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Soon You May Not Even Have to Click on a Website Contract to Be Bound by Its Terms

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This doesn’t seem right. Ian MacDougall reports in ProPublica:

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably clicked “I agree” on many online contracts without ever reading them. Soon you may be deemed to have agreed to a company’s terms without even knowing it. A vote is occurring Tuesday that would make it easier for online businesses to dispense with that click and allow websites that you merely browse — anything from Amazon and AT&T to Yahoo and Zillow — to bind you to contract terms without your agreement or awareness.

As public outcry mounts over companies like Facebook collecting and selling user information, the new proposal would prime courts and legislatures to give businesses even more power to extract data from unwitting consumers. If the proposal is approved, merely posting a link to a company’s terms of service on a homepage could be enough for the company to conclude that a user has agreed to its policies. That includes everything from provisions that allow the sale of customer data or grant the right to track visitors to policies that limit consumers’ legal rights by barring them from suing in court or in class actions. Some courts have already given their blessing to this practice. But the proposal up for a vote Tuesday is set to make those kinds of business-friendly rulings all the more common.

The proposal has outraged consumer advocates, state attorneys general and other constituencies. They see it as improperly tilting the scales in favor of business interests. They argue that the solution is creating clearer, simpler contracts rather than lengthy, confusing ones that are harder to find. The proposal’s authors counter that they have simply summarized trends in American law.

There’s been little discussion of the impending change in the general public. That’s because the vote isn’t before Congress, the Supreme Court or a regulatory agency. It’s before a private association virtually unknown outside legal circles: the more than 4,700 judges, legal scholars and practicing attorneys that constitute the American Law Institute. The new proposal was drafted by three law professors affiliated with the organization.

Almost a century old, ALI is about as elite an institution as the United States has to offer. It counts among its founders two chief justices of the U.S. Supreme Court — one of whom, William Howard Taft, was also the 27th president — and its membership is a who’s who of the American bar. Speakers at ALI’s annual conclavein Washington this week include Chief Justice John Roberts and former Justice Anthony Kennedy.

For decades, ALI has exerted profound influence over American law and life through the publication of what it calls the “Restatements of the Law.” The Restatements are, in essence, guidebooks to the common law. That body of law — created by judicial opinions rather than statutes — plays a central role in governing everything from property rights to contract disputes to who’s liable when accidents happen. But it’s a messy realm; courts in each state are free to create or put their own spin on common-law rules. The point of the Restatements is to clarify the common law and impose order on it.

The reputation of the Restatements is such that for decades courts have treated them as something close to an authoritative explanation of what the law is and where it’s heading. “The ALI is the unofficial College of Cardinals of the U.S. legal profession,” said Adam Levitin, a Georgetown University law professor and ALI member who has helped spearhead opposition to the new Restatement. “Even though its members are not representatives of the public, once the ALI approves these Restatements, lawyers, arbitrators, judges and justices use them as a handy reference guide to what the law is and should be.”

At the heart of consumer advocates’ objections to the Restatement is a section that substantially weakens in the consumer context a core concept of contract law — that a contract requires a “meeting of the minds,” with each party assenting to its terms. Instead, the Restatement requires businesses only to give customers notice of the contract terms and an opportunity to review them.

The Restatement provides examples of how little businesses need to do to bind consumers to their terms and conditions. In one hypothetical, a user simply browsing a website becomes bound by its terms of use because the homepage contains a notice that links to the language and reads, “By continuing past this page, you agree to abide by the Terms of Use for this site.” In another, a user becomes bound by the website’s terms merely by clicking a “Read More” button to access the full text of a webpage. (Companies can continue using “I Agree” buttons if they prefer.)

The authors of the Restatement — three professors from Harvard Law School, NYU School of Law and the University of Chicago Law School — contend that courts have reasoned there’s no need for businesses to do more, because nobody reads these contract terms anyway.

Consumer advocates and other critics acknowledge that nobody reads online contracts. But they argue the proposed cure is worse than the disease. They say it provides businesses an incentive to bury objectionable terms inside ever-longer and more impenetrable contracts — think Apple’s user agreements — instead of identifying better ways to alert consumers to significant or intrusive contract terms.

“Weakening the requirement of mutual assent is not only contrary to fundamental principles of contract law,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James wrote in a May 14 letter to ALI, “but will encourage a veritable race to the bottom, as market forces will drive businesses — which will know they can bind consumers to all but the most odious terms — to draft standard form contracts with egregiously self-serving terms.” The letter was signed by 23 other state attorneys general and top consumer protection officials. All but one are Democrats.

