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Massive Data Breach Could Affect Every Federal Agency

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This Feb. 24, 2015, file photo, shows the Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington. The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Thursday, June 4, 2015, that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been hacked. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

This Feb. 24, 2015, file photo, shows the Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington. The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Thursday, June 4, 2015, that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been hacked. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

KEN DILANIAN, Associated Press
RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — China-based hackers are suspected once again of breaking into U.S. government computer networks, and the entire federal workforce could be at risk this time.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management — the human resources department for the federal government — and the Interior Department had been compromised.

“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” the statement Thursday said.

The hackers were believed to be based in China, said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.

Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the breach was “yet another indication of a foreign power probing successfully and focusing on what appears to be data that would identify people with security clearances.”

But in Beijing Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegations.

A spokesman for the ministry, Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing that Beijing hopes the U.S. would be “less suspicious and stop making any unverified allegations, but show more trust and participate more in cooperation.”

Beijing routinely dismisses any allegation of its official involvement in cyberattacks on foreign targets, while invariably noting that China is itself the target of hacking attacks and calling for greater international cooperation in combating hacking.

“We know that hacker attacks are conducted anonymously, across nations, and that it is hard to track the source,” Hong said. “It’s irresponsible and unscientific to make conjectural, trumped-up allegations without deep investigation.”

A U.S. official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the data breach, said the breach could potentially affect every federal agency. One key question is whether intelligence agency employee information was stolen. Former government employees are affected as well.

The Office of Personnel Management conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, according to its website.

The agency said it is offering credit monitoring and identity theft insurance for 18 months to individuals potentially affected. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents workers in 31 federal agencies, said it is encouraging members to sign up for the monitoring as soon as possible.

In November, a former DHS contractor disclosed another cyberbreach that compromised the private files of more than 25,000 DHS workers and thousands of other federal employees.

Cybersecurity experts also noted that the OPM was targeted a year ago in a cyberattack that was suspected of originating in China. In that case, authorities reported no personal information was stolen.

Chinese groups have persistently attacked U.S. agencies and companies, including insurers and health-care providers, said Adam Meyers, vice president for intelligence at Irvine, California-based CrowdStrike, which has studied Chinese hacking groups extensively.

The Chinese groups may be looking for information that can be used to approach or compromise people who could provide useful intelligence, Meyers said. “If they know someone has a large financial debt, or a relative with a health condition, or any other avenues that make them susceptible to monetary targeting or coercion, that information would be useful.”

One expert said hackers could use information from government personnel files for financial gain. In a recent case disclosed by the IRS, hackers appear to have obtained tax return information by posing as taxpayers, using personal information gleaned from previous commercial breaches, said Rick Holland, an information security analyst at Forrester Research.

“Given what OPM does around security clearances, and the level of detail they acquire when doing these investigations, both on the subjects of the investigations and their contacts and references, it would be a vast amount of information,” Holland added.

DHS said its intrusion detection system, known as EINSTEIN, which screens federal Internet traffic to identify potential cyberthreats, identified the hack of OPM’s systems and the Interior Department’s data center, which is shared by other federal agencies.

It was unclear why the EINSTEIN system didn’t detect the breach until after so many records had been copied and removed.

“DHS is continuing to monitor federal networks for any suspicious activity and is working aggressively with the affected agencies to conduct investigative analysis to assess the extent of this alleged intrusion,” the statement said.

Cybersecurity expert Morgan Wright of the Center for Digital Government, an advisory institute, said EINSTEIN “certainly appears to be a failure at this point. The government would be better off outsourcing their security to the private sector where’s there at least some accountability.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the government must overhaul its cybersecurity defenses. “Our response to these attacks can no longer simply be notifying people after their personal information has been stolen,” he said. “We must start to prevent these breaches in the first place.”

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Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin Freking in Washington, Brandon Bailey in San Francisco and Ian Mader in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Follow Ken Dilanian on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KenDilanianAP

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Business

Gov. Newsom Signs Package of Laws Supporting Restaurants, Bars

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a COVID-19 recovery package Friday supporting small hospitality establishments around the state, including restaurants and bars.

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Oakland, CA, USA February 21, 2011 Folks enjoy a sunny day with al fresco dining at the historic Last Chance Saloon, made famous by author Jack London, in Oakland, California/ iStock

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a COVID-19 recovery package Friday supporting small hospitality establishments around the state, including restaurants and bars. 

Signed at a restaurant in Oakland, the legislative package includes Assembly Bill (AB) 61, Senate Bill (SB) 314 and SB 389 – bills that, among other provisions, extend COVID-19 special permissions like outdoor dining and to-go licenses for alcoholic beverages. 

