Water wars brew in Oregon. Feds recover half of Colonial Pipeline ransom. FBI-run messaging app sting nets more than 800 arrests globally.
Drought-driven water wars brewing on West Coast
In rural southern Oregon and Northern California, antigovernment protesters seem to be gearing up for confrontations with federal authorities in the drought-stricken area. Small groups of protesters have gathered at the headgates of the Klamath Basin reservoir and are threatening to release water to farmers that rely on the reservoir for irrigation. Previous actions, such as one that took place in 2001, have sparked standoffs with federal agents.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation have said that they would not be releasing water from the reservoir, which is at its lowest level in years. The bureau made this decision to protect an endangered species of suckerfish, whose only remaining habitat is in the reservoirs. The suckerfish have a spiritual significance for local Klamath tribes.
A federal court has ruled that the interests of groups upstream, including the tribes, should take precedence over those downstream. This means that authorities must deny water to groups downstream who rely on in order to keep enough water in the system to ensure the survival of the suckerfish. The downstream groups include farmers and other tribes who depend on fishing. The tribes fear that the drought will endanger a local run of salmon on which they depend.
The conflicting interests of the upstream and downstream groups, combined long-standing tensions between local militias and law enforcement, may potentially lead to a showdown. Some of the groups declare affiliation with Ammon Bundy, of Bundy Ranch fame. In 2016, Bundy lead a group that illegally occupied federal land and facilities at a wildlife refuge for over a month. After a shootout with authorities, Bundy was arrested but acquitted on all counts.
Despite the Klamath protesters having pledged their allegiance to Bundy, and their claims that he will soon be joining them, Bundy has so far been a no-show. This might be because Bundy is currently running for governor of neighboring Idaho.
Feds manage to recover most of the Colonial Pipeline ransom
The newly-formed Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force has managed to take back about half of the $4.4 million in ransom paid to the DarkSide ransomware group who shut down the Colonial oil pipeline last month. In all, the task force managed to recover about $2.3 million.
The announcement comes on the day that Colonial’s CEO is addressing Congress about his company’s handling of the attack, and why they decided to pay the ransom. The federal government has discouraged companies from paying up in such cases since an easy payout only encourages ransomware groups to carry out more attacks.
The more interesting question is how the task force was able to recover any of the funds at all. Recoveries of ransomware payments are extremely rare. Colonial paid the ransom in the form of 75 BitCoin. BitCoin’s decentralized and encrypted network should ensure that only the owners of the BitCoin (in this case the hackers), should have had access to it. Simply put, BitCoin’s security is using encryption keys that owners have to share with recipients to complete a transaction.
Experts say there are only three possibilities. The first is that one of the members of the ransomware group came forward to help the feds. The second is that the criminals somehow got careless. It’s possible that the hackers had perhaps e-mailed the keys to other members of the group. Using search warrants, the feds would have been able to access those e-mails, and thus the money. The third possibility is that BitCoin itself might have cooperated with the feds to help them recover the funds.
FBI entraps international criminals using encrypted app ploy
Authorities have arrested hundreds of criminals across the world in a global sting operation. The operation was made possible by an encrypted messaging app, called ANOM. Criminals commonly use such apps to ensure that their communications are secure. What the criminals didn’t know was that ANOM was run by the FBI.
A joint operation between the FBI and Australian authorities distributed devices with the ANOM app to criminal organizations through informants. The devices eventually found in their way into the hands of members of about 300 gangs in 100 countries. This allowed the authorities to monitor messages and other communications about drug deals, money laundering, and murder plots.
During the sting, authorities in 16 countries arrested about 800 gang and mafia members. In addition, they seized homes, cars, money, guns, and at least 8 tons of cocaine.
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