This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Silicon Valley is abuzz about “Meltdown” and “Spectre” — new ways for hackers to attack Intel, AMD, and ARM processors that were first discovered by Google last year and publicly disclosed Jan. 3.


Meltdown and Spectre, which take advantage of the same basic security vulnerability in those chips, could hypothetically be used by malicious actors to “read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications,” as Google puts it in a blog post.

The first thing you need to know: Pretty much every PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is affected by the security flaw, regardless of which company made the device or which operating system it runs. The vulnerability isn’t easy to exploit — it requires a specific set of circumstances, including having malware already running on the device — but it’s not just theoretical.

And the problem could affect much more than just personal devices. The flaw could be exploited on servers and in data centers and massive cloud-computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud. In fact, given the right conditions, Meltdown or Spectre could be used by customers of those cloud services to actually steal data from one another.

Though fixes are already being rolled out for the vulnerability, they often will come with a price. Some devices, especially older PCs, could be slowed markedly by them.

Here’s what Meltdown and Spectre are. And, just as important, here’s what they’re not.

Am I in immediate danger from this?

There’s some good news: Intel and Google say they’ve never seen any attacks like Meltdown or Spectre actually being used in the wild. And companies including Intel, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are rushing to issue fixes, with the first wave already out.

The most immediate consequence of all of this will come from those fixes. Some devices will see a performance dip of as much as 30% after the fixes are installed, according to some reports. Intel, however, disputed that figure, saying the amount by which computers will be slowed will depend on how they’re being used.

The Meltdown attack primarily affects Intel processors, though ARM has said that its chips are vulnerable as well. You can guard against it with software updates, according to Google. Those are already starting to become available for Linux and Windows 10.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Brian Krzanich, Intel’s Chief Executive Officer. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spectre, by contrast, appears to be much more dangerous. Google says it has been able to successfully execute Spectre attacks on processors from Intel, ARM, and AMD. And, according to the search giant, there’s no single, simple fix.

It’s harder to pull off a Spectre-based attack, which is why nobody is completely panicking. But the attack takes advantages of an integral part of how processors work, meaning it will take a new generation of hardware to stamp it out for good.

In fact, that’s how Spectre got its name.

“As it is not easy to fix, it will haunt us for quite some time,” the official Meltdown/Spectre FAQ says.

What are Meltdown and Spectre, anyway?

Despite how they’ve been discussed so far in the press, Meltdown and Spectre aren’t really “bugs.” Instead, they represent methods discovered by Google’s Project Zero cybersecurity lab to take advantage of the normal ways that Intel, ARM, and AMD processors work.

To use a Star Wars analogy, Google inspected the Death Star plans and found an exploitable weakness in a small thermal exhaust port. In the same way two precisely placed proton torpedoes could blow up the Death Star, so, too, can Meltdown and Spectre take advantage of a very specific design quirk and get around (or “melt down,” hence the name) processors’ normal security precautions.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Let’s just hope your processor doesn’t end up looking like this. (Image from Star Wars)

In this case, the design feature in question is something called speculative execution, a processing technique that most Intel chips have used since 1995 and that is also common in ARM and AMD processors. With speculative execution, processors essentially guess what you’re going to do next. If they guess right, then they’re already ahead of the curve, and you have a snappier computing experience. If they guess wrong, they dump the data and start over.

What Project Zero found were two key ways to trick even secure, well-designed apps into leaking data from those returned processes. The exploits take advantage of a flaw in how the data is dumped that could allow them — with the right malware installed — to read data that should be secret.

This vulnerability is potentially particularly dangerous in cloud-computing systems, where users essentially rent time from massive supercomputing clusters. The servers in those clusters may be shared among multiple users, meaning customers running unpatched and unprepared systems could fall prey to data thieves sharing their processors.

What can I do about it?

To guard against the security flaw and the exploits, the first and best thing you can do is make sure you’re up-to-date with your security patches. The major operating systems have already started issuing patches that will guard against the Meltdown and Spectre attacks. In fact, fixes have already begun to hit Linux, Android, Apple’s MacOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 10. So whether you have an Android phone or you’re a developer using Linux in the cloud, it’s time to update your operating system.

Microsoft told Business Insider it’s working on rolling out mitigations for its Azure cloud platform. Google Cloud is urging customers to update their operating systems, too.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
It’s a good idea to stay current with your Windows updates. (Screenshot from Matt Weinberger)

It’s just as important to make sure you stay up to date. While Spectre may not have an easy fix, Google says there are ways to guard against related exploits. Expect Microsoft, Apple, and Google to issue a series of updates to their operating systems as new Spectre-related attacks are discovered.

Additionally, because Meltdown and Spectre require malicious code to already be running on your system, let this be a reminder to practice good online safety behaviors. Don’t download any software from a source you don’t trust. And don’t click on any links or files claiming you won $10 million in a contest you never entered.

Why could the fixes also slow down my device?

