U.S. Issues Sanctions in Response to Cyber Attack, Expels 35 Russian Intelligence Operatives
White House – On December 29, President Obama and the United States issued various sanctions and responses to the alleged Russian hacking that many believe influenced the recent U.S. Presidential election. The President outlined the actions the U.S. has taken:
I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information. The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives.
While the response to this move was mixed, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not appear to be bothered very much. Putin said that, while they may still respond to the U.S. sanctions, they will not “sink to the level of this irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy.” He indicated that he looks forward to restoring Russian-American ties under President-Elect Donald Trump, and continued, “We will not forbid families and children from spending the New Year’s holidays at the places they are used to. Moreover, I invite the children of all American diplomats with accreditation in Russia to New Year’s and Christmas festivities in the Kremlin.”
Russian Hacking Malware Found on Laptop at Vermont Electrical Plant
Washington Post – On December 31, the Washington Post published an article titled “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.” But there a few problems with that claim. The electricity grid was not compromised and the only thing that had Russian hacking on it was a laptop that was not connected to the grid.
Here is the official statement clarifying the issue from Mike Kanarick, spokesman for Burlington Electric Department:
Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks. We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding. Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully.
The Washington Post article now includes the following editor’s note: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”
2016 Ends with More Celebrity Deaths
Many have lamented the year 2016 for a variety of reasons, including the number of upsetting celebrity deaths from Alan Rickman to Gene Wilder to Prince and others. With only a week left in the year, 2016 made it clear that it wasn’t done.
On December 23, Carrie Fisher was on a transatlantic flight to Los Angeles when she had a heart attack. Her breathing had stopped for some time but she was given CPR until the plane landed and she was transported to a hospital right away. There, she stayed in ICU for several days, leaving the world in suspense until December 27, when it was confirmed that she had passed.
The very next day, December 28, Debbie Reynolds, the mother of Carrie Fisher, also died. According to her son, Todd Fisher, Reynolds said “I want to be with Carrie,” before suffering a major stroke and passing away.
Additionally, Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, died on December 24 and Ricky Harris, from Chris Rock’s “Everybody Hates Chris” sitcom, passed away on December 26. And on Christmas day Wham! singer George Michael, singer of “Last Christmas,” passed away “peacefully” in his home. As of now, his autopsy has ruled the cause of death as inconclusive.
As if that wasn’t enough, however, 2016 decided to kick us one last time with the death of William Christopher, known for his role as Father Mulcahy in the TV show M*A*S*H, on December 31.
Silent March Through Chicago in Remembrance of a Year of Violence
WHIO-TV – On New Year’s Eve, hundreds of people marched down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. They carried crosses bearing the names of people who were killed in Chicago this year. The marchers were silent, speaking only to say the names of the victims. The crosses were made by Greg Zanis, who said, “I just want to tell everybody my heart’s broken for you. I don’t know what else to do but I did a little bit of work for you guys.”
Over 760 people were killed in Chicago last year, up from 500 in 2015. Even over the long Christmas weekend, the violence did not stop. Fifty-three people were shot between 5 P.M. Friday and 5 P.M. Monday. As of Monday afternoon, 11 of those 53 had died, with others still in serious or critical condition.
Gunman Kills 39, Injures Dozens in Nightclub Shooting in Istanbul
New York Times – 2017 started off with a terrorist attack in Istanbul, Turkey, as a gunman entered a nightclub and shot many people. Up to 700 people were crowded into the Reina nightclub and by the end of the attack dozens were wounded, including 39 people who died. Currently, the gunman is still on the loose and no one has officially claimed responsibility for the attack.