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Cyberattacks | Local governments are attractive targets for hackers

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Richard Forno, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

President Joe Biden on March 21, 2022, warned that Russian cyberattacks on U.S. targets are likely, though the government has not identified a specific threat. Biden urged the private sector: “Harden your cyber defenses immediately.”

It is a costly fact of modern life that organizations from pipelines and shipping companies to hospitals and any number of private companies are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and the threat of cyberattacks from Russia and other nations makes a bad situation worse. Individuals, too, are at risk from the current threat.

Local governments, like schools and hospitals, are particularly enticing “soft targets” – organizations that lack the resources to defend themselves against routine cyberattacks, let alone a lengthy cyber conflict. For those attacking such targets, the goal is not necessarily financial reward but disrupting society at the local level.

Also Read: How much damage could a Russian Cyberattack do in the US?

From issuing business licenses and building permits and collecting taxes to providing emergency services, clean water and waste disposal, the services provided by local governments entail an intimate and ongoing daily relationship with citizens and businesses alike. Disrupting their operations disrupts the heart of U.S. society by shaking confidence in local government and potentially endangering citizens.

In the crosshairs

Local governments have suffered successful cyberattacks in recent years. These include attacks on targets ranging from 911 call centers to public school systems. The consequences of a successful cyberattack against local government can be devastating.

 

Baltimore City Hall

Baltimore City Hall

 

I and other researchers at University of Maryland, Baltimore County have studied the cybersecurity preparedness of the United States’ over 90,000 local government entities. As part of our analysis, working with the International City/County Management Association, we polled local government chief security officers about their cybersecurity preparedness. The results are both expected and alarming.

Among other things, the survey revealed that nearly one-third of U.S. local governments would be unable to tell if they were under attack in cyberspace. This is unsettling; nearly one-third of local governments that did know whether they were under attack reported being attacked hourly, and nearly half at least daily.

Ill-equipped

Lack of sound IT practices, let alone effective cybersecurity measures, can make successful cyberattacks even more debilitating. Almost half of U.S. local governments reported that their IT policies and procedures were not in line with industry best practices.

In many ways, local governments are no different from private companies in terms of the cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities and management problems they face. In addition to those shared cybersecurity challenges, where local governments particularly struggle is in hiring and retaining the necessary numbers of qualified IT and cybersecurity staff with wages and workplace cultures that can compare with those of the private sector or federal government.

Also Read: Scammers Are Using Fake Job Ads to Steal People’s Identities

Additionally, unlike private companies, local governments by their nature are limited by the need to comply with state policies, the political considerations of elected officials and the usual perils of government bureaucracy such as balancing public safety with the community’s needs and corporate interests. Challenges like these can hamper effective preparation for, and responses to, cybersecurity problems – especially when it comes to funding. In addition, much of the technology local communities rely on, such as power and water distribution, are subject to the dictates of the private sector, which has its own set of sometimes competing interests.

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Large local governments are better positioned to address cybersecurity concerns than smaller local governments. Unfortunately, like other soft targets in cyberspace, small local governments are much more constrained. This places them at greater risk of successful cyberattacks, including attacks that otherwise might have been prevented. But the necessary, best-practice cybersecurity improvements that smaller cities and towns need often compete with the many other demands on a local community’s limited funds and staff attention.

Getting the basics right

Whether they are victimized by a war on the other side of the world, a hacktivist group promoting its message or a criminal group trying to extort payment, local governments in the U.S. are enticing targets. Artificial intelligence hacking tools and vulnerabilities introduced by the spread of smart devices and the growing interest in creating “smart cities” put local governments even more at risk.

There’s no quick or foolproof fix to eliminate all cybersecurity problems, but one of the most important steps local governments can take is clear: Implement basic cybersecurity. Emulating the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s national cybersecurity framework or other industry accepted best practices is a good start.