The Meltdown and Spectre attacks take advantage of how the “kernels,” or cores, of operating systems interact with processors. Theoretically, the two are supposed to be separated to some degree to prevent exactly this kind of attack. Google’s report, however, proves the existing precautions aren’t enough.

Operating system developers are said to be adopting a new level of virtual isolation, basically making requests between the processor and the kernel take the long way around.

The problem is that enforcing this kind of separation requires at least a little extra processing power, which would no longer be available to the rest of the system.

Related: Why it’s a big deal that Cyber Command is now a combatant command

As The New York Times notes, researchers are concerned that the fixes could slow down computers by as much as 20% to 30%. Microsoft is reported to believe that PCs with Intel processors older than the 2-year-old Skylake models could see significant slowdowns.

Intel disputes that the performance hits will be as dramatic as The Times suggests.

Some of the slowdowns, should they come to pass, could be mitigated by future software updates. Because the vulnerability was just made public, it’s possible that workarounds and new techniques for circumventing the performance hit will come to light as more developers work on solving the problem.

What happens next?

Publicly, Intel is confident the Meltdown and Spectre bugs won’t have a material impact on its stock price or market share, given that they’re relatively hard to execute and have never been used (that we know of). AMD shares are soaring on word that the easier-to-pull-off Meltdown attack isn’t known to work on its processors.

But as Google is so eager to remind us, Spectre looms large. Speculative execution has been a cornerstone of processor design for more than two decades. It will require a huge rethinking from the processor industry to guard against this kind of attack in the future. The threat of Spectre means the next generation of processors — from all the major chip designers — will be a lot different than they are today.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Google is urging customers of its Google Cloud supercomputing service, hosted from data centers like this, to update their operating systems. (Image via Google)

Even so, the threat of Spectre is likely to linger far into the future. Consumers are replacing their PCs less frequently, which means older PCs that are at risk of the Spectre attack could be used for years to come.

As for mobile, there has been a persistent problem with updating Android devices to the latest version of the operating system, so there are likely to be lots of unpatched smartphones and tablets in use for as far as the eye can see. Would-be Spectre attackers are therefore likely to have their choice of targets.

It’s not the end of the world. But it just may be the end of an era for Intel, AMD, ARM, and the way processors are built.

Articles

Here are all the signs pointing to General Mattis as the next Defense Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t yet finalized his decision for who he’ll tap to lead the Pentagon next year, but plenty of signs are pointing to retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as the top choice.


First and foremost among them are Trump’s comments during an interview with New York Times reporters on Tuesday, in which he said he was “seriously considering” Mattis for Defense Secretary.

Also read: This letter General James Mattis wrote to his Marines is a must-read of historical proportions

The comments came just a day after an off-the-record meeting the President-elect had with media executives and on-air personalities, in which he said “he believes it is time to have someone from the military as secretary of defense,” according to Politico.

If Trump were to stick with that view, then that means the field of potential candidates has gotten much thinner.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis visits with Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait on Feb. 26, 2011. | DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

There were a number of names initially floated, including retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). Both Flynn and Sessions have accepted other positions within the administration, while Talent is apparently still in the running, according to The Washington Post.

Trump met with Mattis on Saturday for about an hour to discuss the position. Not much is known about what they talked about, but Trump did ask the general about the use of waterboarding and was surprised that Mattis was against it.

Afterward, Trump tweeted that Mattis was “very impressive” and called him a “true General’s General.”

Besides receiving praise from Trump himself, Mattis has been receiving near-universal praise in national security circles and among some of the DC elite. Syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham, a Trump backer who spoke at the Republican Convention, said on Twitter that he was the “best candidate.”

And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a ringing endorsement of Mattis on Monday.

“General Mattis is one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops,” McCain wrote in his statement. “I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again.”

Mattis did have some competition from another retired general — Army. Gen. Jack Keane — who was apparently offered the job, but Keane declined it for personal reasons, according to NPR. When asked who Trump should choose instead, Keane gave two names: David Petraeus and James Mattis.

While both would seem a good fit for Defense Secretary, picking Petraeus would likely be a much harder one to get confirmed. Congress seems likely to grant Mattis a waiver of the requirement of a seven-year gap between military service and the civilian defense job, but Petraeus would bring plenty of baggage to a confirmation hearing. That would include a sex scandal and charges of sharing classified information, for which he received a $100,000 fine and two years of probation.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus briefs reporters at the Pentagon April 26, 2007. | DoD photo

According to people familiar with Trump’s deliberations who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, Mattis is the most likely candidate.

Mattis, 66, is something of a legendary figure in the US military. Looked at as a warrior among Marines and well-respected by members of other services, he’s been at the forefront of a number of engagements.

The former four-star general retired in 2013 after leading Marines for 44 years. His last post was with US Central Command, the Tampa, Florida-based unified command tasked with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than two-dozen other countries.

He led his battalion of Marines in the assault during the first Gulf war in 1991 and commanded the task force charging into Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, as a Major General, he once again took up the task of motivating his young Marines to go into battle, penning a must-read letterto his troops before they crossed the border into Iraq.

