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An alleged Russian hack against the U.S. government has been making international headlines this week, with multiple federal agencies potentially vulnerable in the digital attack.
But the hack itself didn't directly target government technology; rather, it was an Austin-based software vendor called SolarWinds that was compromised.
What was actually hacked
Orion, a popular network management software from SolarWinds, was infiltrated by hackers, who many suspect to be associated with the Russian government. The company self-reported the potential breach Monday to federal regulators, one day after alerting 33,000 customers of the hack. In total, the actual number of customers affected may be closer to 18,000.
In the filing, SolarWinds said the "cyberattack" was likely the work "of a highly sophisticated, targeted … attack by an outside nation state," although that hasn't been confirmed yet.
It also isn't clear yet to SolarWinds or its customers what data was actually accessed in the hack, only that a "vulnerability" in the software was created to help gain access without being detected between March and June. The FBI and other federal intelligence agencies are involved in the investigation, according to the company's filing.
What is SolarWinds?
SolarWinds makes "IT look easy," or at least that's how the company describes itself online. The business provides IT infrastructure management software and IT operational support.
The international company is headquartered in Southwest Austin, but its 3,200 employees and 300,000 customers span the globe. So SolarWinds may not be a household name, but its reach and reputation make it well-known in information technology circles.
According to Fortune, SolarWinds serves the U.S. military as well as the majority of all Fortune 500 companies. That means the hack itself could have wider-ranging implications beyond the federal security concerns.
Unsurprisingly, the publicly-traded company has seen its stock value plummet to the lowest of levels since SolarWinds went public in late 2018. SolarWinds is urging its customers of the popular software to follow through measures outlined in a security advisory.
Reactions so far this week
I am really unhappy with SolarWinds’ SEC filing about their breach. Let me explain why. First, they claim (without… https://t.co/HQlGxY3v1u— Jake Williams (@Jake Williams)1607992079.0
Cybersecurity experts are sounding the warning alarms. CNN Business talked to one expert who said the unknowns surrounding this hack has them particularly concerned. A former NSA hacker even called out SolarWinds on Twitter, disputing information contained in the company's public filing.
The Commerce, Homeland Security and Agriculture departments were all targeted, but military and national security operations might have been accessed, too. And that access might've been unfiltered if hackers were able to indeed open the so-called "God door," one former White House official warned about Wednesday.
Data was stolen from at least one company, cybersecurity firm FireEye, which had security assessment tools stolen as part of a hack that prompted this entire discovery. And the attack is daunting enough that one of the senior-most members of Congress, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, called the attack "virtually a declaration of war" by Russia.
After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
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Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.