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Critical Infrastructure News

Man with AR-15 reported at University of Maryland was with ROTC group, police said

A man with a college ROTC program caused concern Thursday afternoon at the University of Maryland when two students spotted him putting a long gun in a car, campus police said.  Police alerted students shortly before 2:30 p.m. that a person armed with an AR-15 was reported at Ritchie Coliseum on Route 1 in College Park.  About 20 minutes later, police announced there was no threat.  ROTC groups routinely drill at the arena, and the man was part of one group, said Maj. Marc Limansky, spokesman for the University of Maryland Police. He said the man was an off-duty service member and permitted to carry the rifle.

Source: Baltimore Sun

Police: Don’t forward online school threats

As police continue to investigate threats made against public schools in Prince George’s County this week, they are asking the public to be more prudent when coming across threats posted online. People often forward school threats to others and post them on social media to raise awareness, but that can make it more difficult for investigators to track down the culprit, police say.

“It’s our goal to identify the origin of these things,” said Prince George’s County police Lt. David Coleman. “When it gets spread around, we have to trace it to its source, so that involves a lot of legwork.”

According to Coleman, the best course of action is to immediately contact the authorities. “The first thing they should do is call us when they see a threat,” he said.

Online threats against a number of local schools were circulated on social media over the weekend. The threats specifically named several schools in Prince George’s County, prompting police to deploy additional officers to public schools Monday.  Police say they identified two students responsible for taking part in making the threats. One student at Parkdale High School is charged with setting up a Twitter account with a clown theme and threatening mass violence against his classmates.  The other student, at Bladensburg High School, is accused of making a bomb threat. That suspect has not yet been charged, but police expect that he will eventually face charges once the investigation comes to an end. Prince George’s County police said they are continuing to investigate school threats with help from the FBI. Other police departments in the area, including those in Montgomery and Fairfax counties, said they are also monitoring the situation.

Source: WTOP

University hit 21 times in one year by ransomware

Universities and NHS trusts in England have been hit hard by ransomware in the last year, according to Freedom of Information requests carried out by two cybersecurity firms.  Bournemouth University, which boasts a cybersecurity centre, has been hit 21 times in the last 12 months.  Twenty-eight NHS Trusts said they had been affected.

Ransomware is a form of computer malware which encrypts files and then demands a ransom for their release.  It can travel via email or hide in downloadable files and programmes from corrupted sites and applications, and the ransom is usually payable in bitcoins.

Cybersecurity firm SentinelOne contacted 71 UK universities. Of the 58 which replied, 23 said they had been attacked in the last year.  None of them said it had paid a ransom but the largest sum demanded was five bitcoins (about $2,900 or £2,200), the firm said.  Only one university had contacted the police.

According to the report, two of the institutions said they did not use anti-virus software. Both have been contacted for comment.  Bournemouth University confirmed the attacks but said: "It is not uncommon for universities to be the target of cybersecurity attacks; there are security processes in place at Bournemouth University to deal with these types of incident." It added that there had been "no impact" on its activity as a result of the attacks.

In a separate study, security firm NCC Group asked every NHS Trust in England whether it had been a victim of ransomware.  Of the 60 responses, 28 said they had experienced an attack, one said it had not and 31 declined to comment on the grounds of patient confidentiality.  "Paying the ransom - which isn't something we would advise - can cost significant sums of money, yet losing patient data would be a nightmare scenario for an NHS Trust," said Ollie Whitehouse, technical director at NCC Group.

According to the US government, ransomware attacks in America have increased in frequency by 300% year on year in 2016, with 4,000 incidents a day now being reported.  It advises that "prevention is the best defence" and suggests the use of spam filters, firewalls, anti-virus programmes and employee training for businesses - as well as regular data back-ups.  If a computer is infected it should be removed from any network and switched off as soon as possible.

Source: BBC

Authorities search for man who posted threats to schools

 Authorities in Florida are looking for a man they say posted a series of messages on Twitter, threatening to shoot students and put pipe bombs inside some schools in the Orlando area.  The Orlando Sentinel reports officials with the FBI, Orlando police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office don’t believe the threats are credible.  But they’re looking for a 23-year-old transient who’s lived in Florida, California, Virginia and Maryland.  Officials say the threats started July 24 and targeted four high schools and a middle school.  The posts also encouraged people to “shoot up” the schools. Orange County Schools sent messages to parents letting them know about the messages.  FBI Special Agent Amy Pittman says “every investigative lead is being aggressively followed” to locate the suspect.

Source: WTOP

Federal Investigators Looking Into Chemistry Class Fire at Woodson High School

Federal investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board are looking into Friday's chemistry class fire at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia. The investigators are questioning school officials and launching their formal "incident screening process." 

School officials and agency leaders declined to specify the specific focus of the investigation, but the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it is also considering expanding its warnings about the use of flammable chemicals in science experiments because of the fire, which injured five students and a teacher. Two of those students were burned so badly that they had to be airlifted from the scene.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an independent agency charged with investigating chemical accidents. The agency has not yet sent investigators to Woodson High School, the News4 I-Team has learned, but is considering launching an official investigation into the fire and explosion. If or when the agency initiates an official investigation, the review can last six to twelve months and lead to recommendations for changes in federal safety regulations. A representative for the board says the agency cannot issue a citation or fine, but it can make safety recommendations. 

The fire occurred Friday morning in a chemistry class at the Fairfax School, as a teacher was conducting a demonstration for students about the different colors of fire. An exercise often known as "the rainbow experiment" has previously left students in other states with serious injuries and should not be performed in classrooms, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the American Chemical Society. The experiment shows how various mineral salts produce flames in different colors when mixed with highly flammable methanol.

It is not clear whether the Fairfax teacher was performing this particular experiment. However, on Monday, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) suspended the use of open flames in science classes, said Superintendent Karen Garza.

An agency representative for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said the board just recently issued a warning against the use of bulk containers of flammable chemicals during educational demonstrations. The representative said the warnings were issued "exactly one year prior to the accident at Woodson High School."  A representative for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said they do not have the power to issue a citation or fine against FCPS, but instead makes safety recommendations to prevent future incidents.

"Recommendations are typically issued to a variety of parties, including government entities, safety organizations, trade unions, trade associations, corporations, emergency response organizations, educational institutions, and public interest groups," the spokeswoman said.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) -- an organization representing federal environmental agency employees -- said the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) should have already sent investigators to school grounds to review the fire.

"A thorough, independent root-cause investigation is the key if we are to prevent these tragic burn injuries from happening again to other kids in other schools," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch told the I-Team. "It's not good enough just to speculate about teacher training and safety procedures, there needs to be a transparent public investigation by professional accident investigators." A FCPS spokesman said, "We have been contacted by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and are responding to their inquiries."