World

North Korea conducting massive cyber threats against US, other countries, reports say

North Korea is conducting a wide-ranging malicious campaign against the U.S. and global targets, according to several reports. Last month, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI and the Department of Defense released three reports on malware variants used by the North Korean government. This was preceded by an advisory in April from the State Department, the Treasury, and Homeland Security, and FBI on the North Korean cyber threat. “[It is] essentially a taxonomy of everything the [North Koreans] have been caught doing,” Mike Hamilton, chief information security officer of CI Security, told Fox News, referring to the May Malware Analysis reports. “Trying to summarize tactics, techniques, and procedures that everyone can watch out for,” added Hamilton, who also served previously as the chief information security officer for the city of Seattle. One of the driving forces is North Korea’s need to fund its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, the government’s April advisory said. The campaigns are insidious because they often appear as ordinary cybercrime. “The North Koreans are pioneers in the organized-crime false flag business,” Hamilton explained. “They are running ransomware extortion groups, which most people just assume comes from organized crime, not a nation-state.” Hamilton said the aim is cryptomining and financial targets, among other aims. “They show up as commodity, ‘shotgun blast’ types of untargeted attacks to scoop up CPUs [central processing units] for cryptomining,” he said, referring to the mining of digital currencies. “They also use research and targeting against the finance sector, and non-commodity malware that AV [anti-virus] vendors have never seen,” Hamilton added. North Korea-sponsored cyber actors include hackers, cryptologists and software developers who are engaged in espionage, theft from financial institutions and digital currency exchanges, and in politically motivated attacks against foreign media companies, according to the April advisory. For example, an investigation into dozens of suspected North Korean cyber-enabled heists revealed that as of late 2019, North Korea had attempted to steal as much as $2 billion worldwide. Then there are extortion and ransomware campaigns. “In some instances, DPRK [North Korea] cyber actors have demanded payment from victims under the guise of long-term paid consulting arrangements in order to ensure that no such future malicious cyber activity takes place,” the advisory said.

For more, click on the text above.

US disrupts Iranian fuel deliveries to Venezuela, official says

The Trump administration halted scheduled Iranian fuel deliveries to Venezuela Wednesday by threatening sanctions on the ships carrying the cargo, according to U.S. officials. Iran and Venezuela attempted to outmaneuver American sanctions by establishing a new oil partnership. Two Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned ships that “were en route to Venezuela carrying Iranian fuel, scrapped their deliveries after the U.S. threatened sanctions,” a senior U.S. official told Fox News. First reported by The Wall Street Journal, the ships were expected to arrive in Venezuela as the final delivery in a previously planned five-oil-tanker shipment, an effort that the Venezuelan regime has said is a partnership to thwart the American sanctions. “The Iranian oil tankers arriving in Venezuela are nothing but a distraction from the real problems facing Maduro,” a spokesperson from the State Department told Fox News. “These shipments will do nothing to help Venezuelans, they will only help prop up the former Maduro regime for a little while longer.” Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said in a televised address: “We are two rebel revolutionary peoples that are never going to kneel before North American imperialism.” But the Greek-owned ships would have been unable to access international banking and maritime insurance had they carried out the shipment. U.S. officials have been in direct communication with the ships, which are no longer heading to Venezuala but heading south off the coast of Senegal near Liberia, according to The Wall Street Journal. The State Department’s Iran Action Group reportedly contacted the Liberian government, to which the two ships are registered, to warn them against sanctions. The Liberian government immediately revoked the ships’ accreditation. The two Greek firms that own the ships were also threatened with U.S. sanctions and legal action, at which point the two ships abandoned the course, according to The Journal. The U.S. has been increasing its efforts in pressuring both nations with sanctions. “We will continue to use the full weight of United States’ economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” the State Department spokesperson told Fox News. President Trump has also increased sanctions on Venezuela, drastically affecting its oil production. According to experts, the oil shipments were only expected to satisfy Venezuelan demand for a couple of weeks. “Iranian gas cannot prevent the inevitable: a democratic transition that restores prosperity to Venezuela,” the State Department spokesperson said.

