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US to treat ransomware attacks with same priority as terrorism

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Colonial pipeline

The U.S. Department of Justice is elevating investigations of ransomware attacks

The department now plans to treat ransomware attacks to a similar priority as terrorism in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline hack and mounting damage caused by cyber criminals.

Internal guidance sent to U.S. attorney’s offices across the America stated information about ransomware investigations in the field should be centrally coordinated with a recently created task force in Washington.

“It’s a specialised process to ensure we track all ransomware cases regardless of where it may be referred in this country,”

said John Carlin, principle associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department.

The latest development comes after a cyber criminal group which is understood to be based in Russia, penetrated the pipeline operator on the U.S. East Coast, locking its systems and demanding a ransom.

The cyber hack caused a shutdown lasting several days, led to a spike in gas prices, panic buying and localised fuel shortages in the southeast. 

Hackers were paid a ransom, Colonial Pipeline boss confirms

The boss of one of the United States’ biggest fuel pipelines says his company paid a $USD 4.4 million ransom to hackers.

The Colonial Pipeline experienced a cyberattack that shut down its nationwide network on 7 May. As such, millions of barrels of petrol, diesel and jet fuel stopped flowing.

Joseph Blount is the CEO of the Colonial Pipeline. He told the Wall Street Journal the ransom was a “highly controversial decision”. But he conceded it “was the right thing to do for the country”.

The 8,900 kilometre pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day, or 45 percent of the east coast’s supply of critical fuel supplies.

“I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this,”

Mr Blount explained

However, President Biden believes there was evidence that Russian hackers were involved in the attack.

“So far there is no evidence from our intelligence people that Russia is involved. Although, there is evidence that the actors, ransomware is in Russia, they have some responsibility to deal with this.”

The hackers are from DarkSide, who allegedly steal from larger corporations and give the ransom funds to charity.

The group released a statement on the dark web. “From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

After the cyberattack, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to strengthen cybersecurity defences across the US.

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Global Politics

Jab or jail: Duterte’s warning to Filipinos

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The President of the Phillipines is threatening his citizens with jail, if they don’t get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine hesitancy is a serious problem in the Phillipines.

In a country where more than 23,000 people have died from COVID-19, a recent poll indicated only a third of Filipinos are willing to get inoculated.

The nation’s leader has threatened those who fail to do so.

In a televised address, Rodrigo Duterte warned: ‘You choose, Covid vaccine or I will have you jailed’.

He says that village leaders should “keep a list of those who refused to be vaccinated”.

“If you’re a person who’s not vaccinated and a potential carrier, to protect the people, I have to sequester you in jail.”

The comments put the hardline leader at odds with health officials who say vaccines are voluntary.

Last year the President ordered police and military to kill citizens who defied lockdown restrictions.

There have been more than 1.3 million cases of coronavirus in the country since the start of the pandemic.

“Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country,” Duterte told citizens in his address. “I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”

“The first wave has really depleted the resources of government,” the President said. “Another one would be disastrous for this country.”

Duterte claims that is why “the stricter you are, the better”.

In response to his comments, the nation’s Justice Secretary says he believes the President “merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible”.

Menardo Guevarra added that there is currently no law that penalises people who refuse to get a COVID vaccine.

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Global Politics

Millions of American families are about to get cash in their pockets

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From next month, around 36 million American families are due to begin receiving payments totalling up to $1800 through to December this year.

Lawmakers have temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) available to families with children in 2021.

Known as the enhanced Child Tax Credit, it was signed into law by President Joe Biden as part of the American Rescue plan.

The efforts will increase the previous $2,000 annual tax credit to $3,600 per child, with half being paid in cash instalments and the rest claimed on 2021 tax returns.

Families will get monthly payments of up to $300 for each child 6 years old and under and up to $250 for each child 6 to 18 years old.

These funds can help parents afford necessities like diapers, school supplies, and food. But this increase in the CTC payments has only been approved for 2021.

The Biden administration has also proposed to extend this new cash-back system for five years if successful.

An estimated 90 percent of children in the United States will automatically get the CTC. Even if a parent is making little to no income, they can still be eligible for the new CTC.

Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris says residents need to “spread the word”

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Global Politics

Fresh study reveals divide in the U.S

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A new poll has found that around one-third of Americans are convinced that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

The Monmouth University study found that 32 percent of respondents are of the impression that widespread voter fraud was the reason President Biden won the election.

In similar polls conducted by the university in November, January and March, this figure has remained steady.

The study’s director says “the continuing efforts to question the validity of last year’s election is deepening the partisan divide in ways that could have long-term consequences for America’s Democracy”.

Unsurprisingly, the research also found that the majority of those who believe in the voter fraud theory are either Republican or Republican-leaning.

The Monmouth poll surveyed 810 U.S. adults from June 9-14. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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