Worse still, critics claim, the proposed Restatement departs from the traditional role of Restatements — to synthesize the law as it is — and doesn’t accurately reflect the state of the law. Opponents assert that the Restatement’s authors have relied on faulty empirical methods and cherry-picking from case law to reach their preferred rules. “They’re being a little disingenuous,” Levitin said. “They claim they’re following what courts are doing, and this is out of their hands. Except that it all depends on some rather constrained readings of the cases.”

One lawyer who represents financial institutions offers a similar view. “It’s not a good portrayal of the common law of contracts as it applies to consumers,” said Alan Kaplinsky, an ALI member and partner at the law firm Ballard Spahr. (The firm has represented ProPublica in the past.) “This is more of a document expressing the aspirations of the three reporters — what they would like the law to be rather than what the law actually is.”

ALI and the Restatement’s authors dispute these claims. They have defended their methodology and say they have followed the traditional approach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2019 at 2:09 pm

Rich white men rule America. How much longer will we tolerate that?

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Nathan J. Robinson, a PhD student in sociology and social policy at Harvard University and founder (in 2015) and editor-in-chief of the magazine Current Affairs, writes in the Guardian:

The core democratic principle is that people should have a meaningful say in political decisions that affect their lives. In Alabama, we’ve just seen what the opposite of democracy looks like: 25 white male Republicans in the state senate were able to ban almost all abortion in the state. The consequences of that decision fall exclusively on women, who will be forced to carry all pregnancies to term if the law comes into effect. And, as has happened in other countries with abortion bans, poor women will be hit hardest of all – the rich can usually afford to go elsewhere.

There is no reason to respect the legitimacy of this kind of political decision, in which those in power show no sign of having listened to the people they’re deciding on behalf of. Though plenty in the pro-life movement are female, the people who will be most affected are nowhere in the debate. Unfortunately, structural problems with the US government mean that we’re heading for an even more undemocratic future.

White men have never made up the majority of the US population, and yet from the country’s beginnings they have made up most of its political decision-makers. The constitution itself is an outrageously undemocratic document. People today are bound by a set of procedural rules that were made without the input of women, African Americans or native people. The framers quite deliberately constructed a system that would prevent what they called “tyranny of the majority” but what is more accurately called “popular democracy”.

That set of rules has been very effective at keeping the American populace from exercising power. James Madison was explicit about the function of the United States Senate – it was “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”. Indeed, that’s precisely what it does. As Jamelle Bouie points out, the Senate has “an affluent membership composed mostly of white men, who are about 30% of the population but hold 71 of the seats” out of 100. Though popular opinion may overwhelmingly favor universal healthcare and more progressive taxation, these policies are said to be “politically impossible” because the millionaires who populate Congress do not favor them.

We hear a lot about how the electoral college, the US supreme court and gerrymandered districts are undermining democratic rule. But it’s worth reflecting on just how deep the disenfranchisement really is. The supreme court is the highest branch of government, in that it can overturn the decisions of the other two branches. It consists of just nine people, all of whom went to Harvard or Yale and two-thirds of whom are men. Ian Samuel has pointed out the remarkable fact that, thanks to the way the Senate is structured, the senators who voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the court received represent 38 million fewer people than the senators who voted against him.

The implications here are extreme. It simply doesn’t matter where the people of the US stand on union dues, campaign finance reform, or abortion. What matters is the opinion of nine elites, in many cases appointed by presidents who did not win the popular vote. A constitution written by slaveholders is being interpreted by a tiny room full of elites who have been given no meaningful popular approval. When you step back and look at the situation objectively, it’s utterly farcical to call the US government democratic.

The electoral college is, of course, its own problem. It’s difficult to know how elections would have gone in its absence – after all, people would campaign differently if success were measured differently. But there is something perverse and troubling about a system in which the person who gets the most votes loses the election.

Things are only going to get worse. The good news is that America is becoming an ever-more-diverse and in many ways more progressive country. By 2045 the US will lose its white majority, and despite Trump’s efforts to whip the country into a xenophobic frenzy, the American people are becoming steadily more sympathetic to immigrants. Most young people identify as socialists instead of capitalists, and on the whole people want a far more progressive set of national policies on economics, foreign policy and immigration than are currently being practiced.