Funding for the package will come out of the governor’s California Comeback Plan which allots $10.2 billion in small business support. So far, the state has spent $4 billion on an emergency grant program and $6.2 billion in tax relief for small businesses. 

“These innovative strategies have been a lifeline for hard-hit restaurants during the pandemic and today, we’re keeping the entrepreneurial spirit going so that businesses can continue to create exciting new opportunities and support vibrant neighborhoods across the state,” said Newsom. 

The state support comes at a time when many Black-owned small businesses in California, including restaurants, are struggling to recover after being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) research, 13 % of Black-owned businesses have had to close down due to the pandemic, compared to 8% of White-owned ones. For Latino-owned businesses that number is even higher at 18 %. 

Due to the pandemic, Black businesses have experienced higher revenue loss, more layoffs of employees and less success in getting government funded relief like assistance from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. 

“We have all seen the fallout from the pandemic and recession and the effect on BIPOC people and BIPOC small businesses owners has been devastating,” said Tara Lynn Gray, Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate. She was speaking at an IGS event last week titled “Diversity and Entrepreneurship in California: An Undergraduate Research Symposium.”

“These are problems that have to be addressed. Access to capital continues to be a challenge,” Gray continued. “We are seeing bankers like Wells Fargo, Citi and JP Morgan Chase making significant investments in BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) small businesses, communities and individuals. That is a trend I would like to continue to see.”

Gray pointed out there are a number of state programs like the Small Business COVID-19 relief funds that prioritize providing relief funding to underserved businesses in the state. 

Authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) respectively, AB 61 and SB 314 establish a one-year regulatory grace period for businesses operating under temporary COVID-19 licenses to get permanent expanded licenses, such as outdoor dining authorization.

The one-year grace period will begin once the pandemic emergency declaration has expired. 

“Outdoor dining has been a critical lifeline that has helped these establishments keep their doors open during these challenging times,” said Gabriel.

 “AB 61 provides important flexibility so that restaurants can safely expand outdoor dining and continue to serve the communities they call home. I applaud Governor Newsom for his thoughtful leadership in protecting both public health and small businesses as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gabriel continued.

Wiener also stressed the importance of pandemic protocols for small businesses in California.

“SB 314 ensures the public can continue to enjoy outdoor dining with alcohol and that our small neighborhood businesses can continue to benefit from this change. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, and it’s important we make changes to modernize our entertainment and hospitality laws to allow them more flexibility and more ways to safely serve customers,” he said.  

SB 389 allows restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars that sell food to continue to sell to-go alcoholic beverages through Dec. 31, 2026.

“This is an important step toward helping our restaurants, which have been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), SB 389’s author. 

“It will ensure their recovery, protecting jobs and our economy. I thank Gov. Newsom for supporting this new law,” he continued.

 

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Coronavirus

San Francisco to Mandate Vaccines for City Contractors to Protect City Workers and The Public

Any contractor who works in-person on a regular basis alongside public employees must get vaccinated

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Close up of a mature man taking a vaccine in his doctors office

Mayor London N. Breed issued a Mayoral Order on October 8 mandating vaccination for all City contractors who work alongside City employees on a regular basis at a facility owned, leased, or controlled by the City. This mandate will also apply to all City Commissioners. All contractors will be required to be fully vaccinated by December 31.

This City Contractor Mandate will work in concert with San Francisco’s Worker Vaccine Mandate, which requires all City employees to be fully vaccinated no later than November 1, with earlier deadlines for those who work in high-risk facilities like jails, hospitals, and homeless shelters.

Contractors who work in high-risk settings are already required to be vaccinated under Health Orders. The City Contractor Mandate will ensure that all those who regularly work alongside City workers are vaccinated. Examples include:

  • If a contractor employee has a work station at a City office building and is working there in person a few days per week.
  • If a nonprofit employee is working at the nonprofit work site where City employees are regularly working.

Contractors may grant exemptions for employees based on qualifying medical reasons or religious beliefs consistent with the City Worker Mandate.

“Our vaccine mandate for City employees has always been about protecting the public we serve and protecting our workforce,” said Breed. “By extending the mandate to contractors who work alongside our City workers, we are continuing to do everything we can to keep our City workforce strong and healthy. Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are our path out of this pandemic. San Francisco is leading the way on implementing strong vaccine policies that will lift us up in the months ahead as we push forward with our recovery.”

Under the Mayoral Order, the City Administrator’s Office is tasked with issuing processes and procedures to implement this vaccine mandate and providing guidance to City Departments and Contractors regarding the policy.