I believe government officials, especially at the local level, should develop and apply the necessary resources and innovative technologies and practices to manage their cybersecurity risks effectively. Otherwise, they should be prepared to face the technical, financial and political consequences of failing to do so.The Conversation

Richard Forno, Principal Lecturer in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How media reports of ‘clashes’ mislead Americans about Israeli-Palestinians

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How media reports of ‘clashes’ mislead Americans about Israeli-Palestinians

Maha Nassar, University of Arizona

Israeli police attacked mourners carrying the coffin of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 13, 2022, beating pallbearers with batons and kicking them when they fell to the ground.

Yet those who skimmed the headlines of initial reports from several U.S. media outlets may have been left with a different impression of what happened.

“Israeli Police Clash with Mourners at Funeral Procession,” read the headline of MSNBC’s online report. The Wall Street Journal had a similar headline on its story: “Israeli Forces, Palestinians Clash in West Bank before Funeral of Journalist.”

Fox News began the text of its article with “Clashes erupted Friday in Jerusalem as mourners attended the burial of veteran American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was shot dead Friday when covering a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.”

There is no mention in the headlines of these articles about who instigated the violence, nor any hint of the power imbalance between a heavily armed Israeli police force and what appeared to be unarmed Palestinian civilians.

Also ReadArming teachers – an effective security measure or a false sense of security?

Such language and omissions are common in the reporting of violence conducted by Israel’s police or military. Similar headlines followed an incident in April in which Israeli police attacked worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Then, too, police attacks on worshippers – in which as many as 152 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and batons – were widely described as “clashes.”

And headlines matter – many Americans do not read past them when consuming news or sharing articles online.

Neutral terms aren’t always neutral

The use of a word like “clashes” might seem to make sense in a topic as contentious as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which violent acts are perpetrated by both sides.

But as a scholar of Palestinian history and an analyst of U.S. media coverage of this topic, I believe using neutral terms such as “clashes” to describe Israeli police and military attacks on Palestinian civilians is misleading. It overlooks instances in which Israeli forces instigate violence against Palestinians who pose no threat to them. It also often gives more weight to official Israeli narratives than to Palestinian ones.

U.S. media have long been accused of misleading their audience when it comes to violence committed against Palestinians. A 2021 study from MIT of 50 years of New York Times coverage of the conflict found “a disproportionate use of the passive voice to refer to negative or violent action perpetrated towards Palestinians.”

Using the passive voice – for example, reporting that “Palestinians were killed in clashes” rather than “Israeli forces killed Palestinians” – is language that helps shield Israel from scrutiny. It also obscures the reason so many Palestinians would be angry at Israel.

It’s not just The New York Times. A 2019 analysis by data researchers in Canada of more than 100,000 headlines from 50 years of U.S. coverage across five newspapers concluded that “the U.S. mainstream media’s coverage of the conflict favors Israel in terms of both the sheer quantity of stories covered, and by providing more opportunities to the Israelis to amplify their point of view.”

That 2019 study also found that words associated with violence, including “clash” and “clashes,” were more likely to be used in stories about Palestinians than Israelis.

Competing narratives

One problem with using “clash” is that it obscures incidents in which Israeli police and security forces attack Palestinians who pose no threat to them.

Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy group, described the recent incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque as one in which Israeli police “brutally attacked worshippers in and around the mosque and used violence that amounts to torture and other ill-treatment to break up gatherings.”

The word “clashes” does not convey this reality.

Using “clashes” also gives more credibility to the Israeli government version of the story than the Palestinian one. Israeli officials often accuse Palestinians of instigating violence, claiming that soldiers and police had to use lethal force to stave off Palestinian attacks. And that’s how these events are usually reported.

But Israeli human rights group B’Tselem’s database on Israeli and Palestinian fatalities shows that most of the roughly 10,000 Palestinians killed by Israel since 2000 did not “participate in hostilities” at the time they were killed.

We saw this attempt to shift the blame to Palestinians for Israeli violence in the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. According to her colleagues at the scene of her death, an Israeli military sniper deliberately shot and killed the veteran journalist with a live bullet to her right temple, even though she was wearing a “PRESS” flak jacket and helmet. One or more snipers also shot at Abu Akleh’s colleagues as they tried to rescue her, according to eyewitness accounts.