A number of defense secretaries who served under President Barack Obama have criticized him for his supposed “micromanagement.” Even Mattis himself was reportedly forced into early retirement by the Obama administration due to his hawkish views on Iran, according to Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy.

Whoever is ultimately picked, the next head of the Pentagon will oversee roughly 3 million military and civilian personnel and face myriad challenges, from the ongoing fight against ISIS and China’s moves in the South China Sea to the ongoing stress on the military imposed by sequestration.

The next defense secretary may also end up dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and Russia is very likely to test limits in eastern Europe. The secretary will also need to reinvigorate a military plagued by low morale.

Mattis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Pound for pound, these were the deadliest boats of World War II

They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren’t the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.


Battle Stations: PT Boats (War History Documentary)

youtu.be

America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.

But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.

Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the “Pinewood Derbies” of July 1941.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

PT-658 transits the water at the Portland Rose Festival in 2006. The boat was restored by volunteers and features its full armament and original engines.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ralph Radford)

These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.

Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.

The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.

They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

U.S. Navy patrol boats zip through the water during exercises of the U.S. east coast on July 12, 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.

The little boats would distinguish themselves over and over again, even though there were only 29 in the Navy at the start of the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur slipped out of the Philippines on a two-day trip through the enemy fleet with Lt. John D. Bulkeley on a PT boat. Bulkeley would earn a Medal of Honor for his actions.

The boats launched constant attacks against Japanese ships, hitting them with Mk. 8 torpedoes. The Coast Guard used 83-foot designs for their submarine hunters and patrol boats, many of which saw service at D-Day where they served as the “Matchstick Fleet” that rescued drowning soldiers.

Also at D-Day, similar landing craft made by Higgins were modified to fire rockets at the shore to suppress shore positions.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Navy Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy on PT-109.

(U.S. Navy)

But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan’s fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” was sent to prey on the ships of the “Tokyo Express.”

Japan’s destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn’t perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.

The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force’s new tanker is going to be delayed again

Boeing missed a self-imposed deadline to deliver the first new KC-46 tanker to the Air Force by the end of 2017, and now the Air Force believes the company may miss its expected delivery window in spring 2018, instead presenting the first tanker late 2018, according to Aviation Week.


The Air Force came to that conclusion after a recent joint schedule risk assessment. Boeing is obligated to give the Air Force 18 of the new tankers by October 2018. Missing that deadline will likely bring additional financial penalties.

The firm has already been hit with about $2.9 billion in pretax costs under the tanker contract, which holds the planemaker responsible for costs beyond the Air Force’s $4.82 billion commitment.

Also read: Why Boeing may stop building fighter planes

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Emily Grabowski told Aviation Week that the force will continue working with Boeing “to develop schedule mitigations” as needed and to expedite the program. “These potential delays will not result in additional program cost to the taxpayer,” she added.

The tanker program has been hindered by a few persistent problems in recent months.

The most severe — a “category 1 deficiency” — is the tanker’s rigid refueling boom scraping against the plane it is refueling. Such contact can compromise the special stealth coating on aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 fighters. And a tanker with a contaminated boom may also have to be grounded.

Air Force and private-sector personnel are reviewing flight data to determine the nature of such incidents and compare them to international norms, Aviation Week previously reported. That investigation will also inform a decision about replacing the remote camera used during the refueling process.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
A KC-46 Pegasus refuels an A-10 Thunderbolt II, July 15, 2016. (Boeing/John D. Parker)

Two other issues, which have been lowered to category II, involve the tanker’s high-frequency radio, which uses the skin of the aircraft broadcast and can cause sparks and fires. The Air Force wants assurances those radios will never broadcast while fuel is flowing and expects a long-term fix from Boeing. The force also expects a Boeing software update in 2018 to address the deficiency in which the refueling boom would extend on its own when disconnecting from a refueling aircraft.

Related: Report blames Boeing mechanics for Air Force One oxygen problems

In December 2017, the FAA granted Boeing an amended type certification for the 767-2C, which is the tanker derivative of the 767 commercial plane. But the firm is yet to receive the supplemental type certification that signs off on all the military and aerial-refueling modifications that turn a 767-2C into a KC-46.

Air Force Materials Command also told Air Force Times that the tanker still needs to get the Air Force’s military type certification, which will signify the safety and airworthiness of those systems and equipment.

Early 2018, a Pentagon testing and evaluation office report indicated the KC-46’s most important systems — including its ability to transfer fuel — had been uninstalled or deactivated during testing under electromagnetic-pulse conditions. It recommended retesting “operationally representative” conditions.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
A KC-46 Pegasus takes its first flight at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, September 25, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jet Fabara)

However, the Air Force said in February 2018 it was working with the testing and evaluation office to reconcile those concerns but had no plans to change the overall tanker program or its testing timelines.

Officials from Air Force Materials Command told Air Force Times that the EMP testing was intended to evaluate mission-critical systems — like takeoff, flight, landing, aircraft control, voice communications, and use of the refueling boom and centerline drogue system.