Taliban Chief Promises Women Equal Rights if U.S. Leaves Afghanistan

In his address for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada – supreme leader of the Taliban as well as one of its top clerics – promised equal rights for men and women under fundamentalist Taliban rule after the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan. He also offered a general amnesty to the Taliban’s enemies, provided they “end their opposition” to the “establishment of an Islamic government.” Eid al-Fitr is the festival that concludes the month-long fast of Ramadan, the paramount Muslim holiday. Eid, which traditionally lasts for three days, will officially begin on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on when the crescent moon appears over each country where Muslims live. “To those sides and individuals that have reservations about the future political system following the end of occupation – the Islamic Emirate once again assures everyone that it does not have a monopolist policy, every male and female member of society shall be given their due rights, none shall feel any sense of deprivation or injustice and all work necessary for the welfare, durability and development of society will be addressed in the light of divine Sharia,” Akhundzada said in his Eid statement, delivered in advance of the holiday. The Taliban likes to refer to itself as the “Islamic Emirate.” Muslim religious law, which the Taliban interprets with infamous severity, is known as “sharia.” The Taliban chief denounced warnings about the horrors that await Afghans if his terrorist gang seizes power again as a foreign plot to sow dissent and slander the “Islamic Emirate.” “Some circles seeking nefarious goals and power through a plan given to them by foreign intelligence networks to promote hatred and bigotry under linguistic, tribal, sectarian and other titles and to threaten and endanger the unity of our country must understand that the Afghan nation and the Islamic Emirate will not permit such undertakings,” he said. “Just as it rescued our homeland from such dangers in the past, it still (Allah willing) retains such capabilities, hence, it would be better for the perpetrators of such activities to review their approach and refrain from troubling this nation with such evil actions and ideas,” he warned, somewhat undermining his previous message of tolerance and reconciliation. Mixed with the Taliban’s threats against foreigners was an offer of general amnesty to their domestic opponents, provided they submit to fundamentalist rule and “renounce their enmity” for the Taliban and its leadership. “We urge everyone to take full advantage of this amnesty by ending their opposition and not becoming an impediment for the establishment of an Islamic government which is the aspiration of millions of martyred, wounded, disabled, orphaned, widowed and suffering Afghans,” Akhundzada said. He also demanded the Afghan government speed up the release of Taliban prisoners, who he said were suffering under inhumane conditions in government prisons. Akhundzada called the Taliban’s peace deal with the United States a “historic agreement” and hailed the “resultant termination of occupation” as an “extraordinary accomplishment for the Islamic Emirate and the entire Afghan Mujahid nation.” Mujahid means “holy warriors.” “The Islamic Emirate is committed to the agreement signed with America and urges the other side to honor its own commitments and not allow this critical opportunity go to waste. The implementation of this agreement can prove to be a powerful instrument for bringing an end to the war between America and our country and for establishing peace and an Islamic system in our homeland,” the Taliban leader said. “On the basis of our policy, we seek to have brotherly relations with Islamic countries, neighborly relations with our neighbors and strengthening of constructive relations with all regional and world countries in order that obligations be discharged vis-à-vis regional and global economic prosperity, security and communal life,” he promised. The government in Kabul was not much impressed with Akhundzada’s Eid statement, noting that his ostensible call for peace and reconciliation included a good deal of language that could be construed as incitement to violence, such as instructing Taliban fighters to “remain focused on their objectives.” “The people of Afghanistan do not need to hear a message from the Taliban. The Taliban, unfortunately, is still sending the message of war, panic, and fear, the Taliban is the main source of devastations and the killing of civilians,” said Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi. Akhundzada assumed leadership of the Taliban after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in the remote Balochistan region of Pakistan in 2016. The Obama administration said at the time that liquidating Mansour would destabilize Taliban leadership and hopefully bring a replacement who was more amenable to working out a peace deal with the United States. Such an agreement was not signed until well into the administration of President Donald Trump, and as Akhundzada’s Eid remarks demonstrate, the Taliban sees the agreement more as a victory against the U.S. “occupation” and a step toward reclaiming total power from the elected government in Kabul than an equitable peace deal. The deal has not brought a great deal of peace to Afghanistan, either. Fighting continues between the Taliban and government forces, most recently with a Taliban attack on the city of Kunduz on Wednesday. According to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the attack was repelled with air support, resulting in the death of over 50 Taliban fighters. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, a primary architect of the peace deal, followed up a round of intense shuttle diplomacy across the Middle East on Wednesday by calling on all sides in Afghanistan to reduce violence. “On violence, I told the Talibs, violence by all sides must fall,” Khalilzad said after meeting with both Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, his power-sharing partner Abdullah Abdullah, and Taliban leaders.

The notion that the Taliban would give equal rights to both men and women is not only a lie, but it’s ridiculous on its face, and laughable. After all, Islam doesn’t treat men and women differently; not by a very long shot.  And, the Taliban enforce Sharia Law, which is the harshest form of Islamic law.  Google what Sharia Law is, and you’ll get a sense of that.  As someone who has spent some time in Afghanistan as a “field grade” Army officer, I have seen up close and very personal what the Taliban did to those who were victimized by that evil, oppressive regime before we liberated Afghanistan.  It would be a travesty on many levels if we allowed the Taliban to retake control of Afghanistan after all the blood, money and treasure that we, and so many other countries, have invested in rebuilding that backward country which borders Iran.

