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German companies urge next government to step up on climate

BERLIN | Dozens of large German companies have urged the country’s next government to put in place ambitious policies to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The 69 companies said in an open letter Monday that the next government needs to put Germany “on a clear and reliable path to climate neutrality” with a plan for doing so within its first 100 days in office.

The signatories included chemicals company Bayer, steelmaker ThyssenKrupp and sportswear firm Puma.

The center-left Social Democrats narrowly beat outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Union bloc in an election last month. The Social Democrats were meeting Monday with the environmentalist Greens party and the pro-business Free Democrats to discuss forming a coalition government.

“Climate protection was the decisive topic in the federal election and the parties must place it at the top of their agenda in building the new federal government,” said Michael Otto, board chairman of the mail order company Otto Group and president of the Foundation 2 Degrees, which organized the letter.

Keeping global warming well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — ideally no more than 2.7 degrees F — by the end of the century is a key goal of the Paris accord.

Earlier this year, Merkel’s government adopted a plan to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2045, five years earlier than previously planned.

But official figures show that Germany is slipping behind on its ambitions for cutting greenhouse gases, with 2021 emissions forecast to rebound sharply after a pandemic-related economic slump.

The signatories, which have an annual turnover of about $1.16 trillion and employ more than 5 million people worldwide, want the next government to support the rollout of renewable energy and enact a climate-friendly tax reform that includes a strengthened carbon pricing system to prevent investments in power-hungry industries going abroad.

Pointing toward the upcoming U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, and Germany’s presidency of the Group of Seven major economies next year, the companies said the German government must also work to set international standards for the global financial system and climate-neutral products.

“As businesses, we are prepared to fulfill our central role in climate action. We call upon the new German government to make the transformation to climate neutrality the central economic project of the coming legislative period,” they said.

Campaigners questioned how serious some of the signatories are about combating climate change, however.

“They want climate ambition, just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their profits,” said Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, which investigates business lobbying at the European Union level. “That’s often an impossible circle to square.”

The U.N. climate summit begins Oct. 31.

Southwest cancels hundreds more flights, denies sickout

DALLAS | Southwest Airlines canceled several hundred more flights Monday following a weekend of major disruptions that it blamed on bad weather and air traffic control issues. The company and the pilots union said the cancellations were not in response to the airline’s decision to mandate vaccinations.

Southwest canceled more than 360 flights — 10% of its schedule for the day — on Monday, and more than 1,000 others were delayed, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

Shares of Southwest Airlines Co. briefly fell more than 4% before a partial recovery; they were down 3% by afternoon.

The third straight day of large-scale cancellations left thousands of passengers stranded and upset.

“My concern is we had no explanation really that was, I feel, very legitimate or believable,” said Brian Gesch of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, who was traveling through Reagan Washington National Airport with his wife. He doubted that weather and air traffic controllers were the real issue. “So we are frustrated and missing a day of work.”

Some were less concerned about the cause than just getting home.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” said Sean Merrell of Frisco, Texas, “but as long as I can get back to Dallas, it’s all that matters to me.”

The widespread disruptions began shortly after the union for Southwest’s 9,000 pilots asked a federal court on Friday to block the airline’s order that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19. The union said it doesn’t oppose vaccination, but it argued in its filing that Southwest must negotiate before taking such a step.

Pilots are not conducting a sickout or slowdown to protest the vaccine mandate, according to the union, which said it “has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”

The pilots association offered another explanation: It said Southwest’s operation “has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure” because of a lack of support from the company. The union complained about the “already strained relationship” between it and the company.

Airlines persuaded thousands of workers to take leaves of absence during the pandemic. Unions at Southwest and American have argued that management was too slow to bring pilots back, leaving them short-handed.

Alan Kasher, Southwest’s executive vice president of daily operations, said the airline was staffed for the weekend but got tripped up by air-traffic control issues and bad weather in Florida and couldn’t recover quickly. Because of cutbacks during the pandemic, he noted the airline has fewer flights to accommodate stranded passengers.

“The weekend challenges were not a result of Southwest employee demonstrations,” said airline spokesman Chris Mainz.

The White House has pushed airlines to adopt vaccine mandates because they are federal contractors — they get paid by the Defense Department to operate flights, including those that carried Afghanistan refugees to the U.S. this summer.

