Today on The BradCast, we slide down the slippery, oil-soaked slope of increasingly dangerous ransomware attacks with, as our guest warns today, "nothing" to stop one from taking out an election in the not-too-distant future.
But, first up, some better news out of a federal courtroom in Texas this afternoon, where a judge has nixed the National Rifle Association's attempt to escape accountability for massive corruption and self-dealing in New York, where state Attorney General Letitia James is suing the 150-year old "charitable" group to dissolve it. The NRA had filed for bankruptcy protection in order to duck NY's lawsuit and re-charter itself in the Lone Star State, where apparently they welcome corrupt "charitable" organizations. As we discussed on the show last week, with NRA expert and author Igor Volsky, the group's leader Wayne LaPierre, remarkably, filed for Chapter 11 protection without the knowledge of its Board of Directors or General Counsel. The judge described that as "shocking" and found that the NRA was unlawfully hoping to use the bankruptcy proceedings to avoid the NY state litigation. Judge Harlin Hale didn't buy it, however, and dismissed the "bad faith" filing today after an 11-day trial. The NRA will now have to face the music in NY, where the state AG declared in response: "No one is above the law." (We'll hope that's also true in her ongoing probe of bank and tax fraud by Donald Trump and his Trump Organization as well. She already succeed in shutting down HIS phony "charity", calling itself the Trump Foundation.)
Also today, more breaking news out of Arizona. Despite claims from some state Republican Senators that they are embarrassed by the clown show currently playing out in Phoenix with the Cyber Ninjas' "audit" theater of 2.1 million ballots from the 2020 Presidential election in Maricopa County, (one such GOP Senator who voted for the exercise now laments, "It makes us look like idiots"), the same Senators passed legislation on Tuesday to make it harder for some 140,000 Arizonans to vote. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed the new law today, less than an hour after passage, which would purge voters from the permanent mail-in ballot list if they fail to vote in two elections in a row and then fail to return a letter within 90 days of it being sent to them. Democrats and some businesses charge that the measure disproportionately targets voters of color. But, of course, that's a feature, not a bug for the state GOP, still smarting from having lost the Presidential election and both of its U.S. Senate seats to Democrats.
Then, we're joined by longtime cybersecurity and national security journalist KIM ZETTER to discuss the ransomware attack which has led to the shut down of the Colonial Pipeline. The company's network supplies nearly half of the gas, jet fuel and diesel used on the Eastern Seaboard, as is snakes some 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey.
Zetter explains how this attack, attributed to a Russia-based group calling themselves DarkSide, was apparently able to burrow its way into Colonial's corporate IT computer network, if not to the operational computer network that actually controls the pipeline system, as well as why the company quickly decided to shut down the pipeline itself anyway.
After sharing some details she has gleaned from sources, including pipeline customers and suppliers, we discuss the recent rise of ransomware attacks which are extraordinarily effective and difficult to prevent. Many companies and organizations --- businesses large and small, hospitals, banks, and both state and local governments --- are now forced to pay the ransom demanded by the cyber-terrorists. Even today, news broke that negotiations between ransomware attackers and the D.C. Metropolitan Police have broken down, with the attackers now threatening to publicly release a sensitive list of police informants if more money is not offered. (The group is demanding $4 million, but claims the Department has offered only $100,000.)
"Unfortunately, this is an industry now," Zetter explains, describing the firms that now specialize in serving as negotiators with the hackers, while helping the crippled companies restore their systems with decryption tools supplied by the hackers once ransom has been paid.
Zetter is also one of the few journalists in the nation that has been covering concerns and vulnerabilities in computerized voting and tabulation systems as long as me. I spent many a sleepless night last year concerned about the possibility of a ransomware attack on wildly vulnerable state and county elections systems. "Nothing" can prevent such an attack, warns Zetter, especially on systems that are often left exposed and vulnerable on the Internet all year around, even when there are no current elections under way (as we discussed in detail with Zetter in 2019.)
As you may imagine, we've got lots to talk about with Zetter today. She has written for years on these matters at outlets such as Wired, Politico, New York Times, Vice's Motherboard and is the author of the book Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon. She also now writes her own newsletter called Zero Day, covering all of these topics and more.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us with the latest Green News Report, with more on how the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, the largest such network in the nation, is crippling the fuel supply on the East Coast; how a new study finds air pollution from farms causes thousands of premature deaths each year in the U.S.; more ominous signs of the worsening drought in California; and some much better news regarding electric vehicles and action being taken by the Biden Administration to restore landmark federal protections for migratory birds after the Trump Administration had dismantled them...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)