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Former U.S. intel operatives to pay $1.6M for hacking for foreign govt

The U.S. government has entered a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with three former intelligence operatives to resolve criminal charges relating to their offering of hacking services to a foreign government.

Between 2016 and 2019, Marc Baier, Ryan Adams, and Daniel Gericke provided their services to a company that ran sophisticated hacking operations for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government against various targets.

“These services included the provision of support, direction and supervision in the creation of sophisticated “zero-click” computer hacking and intelligence gathering systems – i.e., one that could compromise a device without any action by the target” – the U.S. Department of Justice

Former employees of the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) or the U.S. military, the three agreed to pay $1,685,000 in penalties to not be prosecuted for violations of U.S. export control, computer fraud, and access device fraud laws.

Essential U.S. input

After leaving the U.S. government employment, the trio joined the senior management ranks of a UAE company where they coordinated hacking operations against various targets.

They also supervised the creation of two hacking and espionage platforms called KARMA and KARMA 2, used to compromise iPhones belonging to targets of interest to the UAE.

In 2019, journalists at Reuters revealed that the two hacking platforms were used by a clandestine UAE hacking team codenamed Project Raven run through a UAE-based company called DarkMatter.

The unit had more than a dozen former U.S. intelligence operatives helping the UAE with “surveillance of other governments, militants and human rights activists critical of the monarchy.”

KARMA and its successor relied on “zero-click” exploits (no user interaction needed) that enabled collecting sensitive info that allowed access to the targets accounts (email, cloud storage, social network) to steal data.

According to a report from Patrick Howell O’Neill at MIT Technology Review, the vulnerability that the KARMA platform exploited to take full control of a target’s iPhone was in Apple’s iMessage app and it was developed and sold by an American company named Accuvant (merged a few years back into what is now known as Optiv).

No license to hack

According to the DoJ, the work of the three defendants for the UAE company constituted a “defense service” as per the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

In this context, the defendants’ activity required a license from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC). Despite being informed multiple times about this, Baier, Adams, and Gericke continued to provide their services without a license.

The DPA is the first of its kind and seeks to limit “the proliferation of offensive cyber capabilities undermines privacy and security worldwide.” Simply put, it discourages “hacker-for-hire” activity without a license under ITAR.

Under the terms of the agreement, Baier, Adams, and Gericke have to pay $750,000, $600,000, and $335,000 respectively, over a three-year term.

Apart from this fine, the three also lose any foreign or U.S. security clearances and are prohibited from employment that involves computer network exploitation (CNE) operations, a.k.a. hacking, or CNE techniques.

Daniel Gericke is the Chief Information Officer for ExpressVPN, one of the largest VPN providers. The company released a statement regarding the DPA that names its CIO:

“We’ve known the key facts relating to Daniel’s employment history since before we hired him, as he disclosed them proactively and transparently with us from the start. In fact, it was his history and expertise that made him an invaluable hire for our mission to protect users’ privacy and security” – ExpressVPN

Originally found on Feedzy. Read More




Michael K. Williams and the Mental Health Debacle in Black Communities

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In my first Entrepreneur article, I reflected on lessons learned from a workplace healthcare perspective following the abrupt death of the great Black actor Chadwick Boseman. Sadly, one year later, yet another great Black actor, Michael K. Williams, shockingly passed away at the age of 54. His death showcases the perils of mental health issues and the continued need for destigmatization, particularly in Black communities.

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin | Getty Images

Related: What Chadwick Boseman’s Life Can Teach Us About Being Leaders

History repeating itself

HBO’s The Wire is constantly on the top 10 lists of best all-time television series and is a personal favorite of mine for several reasons. First, the quality of actors such as the late Williams, who played Omar, portrayed a remarkably realistic portrait of inner city communities.

Secondly, the series showcased a delicate balance between grittiness and humanity. In other words, it showed the mental anguish that people, primarily African Americans, face in inner city communities and the seemingly futile attempt to better oneself against all odds. Third, the series showcased what is endemic in virtually all societies: The misguided belief that men are at their best when they display little-to-no vulnerability and are even keeled with no outbursts of anxiety, depression or any extreme emotion — i.e. “the strong, silent type.”

The challenge with repressing emotions is that the repressed anger or frustration can be activated in seemingly mundane situations. In addition, the ability to properly manage emotions is integral to our success as human beings. Unfortunately, many Black people do not have the resources or network that can support them without judgment or persecution. Furthermore, many people have been incarcerated, lost their jobs, families and lives or even succumbed to substance abuse because of crippling mental health issues.

