How will the government pull its cybersecurity trousers back up?

Rather than blowing up systems or stopping them with something as coarse as a denial of service attack, the Sunburst Trojan horse that infected the infamous SolarWinds Orion product was designed to not interfere with the systems of its ultimate victims in any way. As the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency puts it, “This threat actor has the resources, patience, and expertise to gain access to and privileges over highly sensitive information if left unchecked. CISA urges organizations to prioritize measures to identify and address this threat.”

…FireEye provided the first and most concise description of what Sunburst can do: “After an initial dormant period of up to two weeks, it retrieves and executes commands, called “Jobs”, that include the ability to transfer files, execute files, profile the system, reboot the machine, and disable system services.”

Sunburst operates with a great deal of subtlety to avoid detection…It can disable, but so far no federal agency has reported a stoppage. If I were the alleged Russian government or government-sponsored hackers, why would I disable a system that’s sluicing valuable information my way?

This is just a look-in from outside the federal chain of command. It may be stating the obvious from a geek perspective; but, that’s a boatload more informative than the 1950’s black-and-white movie we get from the Associated Press or the Trump PR Band-Aid.

A principled decision by the US government offers Native Americans an opportunity for justice


Lucas Reynolds

❝ Shortly after federal Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for an injunction against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers issued a joint statement that, in effect, temporarily halts all construction bordering Lake Oahe on the Missouri.

❝ The tribe had sought an injunction to stop the routing of the Dakota Access oil pipeline underneath the Missouri River, the source of the reservation’s drinking water, on the grounds that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had failed to conduct a proper environmental and cultural impact study. While acknowledging that damage had been done to an area sacred to the tribe, Boasberg said that the tribe had not made its case for an injunction…

❝ Shortly after Judge Boasberg’s decision, the three government agencies stepped in, suggesting that a change in process may be in order when it comes to how the courts and federal law view Indian land.

“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act,” the joint announcement stated. “However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain.”

❝ The agencies called for “serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.” The statement announced “formal, government-to-government consultations” this fall that would examine what the federal government can do “to ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights,” and whether new legislation was needed to meet the goal of meaningful consultation

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws,” the statement said. “Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time…”

❝ Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II expressed elation and gratitude.

“Our hearts are full. This an historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and for tribes across the nation,” Archambault said in a statement. “Today, three federal agencies announced the significant decision to respect tribal sovereignty and stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Army Corps land…”

“Our voices have been heard,” said Archambault. “The Obama administration has asked tribes to the table to make sure that we have meaningful consultation on infrastructure projects. Native peoples have suffered generations of broken promises and today the federal government said that national reform is needed to better ensure that tribes have a voice on infrastructure projects like this pipeline…”

Please RTFA. Judge Boasberg’s decision is worth reflection. Even though I believe like too many in the American legal profession he forgets to consider the spirit of laws intended to protect people and their property at a higher priority than corporate wealth and profit.

The full statement from David Archambault 11, Standing Rock Chairman is inclusive and reflects his thanks to all across this nation who support his tribe, Native Americans, and the broader fight against rich and powerful interests.

President Obama’s decision should be recognized as an act of courage. Albeit not one taken frequently enough against the most reactionary elements in American society. I only hope it succeeds in reversing the decades of repression against those fighting for equal rights and authority in this nation – and Native American people in particular.

Time to allow banks to be part of the marijuana economy

The Senate introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would prevent criminal prosecution as well as liability and asset forfeiture for banks that do business with a state-sanctioned marijuana business.

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, both of Colorado, announced the bill in a joint statement.

Joint statement. Har.

Last year, the Treasury Department said banks could serve the marijuana industry under certain conditions. Many banks call the guidelines too onerous, resulting in a marijuana industry that still relies heavily on cash. That reliance on cash rather than traditional banking methods has made marijuana dispensary operators robbery targets.

Marijuana advocacy groups lauded the new bill, citing safety issues involved with cash-rich businesses…

Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a state that legalized marijuana in 2012, praised the Senate bill, saying the federal government has a duty to ensure the safety of people as the marijuana legalization experiment expands in states across the country.

At the community level, banks considered the Treasury statement last year to be nothing more than window dressing. Unless laws and regulations are officially changed no bank executive is going to consider arrest or closure of their bank at the whim of some pissed-off bureaucrat. Laws to protect folks who aren’t breaking reasonable laws should be easy as pie.

The problem, as usual, is Congress. Federal laws passed from sheer stupidity, obstinate sophistry, decades ago.

This smartphone will self-destruct in 3… 2…1…


“What do you mean…sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?”

Boeing has unveiled a smartphone that appears to come straight from a James Bond spy movie…In addition to encrypting calls, any attempt to open the casing of the Boeing Black Smartphone deletes all data and renders the device inoperable.