At first, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “armed Palestinians shot in an inaccurate, indiscriminate and uncontrolled manner” at the time of her killing – implying that Palestinians could have shot Abu Akleh. Then, as evidence mounted disproving this account, Israeli officials changed course, saying that the source of the gunfire “cannot yet be determined.”

The New York Times initially reported that Abu Akleh “was shot as clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinian gunmen took place in the city.” Further down in the same story, we read that Palestinian journalist Ali Samudi, who was wounded in the same attack, said, “There were no armed Palestinians or resistance or even civilians in the area.” Yet this perspective is missing from the headline and opening paragraphs of the story.

A few days later, an analysis of available video footage by investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat concluded that the evidence “appears to support” eyewitnesses who said no militant activity was taking place and that the gunfire came from Israeli military snipers.

The New York Times has not updated or corrected its original story to reflect this new evidence.

It provides an example of why the use of “clash” has been widely criticized by Palestinian and Arab journalists. Indeed, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalist Association in 2021 issued guidance for journalists, urging that they “avoid the word ‘clashes’ in favor of a more precise description.”

An incomplete picture

There is another problem with “clashes.” Limiting media attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only when “clashes erupt” gives Western readers and viewers an incomplete picture. It ignores what B’Tselem describes as the “daily routine of overt or implicit state violence” that Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories face.

Without understanding the daily violence that Palestinians experience – as documented by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – it is harder for news consumers to fully comprehend why “clashes” take place in the first place.

But the way people get their news is changing, and with it so are Americans’ views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is especially true among younger Americans, who are less likely to receive their news from mainstream outlets.

Recent polls show that younger Americans generally sympathize with Palestinians more than older Americans. That shift holds among younger Jewish Americans and younger evangelicals, two communities that have traditionally expressed strong pro-Israel sentiments.

U.S. journalists themselves are also working to change how outlets cover Israeli violence. Last year several of them – including reporters from The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and ABC News – issued an open letter calling on fellow journalists “to tell the full, contextualized truth without fear or favor, to recognize that obfuscating Israel’s oppression of Palestinians fails this industry’s own objectivity standards.” So far, over 500 journalists have signed on.

Accurate language in the reporting of Israeli-Palestinian violence is not only a concern for journalists’ credibility – it would also provide U.S. news consumers with a deeper understanding of the conditions on the ground and the deadly consequences.The Conversation

Maha Nassar, Associate Professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Arizona

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Arming teachers an effective security

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Arming teachers – an effective security measure or a false sense of security?

Aimee Huff, Oregon State University and Michelle Barnhart, Oregon State University

In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, some elected officials are making calls anew for
teachers to be armed and trained to use firearms to protect the nation’s schools. To shine light on the matter, The Conversation reached out to Aimee Huff and Michelle Barnhart, two Oregon State University scholars who have studied the ins and outs of putting guns in the hands of the nation’s teachers as a way to protect students.

1. What does the public think about arming teachers?

According to a 2021 poll, 43% of Americans supported policies that allow school personnel to carry guns in schools.

But if you take a closer look, you see that most of that support comes from Republicans and gun-owners. For instance, 66% of Republican respondents expressed support for such policies, versus just 24% of Democratic respondents. And 63% of gun owners supported allowing school personnel to carry guns, versus just 33% of non-gun owners.

The majority of teachers, parents and students oppose allowing teachers to carry guns.

The largest teachers unions, including the National Education Association, also oppose arming teachers, arguing that bringing more guns into schools “makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to shield our students and educators from gun violence.”

These teachers unions advocate a preventive approach that includes more gun regulations.

Also Read: Dark side of Social Media Influencing

While the public is justifiably concerned with eliminating school shootings, there is disagreement over the policies and actions that would be most effective. A 2021 study found that 70% of Americans supported the idea of armed school resource officers and law enforcement in schools, but only 41% supported the idea of training teachers to carry guns in schools.

In our research on how Americans think about the rights and responsibilities related to armed self-defense, we even find disagreement among conservative gun owners over how to best protect schoolchildren. Some advocate arming teachers, while other gun owners believe guns in schools ultimately make children less safe. These conservative opponents of arming teachers instead support fortifying the building’s design and features.