United Airlines was the first major U.S. carrier to announce a vaccination requirement. Southwest had remained silent even after President Joe Biden announced his order for federal contractors and large employers. Finally last week, Southwest told employees they must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to keep their jobs. Workers can ask to skip the shots for medical or religious reasons.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged delays in part of Florida on Friday but pushed back against Southwest’s air-traffic control explanation. The FAA said Sunday that “some airlines” were experiencing problems because of planes and crews being out of position. Southwest was the only airline to report such a large percentage of canceled and delayed flights over the weekend.

Savanthi Syth, an airlines analyst for Raymond James, said the weekend problems will increase Southwest’ costs and worsen the company’s strained relations with unions.

Southwest has struggled all summer with high numbers of delayed and canceled flights. In August, it announced it was trimming its September schedule by 27 flights a day, or less than 1%, and 162 flights a day, or 4.5% of the schedule, from early October through Nov. 5.

Cyberattacks concerning to most in U..S: Pearson/AP-NORC poll

RICHMOND, Va. | Most Americans across party lines have serious concerns about cyberattacks on U.S. computer systems and view China and Russia as major threats, according to a new poll.

The poll by The Pearson Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that about 9 in 10 Americans are at least somewhat concerned about hacking that involves their personal information, financial institutions, government agencies or certain utilities. About two-thirds say they are very or extremely concerned.

Roughly three-quarters say the Chinese and Russian governments are major threats to the cybersecurity of the U.S. government, and at least half also see the Iranian government and non-government bodies as threatening.

The broad consensus highlights the growing impacts of cyberattacks in an increasingly connected world and could boost efforts by President Joe Biden and lawmakers to force critical industries to boost their cyber defenses and impose reporting requirements for companies that get hacked. The poll comes amid a wave of high-profile ransomware attacks and cyber espionage campaigns in the last year that have compromised sensitive government records and led to the shutdown of the operations of energy companies, hospitals, schools and others.

“It’s pretty uncommon nowadays to find issues that both large majorities of Republicans and Democrats” view as a problem, said David Sterrett, a senior research scientist at The AP-NORC Center.

Biden has made cybersecurity a key issue in his young administration and federal lawmakers are considering legislation to strengthen both public and private cyber defenses.

Michael Daniel, CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance and a former top cybersecurity official during the Obama administration, said the poll shows the public is firmly aware of the kind of threats posed online that cybersecurity experts have been stressing for years.

“We don’t need to do a whole lot more awareness raising,” he said.

The explosion in the last year of ransomware, in which cyber criminals encrypt an organization’s data and then demand payment to unscramble it, has underscored how gangs of extortionist hackers can disrupt the economy and put lives and livelihoods at risk.

One of the cyber incidents with the greatest consequences this year was a ransomware attack in May on the company that owns the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, which led to gas shortages along the East Coast. A few weeks later, a ransomware attack on the world’s largest meat processing company disrupted production around the world.

Victims of ransomware attacks have ranged from key U.S. agencies and Fortune 500 companies to small entities like Leonardtown, Maryland, which was one of hundreds of organizations affected worldwide when software company Kaseya was hit by ransomware during the Forth of July weekend.

“We ended up being very lucky but it definitely opened our eyes that it could happen to anyone,” said Laschelle McKay, the town administrator. She said Leonardtown’s I.T. provider was able to restore the town’s network and files after several days.

The criminal syndicates that dominate the ransomware business are mostly Russian-speaking and operate with near impunity out of Russia or countries allied with Russia. The U.S. government has also blamed Russian spies for a major breach of U.S. government agencies known as the SolarWinds hack, so named for the U.S. software company whose product was used in the hacking.

China has also been active. In July, the Biden administration formally blamed China for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software and asserted that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware attacks and other illicit cyber operations.

“The amount of Chinese cyber actors dwarfs the rest of the globe, combined,” Rob Joyce, the director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency, said at a recent conference. “The elite in that group really are elite. It’s a law of large numbers.”

Both Russia and China have denied any wrongdoing.

Older adults are much more likely to view Russia and China as serious threats. A large majority of adults over 60 say the Russian and the Chinese governments are a big threat, but only about half of those under 30 agree.