Related: What Chadwick Boseman’s Death Tells Us About Workplace Healthcare

Mental health: A global taboo topic

Growing up in West Africa, mental health was considered a taboo subject and a sign of weakness, especially for men. But even here in the U.S., mental health is not as prioritized as physical health in the workplace and our communities. Minorities, especially African Americans, are less likely than white people to seek treatment for conditions such as anxiety and are also more likely to prematurely end treatment, per data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Furthermore, cultural sensitivity is very important in mental health, especially for Black men, because it’s crucial for patients to feel that their provider understands their identity and can give them the best possible support and care. Consequently, there is a need for significant investment in resources for mental health care in medically underserved areas.

Fortunately, the pandemic has slowed down travel and socialization and forced all of us to embrace the screens of our computers and mobile devices as the ultimate connectivity tool. So even though face-to-face communication remains the gold standard, more and more people are embracing digital tools for daily engagement and education. In fact, telehealth use is almost 40 times higher today than pre-pandemic, with the most significant usage in psychiatry and substance abuse treatment, based on a recent McKinsey & Company report.

Despite what we know about the pervasive nature of mental health issues, it is still fairly rare to find workplaces where mental health days are understood and not punitive. Unfortunately, the underlying assumption is that employees will take advantage of these mental health days, resulting in a culture of laziness and reduced productivity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that anxiety and depressive disorders cost more than $1 trillion in lost productivity globally each year. Hence, by investing in proper mental health management, employers simultaneously reward their employees and themselves by prioritizing overall health and wellbeing.

Related: Simone Biles Receives Outpouring of Support From Sponsors: “We Are in Awe of You”

Bridging the mental health divide

Digital health is a bridge that can increase recruitment and engagement, especially for minority populations. Fortunately, the high usage of smartphones by racial minorities will help to increase access and adoption of personalized digital tools. For example, apps like iBreathe can help with stress management, and MindShift CBT uses psychotherapy techniques to help with anxiety management. However, it is important to ensure that African Americans and other minorities are included in clinical trials and device/app testing prior to product and technology rollout. We can’t simply assume that digital therapeutics or traditional drugs work for all people without testing for safety and effectiveness in a sub-sample that is not representative of the indigenous population at large. Of note, despite higher use of smart watches by minority populations, limited health literacy and high distrust limit the benefit of digital solutions

Diversity, equity and inclusion are buzzwords these days, but it will take time before changes made in the past year have measurable impact. Digital health is considered a bridge that can help increase patient recruitment and engagement, especially for minority populations. It is imperative that the voices of minorities are heard and that minority communities are equipped with educational resources. Knowledge is power, and it is important to create more effective, tailored communication strategies to overcome barriers such as mistrust, access and fear of human experimentation in African American communities.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives can play a role here by supporting activities that are aimed at reducing inequities in access to professional care and digital health tools that can provide real-time support. For example, sponsoring training programs for more Black mental health professionals is important, because people generally feel more comfortable receiving care from people who look like them. Mental health tends to be severely overlooked when it comes to funding, and increased investments in research and care provision will help to increase public attention.

Related: Nike, Nissan and Other Sponsors Declare Support for Naomi Osaka After She Drops Out of French Open for Mental-Health Reasons

Increased transparency amid Covid-19

It is empowering to see several high-profile celebrities and athletes share their struggles with mental health issues, which showcases their humanity and enables a greater degree of connectivity with their global audience. Employers regardless of size, industry or geographical location have the potential to transform mental health by mandating policies that can facilitate increased flexibility, transparency and cohesion in the workplace. For example, there is no federal law mandating that employers provide bereavement leave. Given that minorities are more likely to be less educated and make less than their white counterparts, they are also more likely to work in lower paying jobs that might not be as tolerant when it comes to mental health issues.

In closing, the psychosocial burden of mental health is endemic in all societies regardless of socioeconomic status. However, African American communities continue to disproportionately suffer from mental health issues due to limited resources, including adequate workplace support that will provide the dignity and flexibility needed to optimize their mental health and overall wellbeing.

Related: Simone Biles Reminds Us About the Importance of Finding Our True Selves

Originally found on Entrepreneur.com Read More




Keys to the cloud: Unlocking digital transformation to enhance national security

According to recent research, federal spending on cloud computing is anticipated to grow from $6.8 billion in 2020 to nearly $7.8 billion in 2022.

