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Vox Sentences: Hackers are holding cities hostage

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Texas is the latest victim in a string of ransomware attacks targeting local governments; South Korea terminates its military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan.

Ransomware attacks are plaguing US cities

Donat Sorokin/TASS via Getty Images
  • Ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly more common in US cities, pointing out how small local governments can be vulnerable to cyberattacks. [NYT / Manny Fernandez, David E. Sanger, and Marina Trahan Martinez]
  • The most recent case: At least 22 cities and local governments in Texas were hit by a coordinated ransomware attack on August 16. This is the first time an attack has been so organized and widespread (until now, hackers would usually attack local governments one by one). [CNN / Kevin Collier]
  • Ransomware has become an increasingly popular cyberattack method in the past two years. It’s an easy way for hackers to make money by locking up information — effectively shutting down most municipal operations — and only returning the data when they are paid a large sum of money. [AP / Kathleen Foody and Jake Bleiberg]
  • In May, Baltimore was attacked by hackers, who demanded $76,000, while Atlanta was targeted last year for $50,000 in ransom. (Although it’s often difficult to track down the hackers, two Iranian men were indicted in connection with the Atlanta attack). Both cities refused to pay the money and have now spent million trying to rebuild their systems. [The Hill / Maggie Miller]
  • Some smaller governments, however, have chosen to pay the ransom because it is a cheaper and easier way to immediately solve the problem — although they remain defenselessness to future cyberattacks. Lake City and Riviera Beach in Florida, for example, collectively paid more than $1 million in bitcoin, despite discouragement from the FBI because it can encourage hackers to plan more attacks in the future. [LA Times / Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Suhauna Hussain]
  • The reality, however, is that small municipal governments have little room to invest in cybersecurity because of their tight budgets, leaving them especially vulnerable to such ransomware attacks. [Ars Technica / Sean Gallagher]

An alliance on the rocks

  • South Korea plans to end its military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan, which has been essential in monitoring North Korea. [NPR / Sasha Ingber and Anthony Kuhn]
  • The move is the latest sign of souring in the relationship between South Korea and Japan. South Korea hasn’t hidden the fact that its decision to terminate the pact is a political one, saying that it can no longer trust Japan with sensitive military information. [The Hill / Ellen Mitchell]
  • The deal, which was signed in 2016, was pushed by the US in an effort to prepare the three countries to respond more efficiently to potential attacks from North Korea and China. [AP / Hyung-jin Kim]
  • The escalating tension between the two countries had mostly been confined to their trade war, which began when Japan made it harder for Korea to import chemicals that are essential to its thriving chip industry. That the conflict is now spilling into national security is alarming Pentagon officials. [Reuters / Hyonhee Shin, Josh Smith, and Kiyoshi Takenaka]
  • The core of this conflict relates to Japan’s occupation of South Korea decades ago. A South Korean court ordered Japanese companies last year to compensate Korean citizens who were subject to forced labor during the occupation — a ruling that angered Japan and prompted its decision to kick off a trade war. [Vox / Catherine Kim]
  • The US has made some efforts to mediate the conflict between the two countries, but the administration’s “America First” approach has weakened its alliances within East Asia. [WSJ / Andrew Jeong, Alastair Gale, and Eun-Young Jeong]
  • The end of the military intelligence-sharing deal also comes amid increasing provocations from North Korea, which has conducted six missile tests in about a month. [NYT / Choe Sang-Hun, Motoko Rich, and Edward Wong]
  • Pentagon officials are now urging South Korea to rethink its decision, citing national security concerns. Some are worried that this could create a rift in the US-South Korea alliance. [Washington Post / Simon Denyer and Min Joo Kim]


  • South Africa’s Equality Court ruled on Wednesday that most uses of the the country’s old apartheid-era flag will be restricted because it represents hate speech and racial discrimination. [AP / Mogomotsi Magome]
  • President Trump signed an executive order today that will automatically forgive the student loan debt of veterans with disabilities. More than 40,000 veterans would be eligible. [CNN / Katie Lobosco and Sarah Westwood]
  • Mount Everest has a trash problem: 11 tons of trash were collected by authorities during the most recent cleanup. Nepal is now banning a single-use plastic — except for plastic water bottles — on the mountain in hopes of curbing the amount of waste produced. [The Hill / Aris Folley]
  • Microplastics, the tiny particles formed when man-made plastics break down, are now found in everything from drinking water to the air. Despite widespread concern, the World Health Organization announced that consumption of microplastics does not pose any risk to human health, although WHO admitted that not enough information is available on the subject yet. [NPR / Scott Neuman]
  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, arms traffickers are using an unlikely platform to illegally sell guns: Snapchat. [Guardian / Darwin BondGraham]


“This is another sign that the Trump administration is doing a very bad job of managing alliances. U.S. leadership in East Asia is a total disaster, and there are little signs of improving.” [Mason Richey, a professor of international politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, on South Korea ending its intelligence-sharing pact with Japan]

Watch this: Why the US and Iran are fighting over this tiny waterway

The Strait of Hormuz, “the jugular of the global economy,” has become a useful bargaining chip for Iran. [YouTube / Danush Parvaneh]

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