SolarWinds Hack is a Huge Deal – Spotlight #368

Good Monday morning. It’s January 11th. SpaceX Dragon undocks from the International Space Station today and will splash down near Florida tonight. Details, including tracking information, at NASA.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,209 words–about a 4  1/2 minute read.

Reminder: there’s no Spotlight next week as we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

1. News to Know Now

a. Haven, the health care startup formed by Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway has closed. The companies reported that they continue to work on their own health initiatives although Amazon did not comment on a report that it plans to offer medical care to non-employees. Amazon Pharmacy opened in the U.S. in mid-November.

b. Amazon’s delivery systems, booming during the pandemic, will be augmented by its purchase of 11 planes and changing drone requirements. The Wall Street Journal reported during the weekend that Amazon and Walmart are using new algorithms to determine whether it makes economic sense to process a return for cheaper items or whether to refund some customers and allow them to keep or donate an item.

c. Consumers who filed their taxes with TurboTax are having their stimulus checks routed to them now after a delay. H & R Block and TurboTax maker Intuit use temporary bank accounts to process payments, and the federal government attempted to use those account numbers for stimulus payments. This Lifehacker article can help if you use those products and believe that you’re missing a payment.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
Google County-Level Mobility Reports

NEW:State-by-state vaccine distribution tracker
NEW:Johns Hopkins & Maryland Personal Mortality Risk Calculator
NEW:Brown Medical School’s COVID Risk Calculator

COVID-19 Tech News

Amazon Eases New Seller Delivery Requirements  – CNBC
Amazon To Vaccinate Warehouse, Whole Foods Staff – Seattle Times
COVID Misinfo Superspreaders Thriving on Facebook – The Hill
Google Offering Free Weekly COVID Tests to Employees – The Verge
Microsoft Gives $110 Million More to Nonprofits, Schools – Microsoft
Newest COVID Weapon: AI That Speed-Reads Faxes – Wired

This November video uses crochet to show how the COVID infection rate can drastically change the pandemic’s course.

3. Search Engine News

Two new nontraditional search resources are being tested in Google search results.

The first is a short-form video carousel that will allow people searching on mobile to play Instagram or TikTok videos without leaving Google. Google also owns a pretty big video site called YouTube, and they already show those videos in search results.

There is also news of a homework module in Google search results using information repurposed from homework software companies. Search Engine Land was able to find samples that showed test questions, hints, and help. 

Our take: You must be aware of this trend if you are involved in creating any sort of content. Google will eventually try to parse the information into its own search results. That means that creating value-added content is more important than ever. Consider fact aggregation a dead end if it can be replicated with time or money.

3. Search Engine News

Two new nontraditional search resources are being tested in Google search results.

The first is a short-form video carousel that will allow people searching on mobile to play Instagram or TikTok videos without leaving Google. Google also owns a pretty big video site called YouTube, and they already show those videos in search results.

There is also news of a homework module in Google search results using information repurposed from homework software companies. Search Engine Land was able to find samples that showed test questions, hints, and help. 

Our take: You must be aware of this trend if you are involved in creating any sort of content. Google will eventually try to parse the information into its own search results. That means that creating value-added content is more important than ever. Consider fact aggregation a dead end if it can be replicated with time or money.

4. In the Spotlight — SolarWinds Hack Explained

The SolarWinds hack is a really big deal. Let us highlight what happened and what could happen so you can ask the proper questions in your organization.

We now know that the Russian government hacked three companies that make network software: SolarWinds, Microsoft, and VMware. Russian agents planted malware in the software, and it was spread to hundreds of federal and private sector networks throughout most of 2020. 

We learn more each day about the networks that were compromised. The Justice Department acknowledged last week that the hackers have breached its email system and read emails. We also learned that sealed court records were also at risk.

In addition to DOJ, parts of the Defense, State, Treasury, and Homeland Security networks were compromised. Direct agencies affected include the Pentagon, NIH, and the Nuclear Security Administration. State and local agencies including Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located, and Austin, Texas, were also hit as was hardware maker Cisco Systems, Cox Communications, and Equifax.

Although his administration has said otherwise, President Donald Trump blames China, not Russia, for the attack, and has inaccurately said that the hack is under control. We will not understand the extent of the systems and functions compromised for years if not longer. One example: Microsoft acknowledges that the Russian government now has the source code for its industry standard Office 365 software including Outlook email software.

Our take: Designate someone in your organization to be your point person on the SolarWinds hack or you’ll run the risk of multiple people only understanding parts of the issue. Have them work with your IT people to understand your vulnerability and to monitor news.

5. Debunked — Fun with Dr. Fauci

The Try Guys is a YouTube based show that grew from a popular BuzzFeed feature. Consider them adorkable — four guys in their early 30s who do goofy things together.

On Friday they released a 15 minute interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci. They have more than 7 million subscribers so Fauci talking with them is no different from him talking with a network news show. Plus he laughs a lot because they’re goofballs.

This is the perfect thing to watch with tweens and teens or just to get a refresher on how the vaccines work while shutting down any disinformation about it.

6. Following Up — Capitol IT Security Mess

In addition to coping with the SolarWinds hack, the IT team at the Capitol is dealing with unknown IT issues resulting from the terror attack there last week by supporters of President Donald Trump.

At least one laptop is known to be missing, and any devices or logged in equipment have to be thoroughly checked. The staff also has to look now for hidden microphones and cameras. 

Wired has a fantastic piece examining the issue.

7. Protip — Tips Worth Your Time

Catchall tip columns are often hit-or-miss, but this lovely USA Today piece has a little something for everyone. I had no idea that the symbol on USB cables guide you into correctly plugging them in.

You’ll also learn about back taps on iPhones and where Zoom keeps its “Touch Up My Appearance” option. Yes, that’s really a thing. 

Read it here.

Screening Room — Sibling Trade

This delightful spot is a 15 second master class that shows how great ad giants like McDonald’s nail their spots. They got the laugh, the branding, and the sale — with time to spare.

9. Coffee Break — A Fifteen Foot Tall Piano

Again, fifteen feet tall, not wide.

Have a listen here, and watch its inventor show you around.

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