As this adoption accelerates, the information environment remains highly distributed and riddled with duplicative information, hindering decision makers with limited access to authoritative data, poor data integration across disparate systems, and low-quality data. This, paired with the “anything you can do, I can do better” mantra adopted by today’s nation-state threat actors, has left mission-critical information vulnerable to attack as it undergoes the great cloud migration.

These agile threat actors – without any red tape to stand in their way – have already adopted a cloud-centric mindset, oftentimes at the expense of our national security. Meanwhile, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning that lend themselves to assisting defensive efforts are rendered useless unless the defense community focuses more time, energy and resources on becoming cloud-centric.

Ultimately, the issue of national security hangs in the balance, and the best way to ensure we stay ahead of the curve is by using the cloud to “digitally overmatch” our opponents and unlock the full potential of digital transformation.

Overwhelming opponents

Originally coined by the Army, the concept of “digital overmatch” stems from the idea that the respective branches of the military can easily overwhelm their opponents on the ground due to their superior resources. Now, in the era of cyber-enabled conflict, this concept can also be applied to the non-Defense space. Given that data is such a strategic asset, defenders must ensure they can outpace and outmaneuver adversaries by using data-driven technologies such as the cloud, and deliver on-demand resources across all domains whenever and wherever they’re needed.

Without commercial and government innovation in cloud-native technology, federal agencies and the military are unable to maximize the full potential of their modernization strategy.

“Digital overmatch” in action

By leveraging the concept of digital overmatch, a warfighter on the battlefield can become one with the sensor grid, capturing and receiving information – from instant language translation to situational awareness – in real-time. Simultaneously, commanders can see the big picture or drill down to a specific element on demand, accelerating decisions with accurate, timely information to deny adversaries any advantage. Additionally, the cloud offers the ability to hyperscale in real time.

For example, if a high-ranking official wants to see if they can move a specific group of soldiers who are currently overseas, there’s a great deal of information they must capture and digest as quickly as possible. Are they trained on artificial intelligence? Are their shots up to date? Are they adequately equipped for the desert terrain? This data currently may sit in 15 to 20 different systems, necessitating weeks or even months of analysis to determine if they’re ready to be deployed.

With a cloud-centric philosophy, commanding officers could have all this information at their fingertips and make well-informed decisions regarding their combat readiness in a matter of hours or even minutes. By having this information at the ready, better-trained troops with specialized equipment can be deployed faster, ultimately saving lives. Instead of hardware like aircraft carriers, guns or bullets being the deciding factors in modern conflict, data has quickly become the most valuable battlefield currency.

Digital transformation and national security: Implementation hurdles

Despite the clear benefits of a cloud-centric approach, there are still hurdles to overcome to move toward widespread adoption. First and foremost, all internal stakeholders must be trained to maintain a digital cloud mindset to use the latest technologies for their intended purposes, which can take valuable time. There’s also a common misconception that if data is in the cloud, it’s more susceptible to fraud, theft, or attacks by cyber actors, when the opposite is true.

With a properly designed cloud environment, data is more resistant to ransomware, while also being more accessible. In fact, without the cloud, a zero-trust architecture that ensures information is categorized and protected would be impossible to control. Regardless of these hurdles, a cloud-enabled future offers countless benefits and enables workflows to easily keep up with innovation, user demand and regulations.

A step in the right direction

So, where can federal agencies start on this digital transformation journey and what can they do to put together an operating model for multi-cloud capability? For some, the process might seem overwhelming or too expensive, but the reality is there’s no need to start from scratch.

Instead, agencies should look to their peers to guide and inform their cloud journey, as many organizations – public and private sector alike – already have the knowledge and solutions readily available to help expedite this migration at both speed and scale. For example, the Air Force has been recently leading the way via their Cloud One offering, which is able to migrate all their systems to the cloud while also developing them natively. Federal agencies don’t need to reinvent the wheel to successfully adopt a cloud mindset.

Originally found on Feedzy. Read More




After Getting Banned From Google and Facebook, I Learned Why Every Ecommerce Store Should Focus on SEO

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a buzz word over the last few years. Many areas of online business have been implementing solid SEO strategies for a while, but ecommerce is still slow to join the rest. Ecommerce stores have been trained to use paid methods, like Google Shopping Ads, Facebook Ads and other social media ads to get people to click through to their store. However, with the ever-increasing cost it takes to acquire new customers, ecommerce store owners should get on board with SEO and develop a solid content strategy for long-term growth and reduce their cost to acquire new potential customers.