After the massacre in Uvalde, we are seeing renewed calls from politicians to arm teachers and provide them with specialized training.

Also Read: How media reports of ‘clashes’ mislead Americans about Israeli-Palestinians

However, amid conflicting reports about whether police officers engaged the Robb Elementary School shooter, there are renewed questions about whether armed teachers would make a difference. Police have acknowledged they didn’t enter the school even as kids frantically dialed 911.

Given that there were also armed officers present at the Columbine and Parkland school massacres in 1999 and 2018, respectively, the public is understandably right to wonder whether armed teachers can effectively neutralize a shooter. Amid reports that trained and experienced police officers may have been unable or unwilling to intervene against the Uvalde shooter, it’s not clear whether teachers would be, either.

2. What are the potential drawbacks of arming teachers?

Arming teachers introduces risks to students and staff, as well as school districts themselves. These include the risk of teachers accidentally shooting themselves or students and fellow staff. There are also moral and legal risks associated with improper or inaccurate defensive use of a firearm – even for teachers who have undertaken specialized firearms training.

One study found that highly trained police in gunfights hit their target only 18% of the time. Even if teachers, who would likely have less training, achieve the same accuracy, four or five of every six bullets fired by a teacher would hit something or someone other than the shooter. Further, a teacher responding with force to a shooter may be mistaken for the perpetrator by law enforcement or by armed colleagues.

Also Read: Adult ADHD: What it is, how to treat it

Introducing guns to the school environment also poses everyday risks. Armed teachers may unintentionally discharge their firearm. For instance, an armed police officer accidentally discharged his weapon in his office at a school in Alexandria, Virginia in 2018. Guns can also fall into the wrong hands. Research on shootings that took place in hospital emergency rooms found that in 23% of the cases, the weapon used was a gun the perpetrator took from a hospital security guard.

Students could also access firearms that are improperly stored or mishandled. Improper storage is a common problem among American gun owners. In a school setting, this has resulted in students finding a teacher’s misplaced firearm, sometimes taking it or reporting it to another school official. News reports show that guns carried into schools have fallen out of teachers’ clothing, and have been left in bathrooms and locker rooms. There have also been reports of students stealing guns from teachers.

Insurance companies also see concealed guns on school grounds as creating a heightened liability risk.

Other drawbacks to arming teachers involve the learning environment. In particular, owing to structural racism and discriminatory school security policies, Black high school students are less supportive than white students of arming teachers – 16% versus 26% – and report feeling less safe if teachers are carrying firearms.

3. What are the arguments for arming teachers?

Proponents emphasize that teachers, as Americans, have a right to use firearms to defend themselves against violent crime, including a school shooter. Our research shows that some people interpret their right to armed self-defense as a moral obligation, and argue that teachers have both a right and a responsibility to use firearms to protect themselves and their students.

Parents who regularly carry handguns to protect themselves and their children may take comfort knowing that their child’s teacher could perform the role of protector at school.

In a school shooting, where lives can be saved or ended in a matter of seconds, some people may feel more secure believing a shooter would immediately meet armed resistance from a teacher without needing to wait for an armed school officer to respond.

4. Have any school districts allowed teachers to arm themselves?

Yes. Teachers may carry guns at school in districts in at least 19 states. The idea surfaced as a viable policy after the 1999 Columbine shooting, and gained momentum after the 2018 Parkland shooting.

The number of school districts that permit teachers to be armed is difficult to ascertain. Policies vary across states. New York bars school districts from allowing teachers to carry guns, while Missouri and Montana authorize teachers to carry firearms.

5. What were the results?

There are documented incidents of school staff using their firearm to neutralize a shooter. However, researchers have not found evidence that arming teachers increases school safety. Rather, arming teachers may contribute to a false sense of security for teachers, students and the community.The Conversation

Aimee Huff, Associate Professor, Marketing, Oregon State University and Michelle Barnhart, Associate Professor, Marketing, Oregon State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Vladimir Putin is Hitler

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David Mitchell, Trinity College Dublin

The war in Ukraine has produced a disorienting array of analogies. Vladimir Putin is Hitler. Volodymyr Zelensky is a Nazi. Ukraine could become like Afghanistan or Korea. Russia should accept its borders, just as post-colonial African countries did. The invasion is no different to what the west did in Iraq. The Ukrainians are like the Irish fighting for independence from the UK – but also like Brexiteers resisting the EU.

