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Beginning of 2021 Brings Major Security Challenges Around the Globe

Typically in Today in Security, we focus on one topic and provide additional analysis for our security practitioner audience. But this week has been anything but typical, so we decided to put together a rundown of stories we’ve been following throughout the week and that you might have missed.

Brexit Goes In To Effect

While most of the world was celebrating the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union behind on 1 January—marking its official Brexit date. Leaders were able to reach a semblance of deal on some matters, but many details on trade have yet to be finalized. Because of this, some British companies said they will end trade with the continent—citing customs regulations and administration costs.

Additionally, the new regulations for trade have caused delays between Britain and Northern Ireland—particularly affecting lorries because some British companies were unsure of how to comply with the new rules.

“Seamus Leheny of the freight trade body Logistics UK said officials had shown great flexibility to help work up the necessary forms retrospectively and allow the loads to move,” according to the BBC. “All movements of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland now require a customs declaration and some products need additional certification.”

COVID-19 Sets New Records in United States and United Kingdom

The United States recorded that 3,964 people died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, 6 January, marking a new record for the number of deaths from the disease in a single day in the nation. More than 361,000 Americans have died from the disease since the pandemic began.

“Despite the rollout of two vaccines, the death totals are going to continue to climb alongside hospitalizations,” according to Vox. “Public health experts have said they expect the holiday season to continue to take a heavy toll, the full extent of which will take several weeks to be seen in the numbers.”

And while the United States set a new record, Britain is also facing extreme challenges in combatting a new strain of COVID-19 that is more contagious. The United Kingdom is in its third national lockdown as the nation’s hospitals and healthcare workers struggle to address case loads.

Security at the U.S. Capitol

After a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College votes and President-Elect Joseph R. Biden’s victory, U.S. Capitol Police are coming under scrutiny for being under-prepared. On Thursday, Security Management Assistant Editor Sara Mosqueda put together a piece examining some of the security failures of the day. The New York Times also put together analysis of the events and how security responded—or failed to do so.

“One policing expert said there should have been a heavily manned perimeter sealing off the entire Capitol grounds and a second around the building itself given that extremist groups with a history of violent confrontations were involved,” according to the Times.

U.S. lawmakers have also pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into the security failures at the Capitol, including U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“There must be a thorough Congressional investigation into the clear and massive breakdowns in preparedness and response,” he said in a statement. “My Committee has been examining the threat from domestic terrorism, right-wing extremism, and white nationalism for 10 years, and this will be at the top of our agenda for the new Congress.”

Boeing Settles with U.S Justice Department

Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve criminal charges related to the 737 Max. Boeing was charged with conspiring to defraud the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after security failures came to light that caused two planes to crash, killing 346 people before the planes were grounded.

“The tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General David P. Burns of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Boeing’s employees chose the path of profit over candor by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 Max airplane and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception. This resolution holds Boeing accountable for its employees’ criminal misconduct, addresses the financial impact to Boeing’s airline customers, and hopefully provides some measure of compensation to the crash-victims’ families and beneficiaries.”   

Hong Kong Security Crackdown

Hong Kong officials arrested more than 50 opposition candidates and a prominent American lawyer in raids this week for their roles in a primary that was not authorized by the Chinese Communist Party.

“Hong Kong police say that opposition legislators, by holding an unauthorized primary last year and planning to stymie the policy agenda, were effectively trying to overthrow the government, violating a National Security Law that Beijing rammed into force in July,” according to Reuters. “They have detained nearly all the candidates who stood for election in the primary, plus pollsters and organizers like U.S. lawyer John Clancey, chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission, the first foreigner to be arrested under the new law.”

Natural Disaster Costs Rose Drastically in 2020

German reinsurer Munich Re calculated that natural disasters around the world cost $210 billion in damage in 2020, an increase from $166 billion in 2019.

“Climate change will play an increasing role in all of these hazards,” said Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek, in an interview with Reuters. “It is time to act.”

European climate researchers announced that 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record. At the same time, the world experienced an increasing number of wildfires, environmental disasters, heat waves, and droughts.

“It’s a reminder that temperatures are changing and will continue to change if we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said Freja Vamborg, a senior scientist with the Copernicus Climate Change Service, in an interview with The New York Times.

SolarWinds Damage Assessed

Less than 10 U.S. government agencies were targeted in a cyber espionage campaign that leveraged software by SolarWinds, according to a joint statement by the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The compromised agencies were not disclosed in the statement, but previous reporting found that the departments of Energy, Homeland Security, Treasury, Defense, Commerce, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are believed to have been targets.

“The hack has put intelligence officials, lawmakers, and cybersecurity firms on high alert since its discovery last month, and many experts have called it one of the most significant cyber intrusions in years,” according to EE News.

Prosecutors Release Indictment Charging Netanyahu with Corruption

Israeli prosecutors released an indictment this week, charging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with corruption for allegedly trading favors with a powerful media member.

“Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in three corruption cases,” according to EthixBase. “One of them alleges that Netanyahu promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the owner of the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage on its popular Walla news site.”

Netanyahu went on trial last year and court proceedings are expected to begin again in February. ABC News reports that he has denied all charges against him.

White House Updates Maritime Security Strategy

The U.S. National Security Council released an update to the U.S. government’s national maritime security strategy to prompt agencies to develop streamlined cybersecurity standards that will impact vessel owners and operators, seaports, and more.

“The update from the White House also is aimed at promoting more information-sharing on maritime cyberthreats with the private sector, streamlining the information-sharing process and prompting the U.S. government to establish maritime cybersecurity-focused workforce programs,” according to CyberScoop.