Democrats — at 79% — are somewhat more likely than Republicans — at 70% — to say the Russian government is a big threat. Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, has routinely downplayed Russian aggression. In his first comments after the SolarWinds hack was discovered in December, Trump contradicted his secretary of state and other top officials and suggested without evidence that China was behind the campaign.

Liz Weston: Fortify your finances against natural disaster

Emergency preparedness experts recommend that you have a “go bag” and a “stay bin” for disasters: kits with supplies to help you survive a few days if you have to evacuate your home or shelter in place.

Preparing your finances for natural disasters is also smart. Having cash on hand, access to credit and the right insurance coverage can help you get through perilous times. Fortifying your home against disasters also can be a good investment.

Not everyone can make these preparations, of course. People with the fewest resources often suffer the brunt of disasters. But anything you can do to bolster your situation now could help you limit the toll.

Having cash on hand could help you pay for groceries, gas, shelter and other necessities if ATMs and payment systems aren’t functioning, which could happen if the power goes out or cyberattacks knock systems offline.

You may need more than you think, especially if you’re away from your home for more than a few days. Insurance consumer advocate Amy Bach recommends keeping at least $2,000 in a safe place somewhere in your home. After a widespread disaster, there is often “incredible competition” for rentals and other lodging, and a cash deposit could help you secure a place to stay, says Bach, executive director of the nonprofit United Policyholders.

The currency should be in addition to any emergency savings you have at the bank. Again, anything is better than nothing. While financial planners typically recommend an emergency fund equal to three to six months of expenses, even a couple hundred dollars can help you cope.

Your insurance may have high deductibles or other limitations on your coverage that require you to pay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. Earthquake and hurricane policies, for example, often have deductibles of 10% or more of the insured value. Insurers also may limit how much they pay for upgrades needed to meet current building codes or for replacing older roofs, Bach says.

A home equity line of credit can give you access to a relatively inexpensive source of money in an emergency. You’ll need to set this up long before disaster strikes, since lenders won’t let you borrow against a damaged home. Resist the urge to tap this credit for other purposes, so that the money is available when you need it.

An alternative if you’re a renter or otherwise can’t qualify for a HELOC is to ask your bank for a personal line of credit. Credit cards can also help pay the bills if there’s enough available credit. Once you have $500 or so set aside for emergencies, consider paying down your credit cards and aim to use no more than 30% of your credit limits. Using even less of your credit limits would be even better, because it frees up more space on your cards and also helps to build or maintain your credit scores.

TRY TO COVER THE BIG RISKS

Check your home’s susceptibility to various disasters at freehomerisk.com, a database created by HazardHub , which supplies risk data to insurance companies. Each hazard your property might face is graded from A to F. The lower the grade, the more you should consider ways to mitigate the risk if you can, says HazardHub co-founder Bob Frady.

That could mean buying additional coverage. A typical homeowners or renters policy doesn’t cover damage from flood s or earthquakes, for example, but such coverage can be purchased separately.

Review your policy to see what’s covered and what’s not. Make sure you have replacement coverage for your possessions rather than actual cash value coverage, which pays considerably less. You’ll also want at least 24 months of loss-of-use coverage, which pays for your living expenses while your home is rebuilt, Bach says. Widespread disasters can cause even longer rebuilding times.

For example, “It usually takes at least two years to rebuild after a wildfire,” she says.

PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY IF YOU CAN

There’s no way to make your home entirely disaster-proof, but there are ways to “harden it” to reduce potential losses, Frady says.

Frady helped start HazardHub after a friend’s home suffered significant uninsured damage when a nearby river overflowed its banks. The friend didn’t realize she lived next to a flood zone because she wasn’t required by her mortgage lender to buy flood insurance, Frady says.

If she’d known, she could have purchased the insurance and taken steps to protect her property, such as regularly changing the batteries in her sump pump, which failed, and keeping valuable items out of the basement or other low points in the house.

Installing storm shutters may reduce losses to hurricanes and tornadoes, while bolting your house to its foundation can help it survive an earthquake.

“There’s power in knowing what the perils are, and that can lead you to create a safer location,” Frady says.





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