The one-legged stool

As I mentioned earlier, the cost of bringing new customers to your ecommerce store is going to keep increasing. If your store is solely reliant on paid traffic, let’s say from Google Shopping, and Google decides you violated one of the many advertising policies, all your traffic dries up and you’re out of business. No traffic means no sales and no sales means you’re out of business by the end of the month.

Relying solely on paid traffic channels is like having a one-legged stool. It’s a lot more secure for the health and longevity of your business to have more legs under the stool, in case one leg gets taken away from you. SEO is one of those legs you need to apply. Not only is it free traffic, but as long as you provide valuable information for the readers, there’s no risk of being removed in the same way paid channels can shut you out.

The results of a well-executed SEO and content strategy take time. Often, an ecommerce store won’t see significant organic traffic for 6 to 12 months after publishing those first pieces of content. But if you keep implementing and producing solid, helpful content, the effects compound over time.

I got banned from Google and Facebook

I share all this from my own experience as an ecommerce store owner. I relied solely on Google and Facebook ads to get traffic and for some unknown reason back in early 2019 both platforms decided I had violated a policy. After that point, I couldn’t get back in their good books.

I went down the SEO rabbit hole out of desperation to get some traffic and started producing content that shoppers in the research phase would find helpful. I put out other content about the best products by category to help customers choose wisely, and when those pieces of content started ranking, I was getting more traffic than ever. To give you an idea of the timeline, I started publishing content in February 2019, and by June I was already getting traffic and sales. Over time, the traffic kept growing and I kept producing helpful content. In 2020, I generated over $2 million in sales from that organic strategy from only one ecommerce store.

If I hadn’t gotten started with SEO I’d be out of business today.

Get started before you need to

Don’t do what I did and wait for the wheels to fall off after one or more paid channels drop the ban hammer. Start by writing a couple of pieces of content to get started. You don’t need a five-year content strategy on day one.

For ideas on what to write, you can write a guide to your niche and what to look out for when choosing the right product. You can answer the most frequently asked questions you receive. When people type that question into the search engine and your post helps them out, you will be recognized over time as the go-to place for research and answers. Then people will grow to trust your store and will prefer to purchase from you.

There are literally thousands of blog topics that you can produce to get more traffic, but the important thing is to get started. Over time, you will learn some more advanced content strategies that you can apply to create a better ranking chance. If you can implement some semblance of a content plan into your ecommerce store and stick to it, you’ll look back in a year and wonder why you paid so much for visitors in the first place.

Originally found on Entrepreneur.com Read More




FTC: Health Apps Must Notify Consumers of Data Breaches

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned the developers of health apps and connected devices that they must disclose data breaches to consumers or face a fine.

In a policy brief issued Wednesday, the Commission clarified that healthcare apps that collect or use consumers’ health information are subject to the Health Breach Notification Rule requiring entities not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to notify consumers when their health data is breached.

In a 3-2 vote held during an open virtual meeting, the FTC agreed to approve a policy statement affirming that developers of health apps and connected devices are considered to be healthcare providers, and that sensitive information disclosed by them without authorization constitutes a breach.

Every breach, even breaches that did not occur as the result of a malicious cyber-attack, must be reported. The FTC stated that companies that fail to comply with the rule could be subject to financial penalties of up to $43,792 per violation per day.

The FTC said in a statement that “health apps, which can track everything from glucose levels for those with diabetes to heart health to fertility to sleep, increasingly collect sensitive and personal data from consumers.

“These apps have a responsibility to ensure they secure the data they collect, which includes preventing unauthorized access to such information.”

The Commission noted that the use of health apps and other connected devices that collect personal health data increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. It observed that despite being a “ripe” target for scammers and cyber-attackers, “too few privacy protections” were in place for such apps.

“While this Rule imposes some measure of accountability on tech firms that abuse our personal information, a more fundamental problem is the commodification of sensitive health information, where companies can use this data to feed behavioral ads or power user analytics,” said FTC chair Lina M. Khan.

“Given the growing prevalence of surveillance-based advertising, the Commission should be scrutinizing what data is being collected in the first place and whether particular types of business models create incentives that necessarily place users at risk.”