“Our workforce is our most valuable asset. We’ve leaned upon our workers to continue delivering critical public services throughout the pandemic because that’s what we all signed up to do,” said City Administrator Carmen Chu. “Vaccine requirements to those who work beside us is a natural extension of our commitment to protect our workforce and the public we serve.”

San Francisco’s City workforce has one of these highest vaccination rates of any City in the country. Currently, over 94% of City workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, with just over 2,000 employees out of 35,000 registered as either unvaccinated or have not yet reported their status.

Under San Francisco’s vaccination requirement for employees, which was the first implemented in the country, all City employees must be fully vaccinated no later than November 1 in order to continue employment with the City, with exemptions provided for qualifying medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs.

“We are pleased with our high vaccination rate and that our employees, who interact with vulnerable populations on a daily basis, have made the decision to protect their colleagues and our communities by getting vaccinated,” said Carol Isen, Human Resources director. “Mandating that all contractors who work alongside City employees, is the right thing to do and supports all of the precautions we have taken thus far to keep our workers healthy and safe throughout the pandemic.”

The City Contractor Mandate, as well as the City Worker Mandate, are part of San Francisco’s broader effort to combat the impacts of COVID-19 with the most effective tool available: the vaccine.

Currently, over 82% of eligible San Francisco residents are fully vaccinated, which is the highest of any major city in the country. San Francisco has a current average of 77 cases per day, a drop from 309 at the height of the summer’s surge.

Cases among fully vaccinated individuals are currently at 7.4 per 100,000, while among those not fully vaccinated are 14.4 per 100,000. The vaccines remain highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death.

“City contractors are an important part of the broader workforce that delivers needed services to San Francisco, so it’s important for contractors to also be vaccinated and contribute to lowering the spread of COVID-19 on City facilities and among staff,” said Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax. “Vaccines remain our best defense against COVID-19, and everyone who is eligible for should get one.”

 

This story comes from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Communication.

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Community

Building Bridges Beyond Bias in Marin

Registration is required. Sign-ups are available on the MCFL website. For more information and to register to this event, go to marinlibrary.org/blogs/post/building-bridges-beyond-bias/

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From left: Tahirah Dean, Jason Lau, Ph.D., Laura Eberly, Alejandro Lara

The Marin County Free Library (MCFL) and Age Forward Marin is presenting a four-part, on-line series “Building Bridges Beyond Bias” which is designed for Marin County residents from all backgrounds to gain understanding and foster awareness about each other through conversation and connection, and to confront and explore beyond our biases.

Tahirah Dean will be speaking on Wednesday, October 20, and Jason Lau, Ph.D. will be speaking on Wednesday, November 3, for the two remaining programs. The programs will be online via Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Dean is an Afro-Latina Muslim woman and a staff attorney at Legal Aid of Marin, pursuing her passion for housing justice, and has worked as an immigration attorney assisting asylum seekers and those seeking work visas. She holds a B.A. in English and Political Science from the University of North Texas, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School.

Lau traveled to the U.S. from Hong Kong in 1997 to further his education. Today, he is the interim associate dean and senior business officer for the School of Extended and International Education for Sonoma State University and chairs the Marin County Child Care Commission and the Marin YMCA Volunteer Board of Managers.

The speakers for two previous programs in the series were Laura Eberly, who spoke on September 22 and Alejandro Lara, who spoke on October 6.

Eberly is the founding director of Mountaintop Coaching & Consulting, which provides diversity, equity, and inclusion services. She holds a B.A. and M.S.W. from the University of Chicago and is ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. She is a proud alum of Catalyst Project’s Anne Braden Anti-Racist Organizing Training Program.

Lara is a first-generation Latino college graduate from UC Davis, and currently works as the communications coordinator for the Canal Alliance in San Rafael.

MCFL has supported equity measures in the county, offered enlightening educational programming, and has enthusiastically endorsed the Marin County Board of Supervisors’ prioritization of social equity and the creation of the County’s Office of Equity. County departments are working to dismantle inequities and transform systems inherited through centuries of racial, social, and political injustices.

The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spearheaded the Age Forward Marin. It is a collective effort between County departments and local government, community leaders, and residents including in Marin’s unincorporated areas.

Gloria Dunn-Violin, a resident of Novato, approached HHS Director Benita McLarin with a concept that evolved into the special speaker series. Dunn-Violin teamed with the Corte Madera Library and the Age Forward initiative to design the Beyond Bias program’s purpose and format, to assist in finding speakers, and to share the event with community partners focused on diversity and inclusion.

Registration is required. Sign-ups are available on the MCFL website. For more information and to register to this event, go to marinlibrary.org/blogs/post/building-bridges-beyond-bias/

The Marin Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California

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