More: Boeing’s SR-71 Blackbird replacement totally looks like a UFO

“The systems that were uninstalled or deactivated were not flight-critical or required for aerial refueling operations,” according to the officials. After the EMP tests, they said, those critical or required systems were still operational.

The Air Force has two nuclear-threat-related tests planned for fiscal year 2018, which began in October 2017 and ends in September 2018. One will evaluate the KC-46’s ability to launch and fly a safe distance from a simulated nuclear attack on its base. The other will test the tanker’s “inherent nuclear hardness” to blast, radiation, flash, thermal, and EMP effects. The tests are slated for the second half of the fiscal year.

The Air Force currently plans to buy 179 of the KC-46, which is being developed to replace the Air Force’s aging KC-135 fleet, the members of which are, on average, 55 years old.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia claims this new evidence proves it didn’t down plane

Russia’s defense ministry claimed on Sept. 17, 2018, it had new evidence that the missile that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in 2014 was fired by Ukrainian forces.

The Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight was shot down by a soviet-made missile over the rebel-held eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board, including 27 Australians, were killed.

Remnants of the Boeing 777 aircraft that crashed outside the city of Donetsk in Ukraine have been analyzed extensively, and investigators are still trying to determine with certainty where the missile emanated from.


In May 2018, international investigators concluded that a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile supplied by Russian separatists in Kursk were responsible for the downing of MH17.

“The Buk that was used came from the Russian army, the 53rd brigade,” Chief Dutch Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told Reuters. “We know that was used, but the people in charge of this Buk, we don’t know.”

The investigating team has referenced images and video showing a white Volvo truck with markings unique to the 53rd brigade carrying the missile from Russia to the Ukraine. The Netherlands and Australia have directly blamed Russia for the attack, and have called on Moscow to admit responsibility and cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Russia’s Defense Ministry purported to show a “logbook” indicating that the Buk missile had been delivered to a unit in the Ukraine in 1986.

(Russian Defense Ministry / Youtube)

But Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement, and has instead shifted blame towards Ukraine with information investigators have deemed “factually inaccurate on several points.

On Sept. 17, 2018, Russia’s defense ministry claimed it had “newly discovered evidence” which potentially pins the attack on Ukraine.

According to the Defense Ministry, the serial number found on debris from the Buk missile was cross-referenced with a log book purporting to show it was produced in 1986. The missile was then delivered by rail to a military unit in Western Ukraine and to their knowledge had since not left Ukraine.

The ministry also claimed some of the video provided to investigators showing the Buk system being transported from Russia were manipulated. The ministry cast doubt on its authenticity.

The ministry also claimed to have audio recordings of Ukrainian airspace officials discussing shooting down aircrafts which flew over its restricted airspace, specifically calling out the targeting of Malaysian Boeings.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Russia also claimed that video provided to investigators used doctored footage of the Buk missile being transported on a white truck.

(Russian Defense Ministry / Youtube)

In response, the joint investigative team said they would “meticulously study” the new information as soon as the documents were made available, noting that previous information provided from Russia had been misleading on several fronts.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak on Sept. 17, 2018, dismissed Russia’s claims as an “absolute lie” and “another fake story.” Also on Sept. 17, 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree ending a bilateral friendship treaty with Russia amid deteriorating ties.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why some Marines in combat zones don’t get Combat Action Ribbons

The Marines in Afghanistan are definitely in combat, even if they are not being awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, the former commander of Task Force Southwest said on Feb. 1.


“It’s absolutely a combat mission,” Brig. Gen. Roger Turner Jr. told reporters at a roundtable. “The only difference is we’re not maneuvering directly on the enemy. From the command element perspective: It’s full spectrum combat. We shoot at the enemy, they shoot at us.”

Turner led the task force of roughly 300 Marines from April 2017 until January 2018. During that time, Marines helped Afghan troops and interior ministry forces go on the offensive in Helmand province, the home of many senior Taliban leaders and a significant source of the opium that feeds the Taliban’s coffers, he said.

Despite being deployed to Afghanistan for nine months, none of the Marines in the task force were awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Times has reported. The CAR is a coveted decoration, especially by younger Marines, because it certifies combat experience.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Combat Action Ribbon awarded by the United States Department of the Navy. (Image Wikipedia)

But on Feb. 1, Turner cautioned against using the CAR as a litmus test to determine if the Marines in Afghanistan are on a combat mission.

“It’s too simplistic to say that nobody earned the Combat Action Ribbon; therefore, they weren’t in combat,” Turner said. “They’re very much in combat. We just weren’t achieving the criteria of the Combat Action Ribbon.”
Sgt. Mohamed Amin and his cadre of fellow instructors at the Camp Commando School of Excellence outside Kabul have their work cut out for them. They have been given the arduous task of executing President Ashraf Ghani’s order to double the commando force in four years, without sacrificing quality.

The CAR recognizes Marines who have taken part in direct action against the enemy, according to the decoration’s requirements. Marines who come under direct fire or are exposed to explosions can be eligible for the award. The CAR is typically not given to Marines who come under indirect fire unless they engage in offensive counter-fire operations.