Originally found on Feedzy. Read More




The science behind liberalism and conservatism

Tales from the Mark side: The conservative voice of Manatee County

By Mark Young
mark.young@manateeherald.com

We as human beings are similar in so many ways and yet so very different. Nothing defines our divide like politics.

Have you ever wondered why?

I’m sure if you are a conservative, you have probably wracked your brain like I have when trying to understand the black hole that is liberal logic. And I’m sure, like me, you have come away from that experience more perplexed than ever. Well, there is a lot of reading material out there on why liberals are so different from conservatives. I came across several studies that prove areas of gray matter are enlarged in separate brain areas of conservatives and liberals.
Both areas impact the critical thought process and emotional response to information, but both are different in how the process works.

But is liberalism a mental disorder as many conservatives, including me, have claimed? Well, let’s follow the science, something liberals say we should do, but never actually do. I believe it was last year that the Pew Research Center showed a viable link between liberalism and mental disorders, particularly among young white liberals. The Pew study showed 62% of young white liberals were told by their doctors that they have a mental disorder.

The Washington Times, in April of this year did a piece on the study which shows liberalism, “forces its followers to wallow in feelings of helplessness and victimhood,” as opposed to “building resilience against hardship,” which combats depression. That inner working of a liberal brain makes them much more susceptible to things like “white guilt,” and other levels of nonsense.

Pew pointed out that an overwhelming number of liberals believed the false narratives pushed by the left that 1,000 blacks were “murdered” by police in 2019 following the death of George Floyd. In fact, there were 13 black people killed by police in 2019. The liberal Washington Post reported that from 2015 through this year that 1,552 blacks were killed by police compared to 2,962 whites. The number of Hispanics killed were similar to the number of blacks and more than 230 Native Americans also were killed by police, but no ever mentions Hispanics or Native Americans. Conservatives do because we believe that all lives matter, to include police lives. Of course the media likes to push the narrative that blacks are killed more disproportionately than whites based on percentages simply because there are more whites than blacks. It’s an easy argument to make but lacks substance.

The media doesn’t do its job very well, but that shouldn’t be a surprise at this point. If they did, they would take into account the facts surrounding the shootings, the criminal history of those shot and the high-crime areas involving the shootings. They don’t do that. Or perhaps they do and decide it doesn’t fit their anti-police, racist narratives that lead liberals down a mentally dangerous path of white guilt and self-loathing. 

You’ve seen how much these young white liberals hate themselves for being white. It’s beyond comprehension, but once you understand that there is an actual answer to your question of, “What is wrong with these people?” perhaps some level of empathy can replace the frustration? Perhaps just knowing that a mental illness might be causing young white liberals to get on their knees and lick the boots of a black man in a display of asking for forgiveness for their whiteness will bring conservatives some relief. Nah, not for me either.

I grew up an Army brat and then joined myself. I never saw color growing up and I only see it now when it’s forced upon me. When I was battling liberal logic for four years as a columnist in Nebraska, there was a very loud and aggressive group of liberals who attacked me on a regular basis. However, attacks are not the same thing as presenting an argument and they could never dispute my facts or bring a logical argument to the table. The debates always ended with me being called a name and them storming off into their black hole existence. The one thing that would offend them is when I actually called them a liberal.

Back in 2010 or so, liberals were desperately trying to get away from the negative aspects of the word. Instead, they insisted they were not liberals, but progressives. Progressive sounds a lot more appealing until the real progressives actually took over their party and now liberals no longer want to be called progressives. Now they are desperately trying to reclaim their liberal title.

Oh the hell it must be to be trapped inside a liberal mind.

Now, I’m certainly not saying every liberal is mentally ill, but I’d say the Pew Research Center’s 62% is fairly accurate. The scary part is that number will increase as liberalism continues to infect our education system. It has had a firm hold on our universities for decades but as you’ve seen, it is now rampant in our K-12 schools. But I still know moderate liberals and they can still present a decent argument whether I agree with them or not. And it’s a myth that moderate liberals and conservatives disagree on everything.

Conservatives for the most part absolutely believe that we need to take care of our environment. We just happen to also believe that drilling and pipelines can be done safely. Now I do part ways with a lot of conservatives in saying gay marriage is absolutely fine. I just personally believe that everyone has the right to be miserable.

