Russia is still the story
Cyber dangers arise everywhere, yet the most fearsome come from Russia. This week, two news items drove that point home.
The first, described in a Bloomberg report, showed just how pervasively Russia meddled in the U.S. electoral system: Hackers hit voting systems in 39 states, leading President Obama to take the unprecedented step of picking a modern day “red phone” to confront the Kremlin. One official said the only reason the Russians didn’t alter election results is because they didn’t have time to master (and mess with) the disparate voting systems. But next time, they could be in position to change some vote tallies unless the U.S. figures this out.
The second piece of Russia news is even more chilling. A BuzzFeed investigation titled “From Russia, With Blood” reports the Kremlin has murdered 14 people on British soil—including U.K. citizens—but MI6 and other law enforcement agencies refuse to act, preferring to pretend the deaths are suicide. Fear of cyber strikes are one big reason for this:
“[T]he Kremlin could inflict massive harm on Britain by unleashing cyberattacks, destabilising the economy, or mobilising elements of Britain’s large Russian population to “cause disruption,” a national security adviser told BuzzFeed, explaining the U.K.’s failure to act.
The story of Russians murdering people in London is not just about cybersecurity, of course. But it does reinforce how compromised computers are on the front line of geopolitics these days. Russia’s power over digital infrastructure in the U.S. and Britain is both a technical and a military problem—one that touches every single bureaucrat and politician, whether they acknowledge it or not.
Serious thoughts, I know. But please read on for more uplifting cyber stories, including a great one about girl scouts. Thanks as always for reading—and don’t forget to join us in Aspen for some great cyber discussions at Brainstorm Tech in four weeks time.
Jeff John Roberts
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
Crashes, correction, and Coinbase. How you doing out there, crypto-currency fans? Hope you enjoyed your latest rollercoaster ride this week, which saw new nosebleed prices for bitcoin and ethereum—and then a mid-week correction that knocked values down 25%. All the carnage took out exchange service Coinbase for hours, but then came Friday and a new boom bloomed. Good times. (Fortune, CoinDesk)
A patch made in heaven. Microsoft’s latest “Patch Tuesday,” in which it releases software updates to secure its platforms, was unlike any other. The software giant included a bunch of fixes for older systems like Windows XP, while warning about dangers posed by state-sponsored attacks and WannaCry. I’ve given grief to Microsoft in the past for letting its old systems sit out there like so many dangerous products, but in this case, the company deserves props for doing the right thing. (The Verge)
Not today, trolls. Many media outlets (including this one) turned off their reader comments because it’s so easy for trolls make to online interaction a miserable experience. So it’s a big deal the New York Times expanded their comment platforms thanks to a secret AI weapon, developed by Google’s Jigsaw unit. The NYT has been experimenting with the tool for a while and is now deploying it at scale. (Fortune)
Bond markets may punish cyber sloppiness. Municipal governments have long been easy pickings for cyber criminals and yet, as the recent WannaCry outbreak showed, a lot of them are doing little to address the problem. But they have a big new incentive to tighten things up. Ratings agency S&P will now include cyber vulnerabilities as one of the criteria to determine local government’s overall credit risk. (Reuters)
Oh, and looks like e-cigarettes may be bad for your computer.
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It can be hard to finds a straight-up good news story in the cyber space, but here’s one: Your favorite cookie sellers are in training to become white hat hackers.
On Thursday, the Girl Scouts of the USA announced a new partnership with Palo Alto Networks to create a series of cybersecurity badges. Younger girls want to block bullying while older ones want to prevent cyber attacks. The badges, which will be available starting in 2018, can be earned by girls in grades K-12 who demonstrate mastery of Internet security.
Kudos to you, Palo Alto Networks for the assist on this.
Read more on Fortune.com.
Prisoners Are Using Drones to Smuggle in Drones and Porn by Jonathan Vanian
Hacker Who Hit Canadian Casinos Is Eyeing New Targets by Fortune/Reuters
Even Goldman Sachs’ CEO Is Falling for This Tricky Email Scam by Mahita Gajanan
ONE MORE THING
Crazy fight to the death with a cyber raccoon. Okay, this is not actually a cyber-story at all. But this tale of a young Maine woman who went at it with a rapid raccoon, eventually drowning the beast in a mud muddle, is just awesome. (“Rachel Borch thought to herself, ‘What a beautiful day.’ Little did she know she was about to be attacked.”) Read it. (Bangor Daily News)