FBI, White House warn of Russian cyber attacks on US companies – National & International News – WED 23Mar2022



FBI warns US firms of Russian cyber attacks. Ex-Education Secretary wants Biden to forgive all student debt. Biden admin: Yes to Ukrainian refugees; No to others.




FBI, White House warn of Russian cyber attacks on US companies

Earlier this week, President Biden warned of major Russian cyber attacks against American firms. Now, an memo has surfaced that was sent out by the FBI to 23 key US companies days before Biden’s warning. Of the 23, five are major energy suppliers. The others include banks, IT firms and defense contractors, many of which have extensive partnerships with the federal government.

The memo noted that 140 Russian IP addresses have been conducting “abnormal scanning activity” of the 23 companies. These “scans” are a way of testing the defenses of a firm’s cyber infrastructure. Although these scans have been taking place since March 2021, the FBI says they have increased in frequency and intensity in the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine.

We don’t know as of yet what form these attacks could take. Both before and after the invasion, Russian hackers have conducted dozens of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Ukrainian banks and other websites. These include Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and even websites passengers use to book train tickets. In some cases, the hackers succeeded in temporarily disabling customers’ bank cards, or in preventing Ukrainians from transacting other business electronically. Back in 2015, they even succeeded in temporarily bringing down part of Ukraine’s power grid.

Ukraine has been shoring up its cyber defenses for years and in most cases, service was restored within a day. There’s no way of telling at this point whether potential US targets are as well-prepared or how much disruption these attacks will cause. Experts have said America’s power grid also has some “significant” cyber vulnerabilities, but say sweeping and long-lasting attacks are unlikely.

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Further reading: 3 types of Russian cyber attacks the West fears most.


Ex-Education Secretary wants Biden to forgive all student debt

Since 2020, repayments on federal student loans has been on hold, but these are currently set to resume on May 1. Recently, there were reports that the Department of Education had asked institutions that service federal student loans to hold off on sending out reminders to borrowers about May 1 deadline. Biden’s Education Secretary said at the time that the White House was discussing whether to partially forgive some amount of student loans or at least further defer payments.

John King, former Secretary of Education under Obama, is calling on Biden to forgive the $1.7 trillion in student loan debt altogether. With 43 million total borrowers in the US, this would amount to an enormous stimulus. Federal student loan debt is one of the few types of debt that doesn’t go away even when a borrower declares bankruptcy. The unshakeable burden pushes many young Americans to delay buying homes and cars, starting businesses or even having children. 

King says it is not enough even to forgive all existing student debt. He says the government must go further to make education more affordable. Specifically, King suggests increasing the amount awarded in Pell Grants and making community colleges tuition-free.

Current Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says the Biden administration has already forgiven over $17 billion in student loan debt. That’s a big number, but it’s only 1% of the total debt burden.

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Biden wants to ease path for Ukraine asylum seekers, but keep others out

Since the war in Ukraine began, over 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes. Of those, about 7 million are internally-displaced but 3 million have fled the country altogether. Most have taken refuge in neighboring countries, but some have gone further. A few thousand Ukrainians and Russians have even arrived at the US-Mexico border, hoping to seek asylum in the US.

White House sources say the Biden administration wants to expedite the process for certain vulnerable groups – especially journalists, activists, and LGBT individuals – to seek asylum in the US. The administration assumes that most Ukrainians will want to return home when things stabilize in Ukraine, so long-term resettlement may not be necessary.

However, Biden does not seem eager to lift the Title 42 COVID restrictions. Title 42 has already prevented some Ukrainians with family in the US from entering. But the administration is reluctant to lift the restriction. Border officials have used Title 42 over 1 million times to expel asylum seekers at the border since Trump enacted it. US intelligence officials believe over 170,000 asylum seekers will enter the US from Mexico if Title 42 is lifted.

Video: Ukrainian child cancer patients arrive at St. Jude in Memphis


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