Also Read: Sailors and Marines are now eligible for these new award devices

With help from the Marines, Afghan security forces went on the offensive for 250 days of the 280-day deployment, Turner said. The Marines advised the Afghans at various levels of command and helped coordinate artillery and air support.

Even though the Marines did not fight alongside Afghan units, they were attacked by Taliban rockets and mortars about 20 times during the deployment, Turner said. None of the Marines were wounded.

On Jan. 15, Turner transferred command to Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson, who commands a larger task force that will be able to have U.S. military advisers permanently assigned to Afghan battalions, Turner said.

Watson has told Task Purpose that he has the authority to allow Marines to accompany Afghan troops and police into battle, if needed.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest fires the M-27 Infantry Automatic Rifle as part of the combat marksmanship program at Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan, Jan. 26, 2018. Task Force Southwest is continually working on combat marksmanship to ensure proper sustainment of basic Marine combat skills, so they can better train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Conner Robbins)

“Whether or not we exercise that authority is going to depend on how we assess the situation at the time, and obviously I’m not going to get into specifics on that,” Watson said in a Jan. 15 interview.

After nearly 16 years of war in Afghanistan, it is not clear how much of territory the Taliban controls outright or is contesting. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director of the Joint Staff, said the U.S. estimates that the Afghan government controls about 60%of the country, but a recent BBC report claims the Taliban is active in 70% of Afghanistan.

McKenzie said he does not believe the BBC story is accurate, adding that he “couldn’t completely follow their logic as stated in the article.”

“We certainly don’t think that the Taliban has a presence to some degree in 70% of the countryside – and we would disagree with that,” McKenzie told reporters Feb. 1 during a Pentagon news briefing.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Check out these ISIS propaganda video bloopers

A new video of ISIS recruits trying to pledge their allegiance to the caliphate shows a recruit fluffing his lines and being interrupted by screeching bird calls.

A video of a recruits in Yemen, unearthed by Dr Elisabeth Kendall, a senior research fellow at Oxford University’s Pembroke College, shows a bearded youth coming struggling to get through his vows.

The footage was recorded in 2017, when ISIS still held territory in Iraq and Syria, and was attracting recruits from further afield.

Kendall told Business Insider the clip was released this week by Hidaya Media, a broadcaster associated with al-Qaeda’s operations around the Red Sea.


ISIS and al-Qaeda are rival jihadist organizations and have been known to insult and belittle each other.

Although ISIS has been deprived of its former territory in Syria and Iraq, the organization continues. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda are currently fighting over territory in Yemen.

In the video the insurgent, identified by The Independent as Abu Muhammad al-Adeni, trips over his lines, prompting a fellow recruit to say: “Stay calm, keep cool”.

On two occasions his speech is cut short by loud, intrusive bird calls. The man has a Janbiya knife tucked into his belt.

The footage may have been found by al-Qaeda operatives when they took over an ISIS camp in northwestern al-Bayda, Yemen, earlier this summer, Kendall told Business Insider.

Footage from a different part of the shoot later made it into an actual ISIS propaganda video, released in September 2017. It shows a series of young recruits gathering together, celebrating, affirming their vows to the caliphate, and eating.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Humor

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of Nov. 24

There’s a lot happening this week.


But everything is on hold til we all come out of our leftovers food coma.

In the mean time, let these military memes brighten up your Black Friday.

1. We aren’t above a little “sky dick.”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
No one is.

2. The Navy proves it’s the master of multi-tasking.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
For the record, no one should be texting pics of their genitals.

3. Okay, last one. Promise. (via Decelerate Your Life)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
The Army one actually kinda stings. I mean, maybe. I dunno, I was in the Air Force.

Read Now: 6 reasons the Air Force wants to buy Russian DNA

4. “What does Azimuth stand for again?” (via Pop Smoke)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Are those regulation sunglasses, person who is clearly a Lieutenant?

5. I didn’t know the Navy wanted to go to a PX. (via People of the PX)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Shiver me timbers.

6. Not all heroes wear capes. (via Why I’m Not Re-Enlisting)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Unrelated: Vietnam vet returns base library book after 52 years

7. The Air Force PT belt equivalent. (via Maintainer Nation)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
All that protective gear weighs at least 50 pounds.

8. Remember when I said no more sky dick memes?

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
The lie detector says that was a lie.

9. “Too bad Spongebob isn’t here to enjoy Spongebob not being here.” (via Maintainer Humor)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Squidward is the walking definition of swing shift.

Now: 7 more phrases old school veterans can’t stop saying — and we love it

10. “4 minutes to First Sergeant. Gotta see First Sergeant.”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

11. No one does this much on leave for Thanksgiving. (via Why I’m Not Re-Enlisting)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

12. Must go faster. Must go faster. (via Decelerate Your Life)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Life found a way.

13. “POOF! Whaddya need?” (via Pop Smoke)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
I never had a friend like my 214.

