Russian hackers attack US state and local government networks, US government says

A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed at a news conference at the US Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, pool)
Short Url
Updated 23 October 2020

Russian hackers attack US state and local government networks, US government says

  • US intel chief earlier said Russia and Iran have both tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election
  • Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov called such allegations “absolutely groundless”

WASHINGTON: Hackers sponsored by Russia have been trying to break into US state and local government computer networks and in two instances were successful, US government agencies said on Thursday — the second major warning over foreign hacking in as many days.
In an alert less than two weeks before the US election, the agencies said that a Russian group, sometimes called Berserk Bear or Dragonfly by researchers, had targeted dozens of state, local, tribal and territorial US governments as well as aviation networks.
“Since at least September 2020, a Russian state-sponsored ... actor ... has conducted a campaign against a wide variety of US targets,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security said.
The hackers successfully broke into an unspecified number of networks and, as of earlier this month, had stolen data from two of them, the agencies said in a posting on the website of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
The names of the targeted governments were not disclosed. DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The FBI provided no further details but said in a statement that it was “shining a spotlight on Russia’s nefarious behavior.”
In response to a request for comment, the Russian Embassy in Washington pointed to recent comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling such allegations “absolutely groundless.”
The alert comes amid heightened concern about hacking ahead of the US presidential election on Nov. 3.
Many in the United States have worried about a potential repeat of 2016, when hackers alleged to be working for Russia’s military intelligence stole and released emails belonging to prominent US Democrats and other political figures, according to US intelligence agencies and government officials.
US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on Wednesday that Russia and Iran have both tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election, seeking to undermine Americans’ confidence in the integrity of the vote and spread misinformation in an attempt to sway its outcome.
Russia obtained public voter information and Iran sent spoofed emails to US voters in an attempt to intimidate them, Ratcliffe said.
US officials were careful in Thursday’s warning to emphasize that they had no information to indicate the hackers had intentionally disrupted any elections or government operations.
“However, the actor may be seeking access to obtain future disruption options, to influence US policies and actions, or to delegitimize (state and local) government entities,” the alert said. 


India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

Updated 27 February 2021

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

  • Abide by international laws to deal with refugees rescued near Andaman Islands, Human Rights Watch says
  • New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people”

NEW DELHI: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday called on India to abide by international laws in protecting refugees a day after New Delhi said it had rescued 81 Rohingya stranded in Indian waters.
“India should abide by its international obligations to offer all protection and access to the UN refugee agency,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.
On Feb. 11, nearly 90 Rohingya from the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh boarded a small boat for Malaysia, Anurag Srivastava, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement.
Four days later, on Feb. 15, “the boat’s engine broke down, and the boat drifted toward the southern Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar.”
Eight people lost their lives, and one drowned.
Two days later, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to “all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.”
On Friday, New Delhi announced that it had rescued the stranded refugees.
“When we learned of the boat in distress, we immediately dispatched two coast guard ships to provide food, water and medical assistance to the occupants of the boat. Seven of them were administered IV fluids,” the statement said.
It added that since most of “the occupants of the boat have ID cards issued to them by the UNHCR office in Bangladesh,” New Delhi was in talks with Dhaka “to ensure their safe and secure repatriation.”
The HRW, however, said that India needed to do more to abide by its “international obligations” and should not “pass the buck.”
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which mandates refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. Nor does it have any domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
“Whether it is India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh or other countries in the region, governments need to protect the Rohingya refugees instead of trying to pass the buck,” Ganguly told Arab News.
She added that the “primary responsibility” for the plight of the Rohingya lay with Myanmar and that “these governments should join the international community to ensure that the Rohingya can return to their homes voluntarily, with safety and dignity.”
Meanwhile, the New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people.”
“Rohingya stranded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are not Bangladeshi; they are hapless refugees. India, being a big country, should shelter these stranded people till the situation normalizes in Myanmar,” RHRI founder Sabber Kyaw Min said.
Min was referring in part to a coup d’etat by the Myanmar military on Feb. 1, which has led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the ruling regime and widespread, nationwide protests.
He called on the Indian government to disclose the refugees’ whereabouts.
“I was in touch with some of the refugees and their relatives till Wednesday, but since then their phones have been off. Rohingya are suffering. New Delhi should demonstrate large-heartedness in accommodating the refugees in the same way Bangladesh has demonstrated,” Min added.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a federally administered archipelago lying between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Both Myanmar and Thailand have coastlines along the eastern edge of the sea.
In 2012, some Rohingya refugees were rescued from near the islands and provided medical care and attention, before being sent back to Myanmar.
However, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime assumed office in New Delhi, India has taken a harder line over providing admission and shelter to any Rohingya refugees.
Denis Giles of the Andaman Chronicle, an English newspaper based in Andaman’s capital Port Blair, was the first to break the story about the stranded refugees and alert the world about the crisis.
Giles, who covered the Rohingya rescue operations in 2012, said that this time “there is a big difference.”
“They were properly treated, and the administration used to ask social organizations to help them out, but now no one wants to talk about that. There is a hush now,” Giles told Arab News.
“Earlier, we would know where they are being kept, which hospitals they are being treated at but this time, we are completely in the dark.”
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution at the Myanmar military’s hands in the Buddhist-majority country.
The Rohingya endured decades of abuse in Myanmar, beginning in the 1970s when hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 fled when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal under which thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine.
The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in August 2017 following a military crackdown on the ethnic minority group.
According to the UN, by the end of 2020, 866,457 Rohingya refugees had been registered at 34 camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh due to a joint initiative by Dhaka and the UNHCR.


Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

Updated 27 February 2021

Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies

  • Move part of efforts to speed up inoculation, achieve herd immunity

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.


Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Updated 27 February 2021

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

  • The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,534 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,825 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,234,720 since the pandemic began.
The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 85,743.

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

Updated 27 February 2021

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
“This is a first step,” she stressed, and it will require further international efforts.
But Woodward said the large number of cosponsors and unanimous council approval are “a strong testament to the international commitment to seeing this happen.”
“Obviously each of these situations will require further negotiations at country and even at field and local level,” she said. “and we’ve asked the secretary-general to report back where they encounter barriers in this.”
The resolution adopted Friday recognizes “that armed conflicts can exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, and that inversely the pandemic can exacerbate the adverse humanitarian impact of armed conflicts, as well as exacerbating inequalities.”
It also recognizes “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, of COVID-19 and its variant strains, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The Security Council stressed that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines” authorized by the World Health Organization or regulatory authorities “is essential to end the pandemic.”
It also stressed “the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy” in vaccinations.
And it called for donations of vaccines from richer developed nations to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility, the ambitious WHO program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.


Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Updated 27 February 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

  • Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun urged all countries to pressure the Myanmar military regime to restore democracy
  • His surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting

UNITED NATIONS: Myanmar’s UN ambassador strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy, in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly Friday that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the Feb. 1 coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that military coup “is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the new US ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield. She joined others in describing the speech as “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres in Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup. And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement” of Ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma.”
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on the Internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (National Assembly), known as CRPH, and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Tun began his remarks by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results and declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government. He cited the massive opposition by the people, saying “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the UN, the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilized global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighboring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.