But demographic changes do not automatically change the power structure, and it’s likely that we’ll see a conservative white minority taking extreme steps to cling to power in the coming decades. That’s why you see new voter ID laws and resistance to restoring voting rights to felons who have served their sentence. That’s why state legislatures draw districts in a way that ensures the party that gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily get the most seats.

The undemocratic nature of our institutions means that conservatives might well succeed in overriding popular sentiment for many years to come. If, God forbid, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Stephen Breyer left the supreme court during Trump’s term in office, the radical right would be all but assured to have complete veto power over US policy for the next several decades. It’s very hard to undo gerrymandered districts or loosen campaign finance laws if the whole point of these measures is to keep the left out of power.

It’s hard to say where all of this will lead. If the court pushes too far in overturning democratic measures it will lose legitimacy and schemes like “court-packing” will come to seem more like necessary correctives than revolutionary disruptions. In a country whose electoral system still somewhat functions, there is only so much a government can do to keep people from exercising their right to rule, without resorting to totalitarian measures.

But that’s precisely why we may see increasingly totalitarian measures, as the gap between the will of the people and the interests of the small minority in charge continues to widen. History’s bloody revolutions show  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2019 at 10:15 am

The Generic Drugs You’re Taking May Not Be As Safe Or Effective As You Think

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Since the four medications I take are all generic (and thus are inexpensive: a 3-month supply of all four drugs totals US$1.80). I dislike the idea that they are not well vetted. I notice that the GOP has consistently stripped of resources the agencies most important to protecting the public and funding the government: FDA, FAA, IRS, EPA, OSHA, CFPB, FTC, and so on. Republicans seem to be on a mission to destroy the US.

Dave Davies reports at NPR:

As the cost of prescription medication soars, consumers are increasingly taking generic drugs: low-cost alternatives to brand-name medicines. Often health insurance plans require patients to switch to generics as a way of controlling costs. But journalist Katherine Eban warns that some of these medications might not be as safe, or effective, as we think.

Eban has covered the pharmaceutical industry for more than 10 years. She notes that most of the generic medicines being sold in the U.S. are manufactured overseas, mostly in India and China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that it holds foreign plants to the same standards as U.S. drugmakers, but Eban’s new book, Bottle of Lies, challenges that notion. She writes that the FDA often announces its overseas inspections weeks in advance, which allows plants where generic drugs are made the chance to fabricate data and results.

“These plants know that [the FDA inspectors are] coming,” Eban says. “I discovered [some overseas drug companies] would actually … alter documents, shred them, invent them, in some cases even steaming them overnight to make them look old.”

(In a statement to NPR, the FDA said that Americans “can be confident in the quality of the products the FDA approves” and notes it has “conducted a number of unannounced inspections” at foreign plants over the past several years.)

As a result, Eban says, generic drugs sometimes go to market in the U.S. without proper vetting. She describes the FDA as “overwhelmed and underresourced” in its efforts to ensure the safety of overseas drug production.

Eban advises consumers to research who manufactures their generics and look up any problems that regulators have found out about them. But some consumers may find they are not allowed by their health plan to switch to alternatives, because of cost.


Interview Highlights

On why many drug companies moved production overseas

There were a couple of reasons for this surge in globalization in the drug industry. One was environmental regulations. … How are you going to safely dispose of all the chemicals and solvents that you’re using? And … there was less environmental regulation overseas. But another one is: If you move your manufacturing plant to India, you’re going to save a huge amount on labor costs and supplies — ingredients — overnight.

And so what you saw was a huge migration, both of manufacturing to Indian-owned companies, Chinese-owned companies, but also Western- and U.S.-based companies, buying up manufacturing plants overseas and moving their manufacturing there.

On how the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act changed the generic-drug industry

What it created was a pathway at the FDA, a distinct application process for generics, because prior to Hatch-Waxman, basically the generic companies had to do the same set of tests [and] clinical studies that the brand did, and Hatch-Waxman said, you know what? We’re gonna give you an abbreviated application. You can do the clinical studies on many fewer patients, because we’ve already proven safety and efficacy of this molecule in the human body.

But what Hatch-Waxman did that really ignited the generic-drug revolution is it gave the companies an incentive: The incentive was called “first to file,” and it said if you are the first company to submit your application — and literally first by the minute or the second — and you get approved, you’re going to get six months of exclusivity on the market to be the lead and only generic, and you’re probably going to be able to sell your drugs at about 80 percent of the brand-name price. And that “first to file” really became the difference between making a fortune and making a living.