Read This: 6 memes that immortalize the now-grounded ‘sky dick’ aircrew

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Coast Guard busts another cocaine-carrying ‘narco sub’

Coast Guard crew members aboard the cutter Valiant intercepted a self-propelled semi-submersible carrying 12,000 pounds of cocaine in the eastern Pacific Ocean, arresting four suspected smugglers in the process.

The 40-foot vessel, of a type often called a “narco sub” (though most are not fully submersible), was first detected and tracked by a maritime patrol aircraft. The Joint Interagency Task Force South, a multinational body that coordinates law-enforcement efforts in the waters around Central and South America, directed the Valiant to intercept it.


A Coast Guard release didn’t give an exact date for the seizure, saying only that it took place in September 2019 and the Valiant arrived on the scene after sunset.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Coast Guard crew members aboard a “narco sub” in the Pacific Ocean with a suspected smuggler, September 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

The cutter launched two small boats carrying members of its crew and two members of the Coast Guard Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team. They caught up with the narco sub in the early morning hours and boarded it with the help of the Colombian navy, which arrived a short time later.

The crew members transferred more than 1,100 pounds of cocaine from the sub to the Valiant but were unable to get the rest because of concerns about the sub’s stability. (The total value of the drugs was estimated at more than 5 million.)

“This interdiction was an all-hands-on-deck evolution, and each crew member performed above and beyond the call of duty,” Cmdr. Matthew Waldron, commanding officer of the Valiant, said in the release.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Members of a US Coast Guard cutter Valiant boarding team transfer narcotics between an interceptor boat and a suspected smuggling vessel in September.

(US Coast Guard)

2 ‘momentous events’

Narco subs have appeared in the waters between the US and South America for years and have only gotten more sophisticated. But they are still homemade vessels, often built in jungles in Colombia, and can be unsteady on the open ocean, particularly when law enforcement stop them to board.

Narco subs typically cost id=”listicle-2640583643″ million to million to built, but their multimillion-dollar drug cargoes more than make up for the expense.

“Colombian traffickers like to use the semi-submersibles because they are hard to detect” and cheaper than full-fledged submarines, Mike Vigil, former director of international operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider in 2018.

The vessels are typically made of fiberglass and the most expensive component is the engine. Some even have lead linings to reduce their infrared signature, Vigil said.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Bales of cocaine seized from a suspected smuggling vessel on the deck of the US Coast Guard cutter Valiant in September.

(US Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard in late 2017 said it had seen a “resurgence” of low-profile smuggling vessels like narco subs.

“We’re seeing more of these low-profile vessels — 40-plus feet long … it rides on the surface, multiple outboard engines, moves 18, 22 knots … and they can carry large loads of contraband,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told Business Insider in an October 2018 interview.

Schultz and other Coast Guard officials pointed to narco subs as a sign of smugglers’ ability to adapt to pressure. The service has pursued what Schultz called a “push-out-the-border strategy,” sending ships into the Pacific to bust drugs at the point in the smuggling process when the loads are the largest.

For the Valiant, that meant this particular bust coincided with a mariner’s milestone: crossing the equator.

“There are no words to describe the feeling Valiant crew is experiencing right now,” Waldron said. “In a 24-hour period, the crew both crossed the equator and intercepted a drug-laden self-propelled semi-submersible vessel.”

Both are “momentous events in any cutterman’s career,” Waldron added. “Taken together, however, it is truly remarkably unprecedented.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China drives massive nuclear missile through midday traffic

The Chinese government drove a massive, nuclear-capable inter-continental ballistic missile through the streets of a large city, much to the surprise of passersby.


The weapon is believed to be a DF-41, China’s latest ICBM still in the final stages of development. It was seen making its way through a traffic circle in Daqing, a city of over one million people in Heilongjiang province.

The missile is supposedly capable of carrying large thermonuclear weapons. That includes as many as 10 smaller warheads known as multiple independent reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, which allow it to hit multiple targets with one shot. It has an estimated maximum range of 9,300 miles, putting it in the range of most of the continental U.S. To put the weapon’s range in perspective, the distance from Daqing to Washington, D.C., is only approximately 6,400 miles.

Also read: Air Force defends nuclear cruise missile

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

‘Even the brave cry here’: Marines put their gas masks to the test

A sign hanging above the doors to the gas chamber reads, “Even the brave cry here.” A dozen at a time, Marines are ushered into a small, dark, brick room. A thick haze of o-Chlorobenzylidene Malononitrile, more commonly known as CS gas, fills the air.

Marines with Deployment Processing Command, Reserve Support Unit-East (DPC/RSU) and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted gas chamber training Nov. 8, 2019, on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“During qualification, which can take about four to five hours, Marines are taught nuclear biological and chemical (NBC) threats, reactions to NBC attacks, how to take care of and use a gas mask, how to don Mission-Oriented Protective Posture gear, the process for decontamination, and other facts relating to NBC warfare,” said Cpl. Skyanne Gilmore, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialist with the 26th MEU.