Liberals, the research shows, are highly prone to fear-based media coverage. About 90% of liberals believe that you have a 50% chance of being hospitalized from COVID-19. Only 10% knew that the correct answer is between 1 and 5%.

The research indicates that liberals are much more prone to the misinformation spread by fear mongering media outlets. Just look at how the local media has covered things like COVID and red tide. I know for a fact that my former editors milked public health stories for all they were worth. That’s not to say COVID or red tide isn’t real, but at some point editors knew they were manipulating the stories to get those all-valuable clicks to make themselves look good.

However, because liberals are so susceptible to misinformation, it contributes to the decline in their mental health, the study noted. It’s ironic considering that the actions of the liberal media in Manatee County are contributing to hurting their liberal readers. Ironic, but self-servingly sad.

It also shows why liberal-run states have handled the pandemic so differently and why some of those states continue to suffer the economic pains of shutdowns and ridiculous mandates. But you’ll also notice how many of these Democratic leaders make over-the-top restrictions but never abide by their own rules.

The Washington Times concludes that, “Yes, there’s a lot of drawbacks to believing in liberalism.”

I would have to agree. 




How to Maximize Your Social Security

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Social Security is the backbone of the average retirement income. Social Security is available to anyone who has paid taxes for 10 years, and when you reach the minimum retirement agent of 62, you may file to receive these benefits. Also, you can receive Social Security Disability payments early if you have a medical issue that Social Security deems worthy of activating (this form of income is referred to as an SSDI.) There is definitely a conundrum with deciding when to draw upon your Social Security funds and when to delay. It can be tempting to draw as soon as eligible, but some nuances can change the decision when factored in.

Related: 6 Retirement-Ready Mistakes 60-Year-Olds Commonly Make

When considering when to retire, remember: The longer you work, the better. Your benefits are based on the average income of your 35 highest paid working years. Since most people’s income goes up as they get older, working longer can really increase this average. If there is one trick to boost this portion of your income, this is it. Unfortunately, it also requires working when many people are sick and tired of doing just that.

Full Retirement Age (FRA) is based on your birthday. There is a chart that can easily help you decide what your FRA is here. When someone starts Social Security early at age 62, your reduction of total benefit can reach as much as 30%. This can be a huge loss for someone. In addition, 8% a year past FRA can be added to your Social Security income by postponing further all the way until age 70.

Related: How to Save for Retirement While Running a Business

Income taxes in retirement is something many people do not consider. Since most retirement income is taxable, this is a massive consideration. There are types of income that are not taxable in retirement, such as payments from annuities or annuity-funded pensions. If earlier in retirement, someone should consider having a portion of their retirement plan dedicated to income sources that do not affect their marginal tax rate. Limiting your taxable income in retirement can also save you money by avoiding Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts (IRMAA) on your Medicare premiums.

Though the topic here is maximizing Social Security, don’t avoid total income potential just to save yourself some dollars on penalties or taxes later on. There are clever ways to change the overall makeup of your retirement income without just reducing the total amount of resources you have at your disposal. The rule of thumb is to amass funds and keep your income as high as possible for as long as possible, but take some of those resources and house them in assets that do not count against your taxable income and thus do not impact your marginal tax rate.

There are a multitude of factors that should be considered when looking at a retirement income, but the above lays out the primary considerations when it comes to Social Security and its place in a solid retirement portfolio.

Related: 6 Reasons to Pursue Entrepreneurship in Retirement

Originally found on Entrepreneur.com Read More




Laugh and Learn Daycare employee facing aggravated child abuse charges

On September 16, 2021, Bradenton PD detectives responded to Manatee Memorial Hospital to assist Child Protective Services with an injured child investigation. The report stated a four-month-old child suffered a leg fracture and was being transferred to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Thalia Camarillo

Subsequent investigation determined the incident took place at the Laugh and Learn Daycare, 200 3rd Ave E in Bradenton. Detectives were able to obtain a search warrant for security camera footage from the daycare. The footage showed an employee, Thalia Camarillo of Ellenton, hitting the infant with an open hand several times. The video then shows her aggressively twisting and bending the infant’s right leg, causing the injury.

Today, September 22, 2021, Camarillo was arrested and charged with Aggravated Child Abuse, a first-degree felony. This investigation is ongoing. The video is evidence and will not be released at this time.

Anyone who may have information regarding this incident is asked to contact Detective Santana at (941) 932-9355. You may also email your information to BPDTIPS@BRADENTONPD.COM or remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $3,000, call Crime Stoppers (toll-free) 1-866-634-8477 (TIPS) or send an anonymous E-Tip thru the web at www.manateecrimestoppers.com.