‘Rare’ newborn white reindeer spotted in England

Maybe there’s no need for a red nose to be considered the most famous reindeer of all. A “rare” white reindeer was born just a few weeks ago at a ranch near Yeovil, Somerset, England, British news agency South West News Service reports. Appropriately given the moniker “Blitzen,” the calf was born alongside its sister, Donner. “It’s very rare to see a white calf anywhere in the world — let alone in Somerset,” said Sarah Sutton, of Somerset Reindeer Ranch. Blitzen was born on April 28 and since then, the miniature mammal has been walking around, playing and eating with its family. Unlike other animals that have white pigmentation, white reindeers are not albino. Instead, they have a mutation that causes their fur to lose its pigment. One such white reindeer was spotted in December 2018 by Norwegian photographer Mads Nordsveen, Fox News previously reported. Another white stag was reported in Mala, Sweden, in 2016, the New York Daily News reported. Some Scandinavian traditions regard the sighting of a white reindeer a certain sign of good luck.

To see a fun pic of this cute critter, click on the text above.  Hope it brings ya’ luck this holiday weekend!     🙂

Iran tankers sailing to Venezuela in effort to undermine US sanctions

Iran and Venezuela are working together to circumvent United States sanctions, according to reports. Five Iranian tankers are sailing to Venezuela, carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products. The capacity of the ships is believed to be around 175,000 metric tons. “This is like a new one for everyone,” said Capt. Ranjith Raja, an analyst who tracks oil shipments by sea at the data firm Refinitiv, of the gasoline shipments. “We haven’t seen anything like this before.” Raja notes the ships all appear to have been loaded from the Persian Gulf Star Refinery near Bandar Abbas, Iran, which makes gasoline. One of the vessels, the Clavel, listed its AIS destination as Caracas beginning May 12, according to log data from ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. The vessel later changed its destination as “TO ORDER” two days later, though the ship remains on route to what appears to be Venezuela as it leaves the Mediterranean Sea. Given the crushing U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran, Venezuela appears to be the country willing to accept the shipments. Raja said Refinitiv had no data on any Iranian gasoline shipment ever going to South America before. Quoted by a website affiliated to Iranian state television, cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei on Saturday said he did not have any information on the ships. “We have to sell our oil and we have access to its paths,” Rabiei said. “Iran and Venezuela are two independent nations that have had trade with each other and they will” in the future. Iran has warned America that it will retaliate against any actions should America act “like pirates” and attack any of the vessels. “If the United States, like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international highways, it will take a dangerous risk that will certainly not go unnoticed,” warned Nour, an Iranian news agency believed to have ties to the country’s Supreme National Security Council. Venezuela suffers a deepening economic crisis, which has driven up crime rates and deepened political divides within the country. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care have driven nearly 5 million people to leave. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has previously turned to Iran for help, but Iran has finally responded after the coronavirus pandemic, an oil crisis and U.S. sanctions have hit the Iranian economy. Earlier this month, Iran authorized the replacement of the rial with the toman, which is worth 10,000 rials, in an effort to curb the rampant inflation that has ravaged the country. Iran’s currency as lost more than 60 percent of its value while consumer prices rose 37 percent just this year. It remains unclear how the U.S. will respond to the tankers. On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury, State Department and Coast Guard issued an advisory warning the maritime industry of illegal shipping and sanctions-dodging tactics by countries, including Iran.

Munich’s Oktoberfest celebrations canceled amid coronavirus pandemic: ‘The risk is just too high’

Markus Soeder, the governor of Bavaria, along with Dieter Reiter, the mayor of Munich, announced on Tuesday that the region’s annual Oktoberfest festivities would be canceled due to the health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. “Difficult decision with Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter,” Soeder wrote on social media, per a translated tweet. “The Oktoberfest 2020 must be canceled. The risk is just too high. You can neither keep your distance there nor wear a face mask. Living with [coronavirus] means living cautiously until there is a vaccine or medication.” The festivities, which were scheduled to begin on Sept. 19 and run through Oct. 4, would have been the 187th celebration of the beer-themed event. Soeder and Reiter appeared together at a press conference on Thursday morning to announced the news, with Soeder calling it “unbelievably sad,” reports the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). Reiter said that, in addition to being disappointing for Germans and hopeful visitors, the decision will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the economy. Some 6 million people attend Munich’s Oktoberfest celebrations every year, the DPA reported, with many coming from around the globe. Foreign visitors, too, pose further risk for the spreading of the virus, Soeder noted. Germany has already recorded more than 147,000 cases of coronavirus, and over 4,800 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to John’s Hopkins University. Both leaders said they hope Oktoberfest will celebrations will resume as normal in 2021. “We hope that next year we can make it up together,” Reiter said. Oktoberfest, an annual celebration of beer and Bavarian culture, has only been canceled a handful of times in the history of the event, most notably during WWI and WWII, and amid cholera outbreaks in 1854 and 1873, among a few other years, according to the event’s official website. Click here for more info:

