanelle Helm, an organizer with the chapter. In the upcoming legislative session the group also plans to lobby against a Kentucky bill that would make assaulting a police officer a “hate crime.”

Shortly before Trump’s inauguration, Campaign Zero rolled out a Trump Resistance Manual, broadening its focus on data gathering beyond police reform. The site includes descriptions of various Trump policy proposals and assessments of their potential impact; it encourages users to crowd-source information about ways people can get involved in local organizing around more than a dozen issues, including police reform, LGBT rights, education, and climate change.

“The crises are so large that we have to have the capacity to address more than one thing at a time,” said Sam Sinyangwe, a co-founder of the group. “In this moment when they’re trying to take away health care from 30 million people, we simply cannot ignore that in the interest of focusing on one issue.”

Still, police reform remains crucial, and efforts at the state and local levels will be key. The new political reality of a Republican-controlled White House and Congress narrows the prospects for federal criminal justice reform, and leadership from the Department of Justice on police reform, as was the case under President Obama. “We have a federal government—and when I say the federal government I mean prospective Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who doesn’t believe in consent decrees,” said Barry, referring to the DOJ interventions mandating reform for troubled local police departments. “So I think particularly the Trump administration is not going to be useful or helpful for our communities.”

Trump has praised stop-and-frisk and the broken-windows policing strategy, both widely considered racially discriminatory. A budget blueprint for the next fiscal year prepared by the conservative Heritage Foundation—a plan mirrored by budget proposals made by the Trump administration, the Hill reported—would also cut $58 million dollars in funding from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which handles police investigations.

Barry said he expects DOJ work on civil rights investigations into police shooting cases that weren’t finished under the Obama administration—such as the Eric Garner and John Crawford investigations—to stall. And worrisome for Campaign Zero’s Sinyangwe is the prospect that, under Trump, the DOJ might be more inclined to intervene in cases of police violence in support of law enforcement. “That’s a different situation that we’re not accustomed to in terms of the Civil Rights division,” he said.

This year, Campaign Zero will begin pushing for laws that empower state attorneys general to open civil rights investigations into local police departments, as is already the case in California, Sinyangwe said. The group will also push for local laws that require a vote by a city council before a police department can accept military equipment from the federal government. Trump has suggested that he will expand the DOJ program that transfers such equipment to local law enforcement.

BLM leaders aim to capitalize on the energy of the nationwide protests that have unfolded since Trump’s election. The local Sacramento chapter of the Black Lives Matter Global Network has canvassed neighborhoods and college campuses five times since the election and has a fast-growing email list, Tanya Faison, the founder of the chapter, told me.

In mid-January, Black Lives Matter groups around the country led multiple protests against pieces of Trump’s agenda that target immigrants, Muslims, and other people of color; the effort began on MLK Day and culminated with the mass anti-Trump protests on inauguration day. April Goggans, who is with the Black Lives Matter Global Network chapter in Washington, D.C., said BLM organizers have been “in awe” of the throng of supporters for their recent events. “It’s really important to us that every time we have a mobilization, that we have an intentional thing to call people into next,” Goggans said. “The days of just rallying and going home are over because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

During the week of the inauguration, BLM groups hosted “Know Your Rights” trainings and “teach-ins” on Trump’s agenda, among other efforts to educate and involve more supporters. In collaboration with the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild, Goggans’ chapter held trainings that walked attendees through everything from protest permit laws in DC to what a person’s rights are when police give a dispersal order, and how to conduct yourself in jail if you do ultimately get arrested.

Goggans’ chapter plans to rally supporters this month to canvas in neighborhoods in southeast D.C.—an area shaken by increased gun violence in recent years, and where Goggans lives—to encourage people to oppose a push by the city’s mayor to hire more police as a key solution to violent crime. The plan is to talk to residents about initiatives like after school programs and donating books to schools, and “to listen to folks and ask, ‘What is your biggest concern about this? Or what things do you think will be helpful for the issue happening on your block or in your community?’ So that it’s not just giving information, it’s a sharing of information.”

Building that people power will benefit from more collaboration and resource sharing with non-BLM groups. Even before Trump’s election, some BLM groups had begun to build such coalitions. Last fall, some sent members to North Dakota to support Native American activists fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, while others raised money and provided supplies for native activists on the front lines there. The Black Lives Matter Global Network has raised nearly $14,000 in support of the protest efforts at Standing Rock.

The potential for powerful grassroots alliances has only grown since Trump entered the Oval Office, BLM leaders say. “What we saw during the inauguration weekend is going to continue,” said Barry of the historic marches around the country involving myriad activist groups. “We’re all under attack. Each of us might be impacted very differently, but we now share a very similar political fate, and so it’s incumbent on all of us to really be in full coordination and solidarity with other movements.”


How the Black Lives Matter Movement Is Mobilizing Against Trump

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