On how some plants that make generics prevent FDA inspectors from doing thorough inspections

In several instances I documented, the investigators were poisoned in the course of their inspections with tainted water from the tap, which you can’t drink in India. They felt sick during inspections. I mean, this was a way of running out the clock. They were followed. In one instance, an investigator had his hotel room bugged. In some cases that I had heard about, [the plants] were trying to scan passenger lists in airports to try to determine exactly who was coming when. So there were elaborate measures that the plants took to try to protect against bad inspections.

On how the quality of generic drugs can vary depending on where the drugs are being sold . . .

Continue reading.

You can hear the interview at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2019 at 8:45 am

Boeing 737 Max Simulators Are in High Demand. They Are Flawed.

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Boeing seems to be surprisingly clueless. Natalie Kitroeff reports in the NY Times:

Since the two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 Max, airlines around the world have moved to buy flight simulators to train their pilots.

They don’t always work.

Boeing recently discovered that the simulators could not accurately replicate the difficult conditions created by a malfunctioning anti-stall system, which played a role in both disasters. The simulators did not reflect the immense force that it would take for pilots to regain control of the aircraft once the system activated on a plane traveling at a high speed.

The mistake is likely to intensify concerns about Boeing, as it tries to regain credibility following the crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights. In the months since the disasters, Boeing has faced criticism for serious oversights in the Max’s design. The anti-stall system was designed with a single point of failure. A warning light that Boeing thought was standard turned out to be part of a premium add-on.

“Every day, there is new news about something not being disclosed or something was done in error or was not complete,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the American Airlines pilots union and a 737 pilot.

The training procedures have been a source of contention. Boeing has maintained that simulator training is not necessary for the 737 Max and regulators do not require it, but many airlines bought the multimillion-dollar machines to give their pilots more practice. Some pilots want continuing simulator training.

The flight simulators, on-the-ground versions of cockpits that mimic the flying experience, are not made by Boeing. But Boeing provides the underlying information on which they are designed and built.

“Boeing has made corrections to the 737 Max simulator software and has provided additional information to device operators to ensure that the simulator experience is representative across different flight conditions,” said Gordon Johndroe, a Boeing spokesman. “Boeing is working closely with the device manufacturers and regulators on these changes and improvements, and to ensure that customer training is not disrupted.”

In recent weeks, Boeing has been developing a fix to the system, known as MCAS. As part of that work, the company tried to test on a simulator how the updated system would perform, including by replicating the problems with the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight.

It recreated the actions of the pilots on that flight, including taking manual control of the plane as outlined by Boeing’s recommended procedures. When MCAS activates erroneously, pilots are supposed to turn off the electricity to a motor that allows the system to push the plane toward the ground. Then, pilots need to crank a wheel to right the plane. They have limited time to act.

On the Ethiopian flight, the pilots struggled to turn the wheel while the plane was moving at a high speed, when there is immense pressure on the tail. The simulators did not properly match those conditions, and Boeing pilots found that the wheel was far easier to turn than it should have been.

Regulators are now trying to determine what training will be required.

When the Max was introduced, Boeing believed that pilots did not need experience on the flight simulators, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed. Many pilots learned about the plane on iPads. And they were not informed about the anti-stall system.

The limited training was a selling point of the plane. It can cost airlines tens of millions of dollars to maintain and operate flight simulators over the life of an aircraft.

After the first crash, Boeing gave airlines and pilots a full rundown of MCAS. But the company and regulators said that additional training was not necessary. Simply knowing about the system would be sufficient.

In a tense meeting with the American Airlines pilots union after the crash, a Boeing vice president, Mike Sinnett, said he was confident that pilots were equipped to deal with problems, according to an audio recording review by The New York Times. A top Boeing test pilot, Craig Bomben, agreed, saying, “I don’t know that understanding the system would have changed the outcome of this.”

[Before Ethiopian crash, Boeing resisted pilots’ calls for aggressive steps on 737 Max.]

Since the Ethiopian Airlines disaster in March, lawmakers and regulators are taking a closer look at the training procedures for the 737 Max, and whether they should be more robust. At a congressional hearing this week, the acting head of the F.A.A., Daniel Elwell, testified that MCAS should “have been more adequately explained.”