A legend lost: Bodybuilder-turned-football-coach John Meadows inspired athletes of all sizes

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — John Meadows played the role of celebrity in plain sight to perfection when he showed up to football practice with his sons Jonathan and Alexander, even if he left a few context clues.

Meadows’ biceps popped through a T-shirt with a self-portrait and a curious phrase: “Alright, hi everybody.”

He wore a white Philadelphia Eagles visor and rarely raised his voice. The 5-foot-6 coach stood out, even when he was trying to stay out of the spotlight. Yet anyone who came across Meadows could not help but say it out loud.

“Who is that guy?”

Barry Sutherland, the president of the Pickerington Youth Athletic Association football league, remembers asking himself that question on that first encounter.

“You see some pretty big guys in football, obviously,” Sutherland said. “John stood out more than most right away.”

Bodybuilders know from the get-go. Meadows, the founder of Granite Supplements and Mountain Dog Diet, was a world-famous superstar in that realm. The “Mountain Dog” spent more than 30 years competing in the sport. He had 345,000 Instagram followers and countless YouTube workouts dedicated to personal fitness.

That curious phrase — “Alright, hi everybody” — was Meadows’ signature opening line for every workout and part of his persona as the “Mr. Rogers of Bodybuilding.” James Seals, a bodybuilder who trained with Meadows for 30 years, recalled the scene when they would attend the International Federation of Bodybuilders Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus.

“People knew he was a pro because everybody knew John,” Seals said. “It didn’t matter where you went. John couldn’t step two feet without somebody noticing him, wanting to talk to him, shake his hand or take a picture and sign an autograph.”

John Meadows, 49, died unexpectedly on Aug. 8 in his home, and he left two lasting legacies that converged late in life. He was a viral superstar in the bodybuilding world, but he also emerged as an ambitious youth football coach in Pickerington, Ohio. Those who grew close to Meadows in both worlds found genuine friendship and success, and that did not surprise his wife Mary when she saw the results.

“John had a good heart, a big heart,” Mary said. “He gave without expecting anything in return. He was humble and always surrounded himself with good people. That may have been due to the type of people that were drawn to him.”

*****

Meadows’ dream to become a professional bodybuilder took off when he watched the Mr. Olympia competition as a teenager.

“I was hooked,” Meadows said in a July 5, 2015 interview. “At 13 years old, I said that’s what I want to look like.”

Meadows set out to win his IFBB Pro Card, a Holy Grail of sorts reserved for the elite that compete at a national level.

Meadows trained with Seals and competed at the local and state level. He also emerged as a sought-after coach for aspiring bodybuilders. That is where that teaching voice was crafted, even if it was more direct at first.

“That was developed over time,” Seals said. “John was really hard on us. He did not want people screwing around when he trained. In later years, he would be way more patient. With everybody else, he was always patient. He was never short with anybody and there was never a question he did not try to answer.”

Meadows’ career was sidetracked at age 33 when he was diagnosed with a rare colon disease which required surgery. Those obstacles never stopped him. He returned, and placed second countless times in those attempts to get a Pro Card.

That 2015 interview is significant. It was after Meadows won the NPC Team Universe in Teaneck, N.J. It was the feel-good story of the competition. Meadows had a Pro Card. Mary Meadows said whenever John signed an autograph, he handed out the picture from that competition.

That was his signature accomplishment.

“I never had this vision in my head that I would compete as a successful pro,” John Meadows said in that interview. “I just wanted to accomplish the goal of winning a Pro Card. This is 30 years that it took to accomplish the goal for me.”

Meadows’ popularity in the sport would soar, but Seals said Meadows maintained the same grind-it-out-attitude in his training and coaching.

“If anything, he became more humble,” Seals said. “John had been trying since he was 13 to be a pro. Once he got it, he never changed. He was the same person. That is why others wanted to train with him.”

*****

Pickerington is a football-centric town of 20,000-plus in the shadow of Columbus. It’s an assembly line for football talent that starts with Central and North High School. Those two schools have produced a handful of NFL players, and they combined to send 19 players to the FBS in 2021. Ohio State’s Jack Sawyer (North) and Notre Dame’s Lorenzo Styles (Central) are the latest five-star freshmen to come off that line.