Sad news for those who were hoping to attend.  I was there back in 2009, and it was definitely a crazy fun time.  Hopefully it’ll be back next year.   Prost!!      🙂

Socialist Venezuela, Where Everyone Is a Millionaire and No One Can Afford Eggs

What if I told you that in the socialist paradise of Venezuela, everyone’s a millionaire? The Bolivarian Revolution has raised the minimum wage over 50 times throughout the past 20 years. As of May 2020, it’s been set at 400,000 bolivars, plus a 400,000 socialist food ticket bonus, bringing it to an astounding total of 800,000 bolivars per month. Millions of people rely only on minimum wage incomes. The government keeps the number of people on minimum wage in the country largely under wraps, although everyone that works in the public sector is pretty much subject to minimum wage (salaries in the dwindling private sector are usually better-ish). The elderly under pension (4.5 million citizens as of a year ago) are also subject to it. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, that’s a pretty looking number — then you realize that those amount to approximately $4-5 USD per month, and the reality kicks in. Hyperinflation, price controls, and barely symbolic minimum wage raises: these three elements have caused incalculable headaches to the citizens of Venezuela over the past decade, to the point that they’ve become borderline elements of our folklore amidst the ongoing collapse of socialist Venezuela. It’s a repeat of the never-ending cycle that we’ve been entrapped for so many years now, except now it comes with a twist: The ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted everyone’s lives and has greatly exacerbated those three heads of the socialist hydra. The added novelty, if it can be called that, is that the mandatory masks visually cover your astonishment (or lack thereof) when something you bought last week is suddenly twice as expensive. What can you buy with this brand new minimum wage of 800,000 bolivars per month? Not much, really. Even though the bolivar received a facelift and a new currency scale in August 2018, we’re already at a point where spending millions on the most basic things shouldn’t be cause for concern. I carried out my weekly supermarket grocery run on May 4 and I asked for 250 grams (a little more than half a pound) of the cheapest ham and cheese they had available, this is how much they went for: That’s 633,356 bolivars right there. The cheapest loaf of sandwich bread that I could find went for 259,700 bolivars, bringing these three items to a whopping 893,056 bolivars – roughly $5 depending on the day’s exchange rate. So, realistically, the minimum wage is so absurdly low that it’s not sufficient to make enough sandwiches for a month. Sure, you could find cheaper alternatives, but it’d still devour most of it. These minimum wage raises used to be a matter of praise and celebration for the Bolivarian Revolution and its grotesque media machine – the below poster, for example, from dictator Nicolás Maduro’s state television propaganda outlet boasts of 47 minimum wage increases in the history of the socialist regime in Venezuela that began in 1999, as of January 2019. Two years ago, it was very common to have them occur almost every two months, which was akin to putting out a fire by spraying gasoline at it. Now that the damage is done, they come at a more sparse rate and are announced as discreetly as possible without any of the fanfare — yet the regime retains the sheer audacity of claiming that Venezuela is “the only country that has raised wages amidst the pandemic,” heralding $4 per month was some utopian socialist achievement. While minimum wages have progressively grown, they never have amounted to much. It’s a cat (hyperinflation) and mouse (wages) game where the mouse is already dead from the get-go. Around mid-September 2019, I purchased the same type of bread as in the above photo, except that the price at the time was 38,800 bolivars, not 259,700 bolivars. If we go by an average exchange rate at the time it was produced, it gives you roughly $1.75. The minimum wage at the time was 40,000 — or $1.80. If we do the same conversion to the loaf of bread that I bought this week (259,700.00 with an exchange rate of 178,502.21) it gives you $1.45. It would seem like the bread itself has gotten cheaper. Then again, in October 2019, the minimum wage was increased from 40,000 to 300,000 bolivars (150,000 bolivars plus a 150,000 “socialist basket ticket” food bonus). Going by an average exchange rate at the time it was introduced, the minimum wage translated to $14 per month. All of these minimum wage increases have not only amounted to nothing, but whatever meager gains they have created are rapidly devoured by hyperinflation. Like I said, a game of cat and mouse where the mouse is already dead from the start.

THIS is the failures of socialism.  THIS is what Bernie, AOC, and the rest of their ilk want America to be like.  A big thanks to Christian K. Caruzo for that eye-opening account of life in Venezuela.  Christian is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter.  For more, click on the text above.