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)
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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. 


UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

Updated 23 January 2021

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

  • PM Boris Johnson had previously said evidence showed higher mortality rate 
  • Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant carries with it a higher mortality rate

LONDON: The discovery of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant in the UK should not alter the response to the pandemic, scientists say, despite fears that it could prove more deadly.
Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant, thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible, carries with it a higher mortality rate.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was “some evidence” the variant had “a higher degree of mortality” at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, with the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, adding it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. 
That came after a briefing by the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said there was a “realistic possibility” of an increased risk of death.
Prof. Peter Horby, Nervtag’s chairman, said: “Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity ... and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility.
“We need to be transparent about that. If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”
But infectious disease modeller Prof. Graham Medley, one of the authors of the Nervtag briefing, told the BBC: “The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open.
He added: “In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.”
Dr. Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling for the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said he was “quite surprised” Johnson had made the claim.
“I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong,” he added.