The secure phone marks an extension of the communications arm of the Chicago-based aerospace and defense contractor, which is best known for jetliners and fighter planes…

Boeing’s tamper-proof phone is aimed at government agencies and contractors who need to keep communication and data secure, according to Boeing and filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission…

Due to the phone’s security features, Boeing is releasing few details about the wireless network operators or manufacturer it is working with, and has not provided a price or date by which the phone might be widely available, but said it has begun offering the phone to potential customers.

Boeing’s website says the phone can be configured to connect with biometric sensors or satellites. Other attachments can extend battery life or use solar power…

“We saw a need for our customers in a certain market space” that Boeing could meet with its technology expertise, she said.

That’s a polite way of saying – “we already deal with the creepiest paranoids in the United States government. This is one more way we can rake in more taxpayer dollars.”

NSA Spies on international VISA, bank transactions

The National Security Agency (NSA) widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card transactions, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL.

The information from the American foreign intelligence agency, acquired by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, show that the spying is conducted by a branch called “Follow the Money” (FTM). The collected information then flows into the NSA’s own financial databank, called “Tracfin,” which in 2011 contained 180 million records. Some 84 percent of the data is from credit card transactions.

Further NSA documents from 2010 show that the NSA also targets the transactions of customers of large credit card companies like VISA for surveillance. NSA analysts at an internal conference that year described in detail how they had apparently successfully searched through the US company’s complex transaction network for tapping possibilities…

The NSA’s Tracfin data bank also contained data from the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a network used by thousands of banks to send transaction information securely. SWIFT was named as a “target,” according to the documents, which also show that the NSA spied on the organization on several levels, involving, among others, the agency’s “tailored access operations” division. One of the ways the agency accessed the data included reading “SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks,” the documents show.

I don’t expect many of our elected officials – local, state or federal – to get off their rusty dusty butts and fightback against this crap until and unless they discover their holiday gifting or illicit sex is uncovered. Our nation has a history of profoundly unconscious acquiescence to corruption. We are a people accustomed to being subservient to bureaucracy even when it conducts criminal business.

The vision of a Constitutional lawyer in the White House spending his efforts at legalizing this crap is a further example of just how corrupt our society has become. Reaction is unfairly distracted by the loonies on the populist Right. They’re already deeply stuck into their racism, neo-confederate states rights silliness, and emotionally bound to the gun nuts of the nation as a religious cause.

They’re more a part of the problem than a solution. Our government can stand before the nation and characterize the efforts of legitimate civil libertarians like the ACLU as over-reaching and compare them to conservative nutballs like the Pauls, elder and younger.

The fact remains that issues like individual privacy need to be strengthened in the face of speedier and more thorough means of snooping. No matter who’s in charge.

Feds offer atheist group the same tax break given priests – to stop asking questions

The U.S. Justice Department says in a legal filing leaders of an atheist group qualify for the same housing tax exemption priests receive.

The paradoxical position comes in response to a lawsuit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., which seeks to end the parsonage tax break granted to priests, ministers, rabbis and other clergy by the U.S. government. The tax break allows them to claim part of their income as a tax-free housing allowance.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, who receives a $15,000 housing stipend from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, is suing the federal government because she has to pay taxes on that money while “ministers of the gospel,” as the law defines priests, do not.

In response, the federal government said rather than agree to end the parsonage exemption it could be extended to Gaylor because she is the leader of a religious movement — albeit one that does not believe in God.

Legal maneuvering aside, Gaylor told The (Nashville) Tennessean the government has missed the point of her lawsuit — not to mention the fundamental difference between her atheist group and a religious order.

“We are not ministers,” she said. “We are having to tell the government the obvious — we are not a church.”

But government lawyers and some scholars said the argument isn’t as cut and dried.

Taoism and Buddhism are recognized religions that don’t recognize a deity and their leaders are afforded the tax break. So belief in God, the government argues, can’t be the defining trait of a religious movement.

“Plaintiffs may not presume that a law’s reference to religion necessarily excludes beliefs that are specifically non-theistic in nature,” the government argued in a motion to dismiss the foundation’s suit.

Which ends up illustrating that we have a government in place so cowardly, so willing to give up reasonable taxation, that they’re proposing one of the same tax breaks they give religions be offered to an atheist organization – just to make the question go away.

I think it’s time I become incorporated, again. This time as a religious foundation. I wouldn’t mind skipping out on some taxes.

Congressional Republicans oppose right-wing nutballs blocking government funding to stop ObamaCare

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said Friday attempts by congressional Republicans to defund the Affordable Care Act are “dishonest” and cannot succeed.

In an interview with the conservative Washington Examiner newspaper, Coburn criticized fellow Republicans who signed a pledge not to vote for a continuing resolution to provide routine funding for government operations unless funding for the healthcare reform law, commonly known as Obamacare, are stripped from it…

Coburn, a physician and a consistent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, said he opposed the Republican gambit because the votes aren’t there for it to be successful.