This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Cpl. Samual Parsons and Cpl. Isais Martinez Garza, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialists, suit to Marines for gas chamber training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Marine Corps/Cpl. Dominique Osthoff)

“The gas chamber training teaches Marines how to employ gas masks in toxic environments, and to instill confidence with their gear during CBRN training. Training in the gas chamber is essential because a service member can never know when they could be attacked,” Gilmore said.

According to Gunnery Sgt. James Kibler, Alpha Company operations chief with DPC/RSU, the unit conducts gas chamber training once a month due to the rotation of service members preparing for deployment.

The 26th MEU was training to complete Marine Corps Bulletin 1500, a biennial requirement for active-duty Marines.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

A US Marine clears his gas mask during gas chamber training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dominique Osthoff)

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

A US Marine performs a canister swap on another Marine during gas chamber training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dominique Osthoff)

During the training, CBRN Marines monitor individuals who may be struggling in the gas chamber.

“We calmly talk to them, and we take them step by step of what to do,” Gilmore said. “If they’re freaking out, we have them look at us and breathe. If we have to, we pull them out of the gas chamber and let them take their mask off and get a few more breathes before we send them back in there so they can calm down and realize they’re breathing normally.”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

A US Marine breaks the gas mask seal as instructed during gas chamber training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dominique Osthoff)

Having confidence in one’s gear and checking it over twice before going inside helps individuals from losing their composure in the gas chamber.

“Check the seal on your mask and the filters before going inside,” said Gilmore. “When you feel like freaking out, take a breath and realize that you’re not breathing in any CS gas. You should have confidence in yourself and your gear.”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

US Marines perform a canister swap during gas chamber training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dominique Osthoff)

Due to the rise in chemical attacks, proper training in the gas chamber could save a service member’s life.

“Throughout Iraq, there have been pockets of mustard gas and a couple other CBRN-type gases that have been found, especially within underground systems,” Kibler said.

“I know that when I was there in 2008, a platoon got hit with mustard gas when they opened up a Conex box. The entire platoon was able to don their masks. Gas attacks are out there; it might not be bombs, but it’s out there somewhere.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

Sangin falls to the Taliban

The Taliban captured a key district center in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Thursday while in the country’s north, an officer turned his rifle on sleeping colleagues, killing nine policemen, officials said.


The fall of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, comes amid the insurgents’ year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand.

The British who took over southern Helmand in 2006 were headquartered at Camp Sebastian, which at its peak was the center for 137 bases in Helmand. Most of Britain’s more than 400 military deaths occurred in Helmand province — in Sangin alone, Britain lost 104 soldiers.

Since the withdrawal of foreign NATO combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and with only a smaller, U.S.-led advise and training mission left behind, Sangin has been seen as a major tests of whether Afghan security forces can hold off advancing Taliban fighters.

Also read: US forces are quickly cutting off ISIS’ only escape route in Syria

The district’s police chief, Mohammad Rasoul, said the Taliban overran Sangin center early on Thursday morning.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, also issued a statement claiming the Taliban capture of Sangin.

Speaking to The Associated Press over the phone from several kilometers (miles) away from the district center, Rasoul said the district headquarters had been poorly protected and that at the time of the Taliban siege, only eight policemen and 30 Afghan soldiers were on duty.

Afghan security forces were now amassing nearby for a full-scale counter-attack in a bid to retake Sangin, Rasoul added, though he did not say when the assault would occur and how many forces would be involved.

“We are preparing our reinforcements to recapture the district,” Rasoul said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Afghan military would seek the help of international coalition forces in the area.

NATO spokesman William Salvin said in a statement that Afghan troops remained in Sangin district but had relocated several kilometers (miles) outside the district center. He said the relocation was necessitated because of the extensive damage to the district center by the Taliban.

In Kabul, a lawmaker from Sangin, Mohammad Hashim Alokzai, urged the military to move quickly to retake the district, saying its fall could have devastating consequences for Helmand, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah has in the past months also come under constant and heavy attack by the Taliban.

“The seizure of Sangin is a major tactical triumph for the Taliban,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said Thursday. The insurgent group “has taken over a major urban space in one of its major stronghold provinces, amplifying the major threat that the group poses to Afghanistan nearly 16 years after it was removed from power.”

Sangin is also one of the biggest opium markets in Afghanistan, which saw over 4,800 metric tons produced countrywide in 2016 — more than all other opium-producing countries combined, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Efforts at poppy eradication in Afghanistan have been severely restricted because of the insecurity in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the bulk of the crop is grown.

Opium, which is used to make heroin, is a major source of income for the insurgents and the Taliban levy taxes on opium that moves through its territory.

“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Helmand — it’s strategically located near Pakistan, it’s a bastion of the opium trade,” said Kugelman. “Perhaps the biggest reason why the British focused so much on Sangin is that they had invested so much over the years in trying to stabilize the place — and had suffered many combat deaths in the process.”

In northern Kunduz province, police spokesman Mafuz Akbari said the insider attack on Thursday that claimed the lives on nine policemen took place at a security post and that the assailant escaped under the cover of darkness.