Boeing said on Thursday that it had completed its fix to the 737 Max. Along with changes to the anti-stall system, the fix will include additional education for pilots.SIGN UP

The company still has to submit the changes to regulators, who will need to approve them before the plane can start flying again. The updates are not expected to include training on simulators, but the F.A.A. and other global regulators could push to require it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2019 at 5:07 pm

Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods Drive Weight Gain

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This report states one reason I prefer to make my meals from whole foods (the other reason being that I enjoy cooking). Maria Godoy writes at NPR:

Over the past 70 years, ultra-processed foods have come to dominate the U.S. diet. These are foods made from cheap industrial ingredients and engineered to be super-tasty and generally high in fat, sugar and salt.

The rise of ultra-processed foods has coincided with growing rates of obesity, leading many to suspect that they’ve played a big role in our growing waistlines. But is it something about the highly processed nature of these foods itself that drives people to overeat? A new study finds the answer is yes.

The study, conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, is the first randomized, controlled trial to show that eating a diet made up of ultra-processed foods actually drives people to overeat and gain weight compared with a diet made up of whole or minimally processed foods. Study participants on the ultra-processed diet ate an average of 508 calories more per day and ended up gaining an average of 2 pounds over a two-week period. People on the unprocessed diet, meanwhile, ended up losing about 2 pounds on average over a two-week period.

“The difference in weight gain for one [group] and weight loss for the other during these two periods is phenomenal. We haven’t seen anything like this,” says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina who has studied the role of ultra-processed foods in the American diet but was not involved in the current research.

Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, agrees that the findings are striking. He says what was so impressive was that the NIH researchers documented this weight gain even though each meal offered on the two different diets contained the same total amount of calories, fats, protein, sugar, salt, carbohydrates and fiber. Study participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted but ended up eating way more of the ultra-processed meals, even though they didn’t rate those meals as being tastier than the unprocessed meals.

“These are landmark findings that the processing of the foods makes a huge difference in how much a person eats,” says Mozaffarian. That’s important, because the majority of foods now sold in the U.S. — and increasingly, around the globe — are ultra-processed.

And ultra-processed foods include more than just the obvious suspects, like chips, candy, packaged desserts and ready-to-eat meals. The category also includes foods that some consumers might find surprising, including Honey Nut Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, packaged white bread, jarred sauces, yogurt with added fruit, and frozen sausages and other reconstituted meat products. Popkin says ultra-processed foods usually contain a long list of ingredients, many of them made in labs. So, for example, instead of seeing “apples” listed on a food label, you might get additives that re-create the scent of that fruit. These are foods designed to be convenient and low cost and require little preparation.

The new research, which appears in the journal Cell Metabolism, was led by Kevin Hall, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hall says he was surprised by his findings, because many people have suspected that it is the high salt, sugar and fat content in ultra-processed foods that drives people to gain weight. But “when you match the diets for all of those nutrients, something about the ultra-processed foods still drives this big effect on calorie intake,” Hall says.

To conduct the study, Hall and his colleagues recruited 20 healthy, stable-weight adults — 10 men and 10 women — to live in an NIH facility for a four-week period. All their meals were provided for them.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two diets for two-week stretches: One group was fed an unprocessed diet full of whole or minimally processed foods like stir-fried beef with vegetables, basmati rice and orange slices. The other group ate an ultra-processed diet of meals like chicken salad made with canned chicken, jarred mayonnaise and relish on white bread, served with canned peaches in heavy syrup. When the two weeks were up, the groups were then assigned to the opposite diet plan.

Even though the study was small, it was also highly controlled. Researchers knew exactly how many macronutrients and calories participants were eating — and burning, because they took detailed metabolic measurements. The scientists tracked other health markers too, including blood glucose levels and even hormone levels. Hall notes that this makes these kinds of studies extremely difficult and expensive to carry out. But the study design also makes the findings that much more significant, Popkin and Mozaffarian both say.

“Putting people in a controlled setting and giving them their food lets you really understand biologically what’s going on, and the differences are striking,” says Mozaffarian.

For one thing, previous studies have linked an ultra-processed diet to weight gain and poor health outcomes, like an increased risk for several cancers and early death from all causes. But these studies were all observational, which means they couldn’t prove that ultra-processed foods caused these outcomes, only that they were correlated. 

Hall says the new study wasn’t designed to see what exactly it is about ultra-processed foods that drives overeating, but the findings do suggest some mechanisms.