Meanwhile, other countries bordering Russia, and Taiwan, wonder if they could become “another Ukraine”.

Also Read: Russia’s reasons for war stack up?

Analogies are a key part of how the war in Ukraine is being justified and understood. The invasion is such a seismic (and for many people, surprising) event, that we have a particularly strong appetite for comparisons. Analogies are ubiquitous in human discourse and have always played an important role in politics and international affairs.

Analogy is embedded in our thinking and language. Cognitive psychologists talk about “analogical reasoning”, in which we use what we know about one situation to infer information about another. We use this to understand our circumstances and plan action – a child avoids cauliflower on the basis of having tried and disliked broccoli. Writing symbolises and words categorise similar phenomena. Hence, Russia has outlawed even calling what it is doing in Ukraine a “war”.

Comparison is also built into scientific enquiry, in that it involves drawing inferences between cases which are thought to be analogous. In the study of peace and conflict, comparison has been a way to generate theories about how to manage conflict, such as addressing basic needs, imposing power-sharing between opponents, or third party intervention. But just how generally applicable much of this broad brush knowledge is in complex and variable conflict arenas will always be open to debate.

In politics, analogy is used to both create policy and justify it. For instance, the “lessons” of Vietnam strongly influenced later American foreign policy. The fear of “another world war” currently holds sway over NATO’s approach to Ukraine. Arguing by analogy may be one of the most persuasive strategies of communication. Putin’s talk of “denazification” and Zelensky’s invocation of western traumas like the Blitz, 9/11, and Pearl Harbour have undoubtedly helped rally their audiences. Such examples evoke strong imagery and narrative, and supposed real world evidence, in support of positions.

Also Read: Putin public approval is soaring during the Russia-Ukraine crisis

This is common to all conflicts. Partisans promote their preferred comparisons, especially for international consumption. One of the most well known warring analogies comes from one of the most intractable conflicts: Israel-Palestine. Israelis liken the threats they face to Nazism, and fear another Holocaust. Palestinians, however, regard the Israeli occupation and settlement of Palestine as apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Israel-Palestine, in turn, acts as an analogy for other groups in conflict – an archetype of besiegement for some, and of oppression for others.

Peace analogies

Analogies have also been useful in ending conflicts. Comparisons help peacemakers explain and legitimise what they are trying to achieve. In recent decades, South Africa has probably been the most referenced international peace analogy. It is now standard in any peace negotiation process for international comparisons and ideas borrowed from transitions elsewhere to be involved. A recognised likeness helps create relationships of solidarity between people pursuing peace in different countries.

A remarkable example of analogy in peacemaking comes from Northern Ireland. For decades, the Irish nationalist leader John Hume lobbied in Dublin, London, Washington and Brussels for a peaceful solution to the Northern Ireland conflict. In speech after speech, he repeated the example of Franco-German reconciliation in the context of European integration. If they can do it, Hume said, why can’t we in Northern Ireland? This analogy was the rhetorical centrepiece of arguments which ultimately gained wide acceptance in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Also Read: Why Putin has such a hard time accepting Ukrainian sovereignty?

Does the historical accuracy of an analogy matter? Perhaps not, if an audience is disposed to accept it. But like all political communication, especially in war, analogies should be held up to scrutiny. They can reduce complex events to a simple morality tale. They may result from “confirmation bias” – people finding the lessons they want to in other situations – or outright manipulation. The comparisons mentioned at the outset of this article, for example, range from the insightful and constructive, to the absurd and dangerous.

In any case, for good or ill, analogies are inescapable and will continue to frame what unfolds in Ukraine. “Comparison is so fundamental to our cognition”, writes sociologist Reza Azarian, “that thinking without comparison is almost unthinkable”.The Conversation

David Mitchell, Assistant Professor in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Trinity College Dublin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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