Afghanistan has seen a spike in so-called insider attacks. In such incidents, attackers who turn their rifles and kill colleagues usually end up stealing their weapons and fleeing the scene to join insurgents.

Akbari said the assailant had gone over to the Taliban. He also claimed that the attacker and the Taliban gathered the bodies of the dead policemen and set them on fire.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the attack, but denied that a policeman had been involved or that the Taliban had burned the bodies of the policemen.

The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled. The region is remote and not accessible to reporters.

Afghan forces have come under intensified pressure by insurgents in both Helmand and Kunduz.

Articles

The VA flubbed private care option after hiring a firm the Pentagon fired

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs chose a contractor to run its Choice Card program who was previously fired for allegedly defrauding the government after working on a similar contract with the Department of Defense.


This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
(Photo from DoD)

The contractor, TriWest, now takes so long to schedule appointments with private healthcare providers that many veterans could shorten wait times by opting for traditional VA care, whose delays Choice was intended to allow veterans to escape.

Choice Card links vets with private doctors, but VA seemingly tried to sabotage the program, fearing it jeopardizes its budget.

TriWest contracts to administer parts of Tricare, the active military’s healthcare system, since 1996. TriWest paid $10 million in September, 2011, to settle charges that it defrauded the government by negotiating low prices with doctors but not passing the resulting savings on to taxpayers.

“Those who overbill Tricare threaten to undermine the health care provided to our men and women in uniform,” Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, said of the legal settlement at the time.

But the standards seem to be lower for care owed to those who formerly wore the uniform of the U.S. military, because VA gave TriWest a contract in September, 2013, to run its Community Care program, a precursor to Choice Card that allowed veterans to use private doctors in some circumstances.

Inspector general reports said that program was run poorly, pointing the blame both at TriWest and the way VA set up their work. Meanwhile, Congress created the Choice Card program to enable any veteran delayed more than 30 days for VA care, or who didn’t live close to a VA facility, to seek private health care services.

VA managers and leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union, which represents most of the department’s employees opposed it, fearing that fewer veterans in the government system would mean smaller budgets and fewer civil service jobs.

When VA leaders claimed budget shortfalls threatened closure of hospitals, they asked Congress to let them re-purpose $3.3 billion originally authorized for the Choice Card program.

When the bill became law anyway, VA gave the Choice Card contract to TriWest and HealthNet, another company that worked on Community Care.

A VA spokesperson said that “in order to enact [Choice] within 90 days, VA held an industry day to try to partner with industry to operate the program. Unfortunately, given the timeline set to roll out the program, VA’s only option was to modify a previously existing national community care contract, which was never intended to handle the scope” of the Choice Card model.

Official data obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows that more vets are now waiting months for private care because contractors take so long to schedule appointments.

Consequently, VA bureaucrats and their union will likely get the result they sought: veterans going back into the government healthcare system despite its delays.

Private care doctors aren’t happy with the Choice Card initiative either, because the companies, which also manage payments, have been so slow to pay, causing many private care physicians to refuse veterans, leading to the same result.

A knowledgeable VA source told TheDCNF that after a patient does finally see a private doctor, TriWest takes up to 75 days to get the medical results of that appointment back into the VA system. That makes followup care impossible.

Darin Selnick, an Air Force veteran and former VA official under George W. Bush who now runs Concerned Veterans For America’s Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, said that “TriWest and HealthNet may not have been the best choices,” but much of the failure is because VA “didn’t want it to work.”

Officials at VA “didn’t like the idea of patients going outside,” because “what does any organization want to do? It wants to get more money, more people, more power, it wants to grow,” Selnick added.

Scheduling delays happen because the system has a middleman, Selnick said. What other health care plan has “a system where you have to call a 1-800 number and they set up an appointment for you” with a provider that they select?,” he asked.

Half of all veterans are on Medicare anyway, so the VA should simply pay a small supplement to Medicare providers, instead of creating multiple administrative layers of VA bureaucrats and contractors in between veterans and healthcare workers, Selnick noted, which would purportedly save billions of tax dollars annually.

Those close to the issue believe “the chief problem with Choice is that we’ve had to rely on VA to implement it, and the department is just not very good at implementing things,” a spokesman for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which designed the Choice Card program, told TheDCNF

The committee never requested a third-party administrator to schedule appointments, the spokesman noted.

Companies involved in the Choice program defend their record. “Overall, TriWest is processing 90% of clean claims from providers within 30 days,” the company explained, adding that it got “exceptional” and “very good” performance ratings for its Tricare work, and saved the military money, but voluntarily entered a settlement on the assumption that more savings were possible.

Hiring people with prior records of failure is a pattern at VA. When hospital directors come under criticism for poor management, VA executives routinely remove them, then reinstate them at another hospital where the poor performance continues.

Only weeks after the Chicago VA fired Deloris Judd from the federal workforce for patient abuse and dishonesty, the Phoenix VA hired her to work on the Choice Card program.

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