“One thing that was kind of intriguing was that some of the hormones that are involved in food intake regulation were quite different between the two diets as compared to baseline,” Hall says.

For example, when the participants were eating the unprocessed diet, they had higher levels of an appetite-suppressing hormone called PYY, which is secreted by the gut, and lower levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, which might explain why they ate fewer calories. On the ultra-processed diet, these hormonal changes flipped, so participants had lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone and higher levels of the hunger hormone.

Another interesting finding: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2019 at 1:20 pm

Firms That Promise High-Tech Ransomware Solutions Almost Always Just Pay the Hackers

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But of course add in their own fee. Renee Dudley and Jeff Kao report in ProPublica:

As ransomware attacks crippled businesses and law enforcement agencies, two U.S. data recovery firms claimed to offer an ethical way out. Instead, they typically paid the ransom and charged victims extra.

FROM 2015 TO 2018, a strain of ransomware known as SamSam paralyzed computer networks across North America and the U.K. It caused more than $30 million in damage to at least 200 entities, including the cities of Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, the Port of San Diego and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. It knocked out Atlanta’s online water service requests and billing systems, prompted the Colorado Department of Transportation to call in the National Guard, and delayed medical appointments and treatments for patients nationwide whose electronic records couldn’t be retrieved. In return for restoring access to the files, the cyberattackers collected at least $6 million in ransom.

“You just have 7 days to send us the BitCoin,” read the ransom demand to Newark. “After 7 days we will remove your private keys and it’s impossible to recover your files.”

At a press conference last November, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that the U.S. Department of Justice had indicted two Iranian men on fraud charges for allegedly developing the strain and orchestrating the extortion. Many SamSam targets were “public agencies with missions that involve saving lives,” and the attackers impaired their ability to “provide health care to sick and injured people,” Rosenstein said. The hackers “knew that shutting down those computer systems could cause significant harm to innocent victims.”

In a statement that day, the FBI said the “criminal actors” were “out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement.” But they weren’t beyond the reach of an American company that says it helps victims regain access to their computers. Proven Data Recovery of Elmsford, New York, regularly made ransom payments to SamSam hackers over more than a year, according to Jonathan Storfer, a former employee who dealt with them.

Although bitcoin transactions are intended to be anonymous and difficult to track, ProPublica was able to trace four of the payments. Sent in 2017 and 2018, from an online wallet controlled by Proven Data to ones specified by the hackers, the money was then laundered through as many as 12 bitcoin addresses before reaching a wallet maintained by the Iranians, according to an analysis by bitcoin tracing firm Chainalysis at our request. Payments to that digital currency destination and another linked to the attackers were later banned by the U.S. Treasury Department, which cited sanctions targeting the Iranian regime.

“I would not be surprised if a significant amount of ransomware both funded terrorism and also organized crime,” Storfer said. “So the question is, is every time that we get hit by SamSam, and every time we facilitate a payment — and here’s where it gets really dicey — does that mean we are technically funding terrorism?”

Proven Data promised to help ransomware victims by unlocking their data with the “latest technology,” according to company emails and former clients. Instead, it obtained decryption tools from cyberattackers by paying ransoms, according to Storfer and an FBI affidavit obtained by ProPublica.

Another U.S. company, Florida-based MonsterCloud, also professes to use its own data recovery methods but instead pays ransoms, sometimes without informing victims such as local law enforcement agencies, ProPublica has found. The firms are alike in other ways. Both charge victims substantial fees on top of the ransom amounts. They also offer other services, such as sealing breaches to protect against future attacks. Both firms have used aliases for their workers, rather than real names, in communicating with victims.

The payments underscore the lack of other options for individuals and businesses devastated by ransomware, the failure of law enforcement to catch or deter the hackers, and the moral quandary of whether paying ransoms encourages extortion. Since some victims are public agencies or receive government funding, taxpayer money may end up in the hands of cybercriminals in countries hostile to the U.S. such as Russia and Iran. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and it’s worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2019 at 8:58 am

Kevin Drum takes an honest look at worker pay (in contrast to Michael Strain, who takes a dishonest look)

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The epidemic of outright lying by the Right is unstoppable. Kevin Drum points out another deliberate effort to mislead, this time by Michael Strain. Read the post and look at the graph.

I am really tired of GOP lies.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2019 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, GOP, Math

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