“You’re going to set an expectation among the conservatives in our party that we can achieve something that we’re not able to achieve,” he said. “It’s not an achievable strategy. It’s creating the false impression that you can do something when you can’t. And it’s dishonest.”

Coburn said the strategy “is a good way for Republicans to lose the House…”

Coburn’s comments came as Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the idea of shutting down the U.S. government to block healthcare reform implementation is “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Support is building among congressional Republicans for using a continuing resolution as leverage to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is among the loudest voices supporting the stand…

Burr said Thursday stopping the funding in not achievable and argued Republicans risk taking the blame if the government is shut down over the issue.

I think it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” said Burr. “As long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is going to be law. Defunding the Affordable Care Act is not achievable through shutting down the federal government.”

Not that DUMB stops Republicans very often. It will be a chuckle to see who prevails between traditional conservatives dedicated to making money for insurance companies and the medical-industrial complex – versus the nutball brigade rolling around with all four feet in the air like a hound in cowshit. Only the crap is Tea Party ideology instead of something potentially useful.

New York revives leadership in civil rights – sues to end DOMA


Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Two days after same-sex marriage became legal in New York, the state’s attorney general has taken legal action challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. law which defines marriage as between a man and woman.

In court papers filed on Tuesday in U.S. federal court in Manhattan, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, violates same-sex couples’ right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The 1996 law prohibits same-sex couples from receiving marriage-based benefits such as Social Security survivor benefits, health benefits and the right to file taxes jointly.

Schneiderman argued the law intrudes on the state’s right to regulate marriage. On Sunday, gay couples began to marry in New York after it was made legal…

“By discriminating among married couples based on sexual orientation and sex, DOMA deprives New York of the ability to extend true equality to all marriages valid in the State,” Schneiderman wrote…

In February, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act’s section which defines marriage as between a man and woman.

Yes, the bigots and homophobes of America will continue to join with the most backwards elements in American politics to try to halt the progress of this new generation of civil rights advances. They should fail as abysmally as they did in the 1960’s.

This act by the New York State AG feels to me like the 1958 passage of the Fair Housing Practices Law. When the business and commercial capital of the world stands up for human rights, the nation, the world, has to step back and acknowledge their failings. The state of New York has set an example for all the United States that pretend to modernity to get up on their hind legs and fight for the rights of all their citizens.

Rahm Emanuel ruling sets aside teabagger mindset


Emmanuel celebrates in a Chicago bar

The Chicago elections board underscored an important rule for politicians Thursday when it cleared Rahm Emanuel to run for mayor, which is that it’s fine to rent your house out to a complete stranger, as long as you leave your wife’s wedding dress stuffed under the stairs, or maybe just some old pasta in the refrigerator.

But for all the farce surrounding the question of Mr. Emanuel’s residency, the elections board, whether or not it intended to, also affirmed a serious and more important principle with its ruling — that Washington is in fact an extension of the rest of the country, rather than some alien territory cloistered within it.

This, of course, was not the most obvious issue to surface in the proceedings to decide whether Mr. Emanuel really was or was not a Chicagoan, a sideshow that must have made the former White House chief of staff pine for the relative sanity of Congress. Led by the man who rented Mr. Emanuel’s house from him and who had himself threatened to run for mayor, about 30 citizens questioned Mr. Emanuel, under oath, about whether he had actually left behind any boxes in the basement that might prove his continued residency…

“Were you ever a member of the Communist Party?” one of the interrogators jokingly asked Mr. Emanuel, tacitly acknowledging, it seemed, the ludicrous nature of the entire hearing.

Illustrating the stupidity and core values of populist opposition to this union called the United States, describing teabagger ideology by repeating the ironic question characteristic of paranoid nutballs years back in our poltical history of fear.

And yet there was a serious cultural subtext to the debate, beyond the question of whether Mr. Emanuel, a lifelong Chicagoan, is enough of a Chicagoan to run the city. At issue was also the larger question of whether someone who goes to Washington to serve his community and his country, as Mr. Emanuel did as both a congressman and a presidential aide, can be seen as having left his home to take up residence somewhere else.

This was essentially the argument [countered] by Mr. Emanuel’s lawyer, Kevin Forde, who pointed out that the residency law made allowances for people who were away “on business of the United States,” like soldiers stationed overseas. “If being chief of staff for the president of the United States isn’t in the service of the United States, I don’t know what is,” he said…

As it is, assuming the decision survives an inevitable appeal, Mr. Emanuel, who is leading handily in public polls, can now look forward to the election. After that, perhaps, he can return to his house and unpack the contents of those disputed storage boxes, the accumulated this-and-that of your average American life.

The appeal is guaranteed by sufficient funding for delay by those in high places and low whose singular interpretation of Constitutional Law holds that holy writ supersedes legal precedent, secession remains a viable alternative to federal decision-making, dedication to parochialism in education, religion and jurisprudence is what is lacking in government.