The youth football scene is predictably hyper-competitive as a result, and that starts at the top with Pickerington mayor Lee Gray. He works with Sutherland to pick the right coaches each season.

Gray remembers being approached by Meadows to talk in 2019. The two went to breakfast, and bodybuilding was never mentioned.

“The conversation always went to youth football because of the season we were in and the excitement he had for his boys,” Gray said. “It had become John’s new passion.

“When he got into bodybuilding, remember you didn’t have the internet and the access that people have now,” Gray said. “He remembered what it was like to try to learn and get better and start from scratch.”

The youth-coaching fraternity in Pickerington is a tight-knit club of football-first dads and former college players. Marcus Ray and J.R. Ford played on Michigan’s 1997 national championship team. These volunteer jobs mean three practices a week, but it is more than schemes and scouting reports.

The focus is on developing players to feed into those high school programs. Meadows fit right in.

Renell Bell met John when he drafted Alexander and Jonathan for the junior team, which consisted of third- and fourth-graders. Bell had the same encounter as most after meeting Meadows for the first time. When Bell saw Meadows working out at American Barbell, that all-too familiar conversation sparked.

Bell asked, “What do you do? Your physique is crazy.”

John’s lifting partner interrupted: “You don’t know who this is?”

“Honestly, no,” Bell replied.

“Man, he’s a legend.”

That’s when Meadows quickly pulled Bell aside to tell him quietly about his career and he would be glad to help as an offensive line coach if possible at practice.

“I could see the passion there,” Bell said. “I think it was starting to build at that point. John wanted to be a football coach.”

Meadows family
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*****

That’s quite the juxtaposition from his other career, where bodybuilders wanted Meadows to be their coach.

“I was in the coaching business myself, but I wanted to be coached by him,” Andrew Berry said. “I saw him as someone who didn’t have the top-of-the-line-genetics, but he built a crazy physique with what he had. I knew I could learn a lot from him.”

Why not? By this time, Meadows’ influence as a bodybuilding expert had spread.

“John was known as one of the top gurus when it came to training and diet and stuff like that,” Seals said. “He did seminars all year round. He trained with a lot of the top guys. All the top officials know him in the sport, and his supplement is one of the top ones out there.”

Berry reached out to Meadows in 2011. Meadows responded with an email within two hours, and the two developed a friendship. Berry contributed to the Mountain Dog Diet website. Berry made the trip from Shelburne, Vermont, to visit Meadows in 2015.

“He was a major celebrity to me,” Berry said. “That changed when I got out of the airport. He pulls up, runs out of the car and he gives me a big hug. He said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to have a great week. It’s going to be awesome.’ Instantly the celebrity facade I had in my head went away. He was just John at that point.”

Like Meadows, Berry had the career goal of getting a IFBB Pro Card. The two made trips across the bodybuilding circuit for the next six years, and on Aug. 8, 2021, Berry won his IBFF Pro Card at the 2021 IFBB Tampa Pro.

“I was the last person John turned pro,” Berry said.

Yet by that time, Berry said his conversations with Meadows had changed. That new-found passion spilled over all the time. Meadows had become immersed in football.

“A good deal of our conversations were about football,” Berry said. “They were about plays he was writing up. He was so into coaching football that I really believe he would have gone to the top the same way he did with bodybuilding.”

Meadows family
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*****

In 2020, Meadows volunteered to be a full-time assistant coach with Scott Quick in the senior division for fifth- and sixth-graders, and they named their team the Punishers.

That’s when Mary noticed Meadows moved from his office to the kitchen table, which was covered with plays, formations and game plans. When Mary needed to use John’s computer, she found every tab locked on a football drill.

“I would tease him and ask how much he was actually working,” Mary said. “He just loved it. He loved teaching, whether that was about the body or about football. Not everyone could teach. He could.”

Meadows built new friendships. Quick weighed 330 pounds when the two met, and that is when Meadows offered some personal fitness tips. When Meadows told Quick about the 12-part YouTube series, that “wow moment” clicked.

“It didn’t hit me until he tagged me on a few things and they had like 1,000 likes,” Quick said. “I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ That’s just John, though. He was never about himself.”

Quick lost 60 pounds, and the Punishers reached the PYAA championship game with the help of Edmund McAllister III, a future star everyone knows as “E-Mac” whose father Edmund played at Saginaw Valley State. Meadows did not just want the player to win games, and that is what drew Edmund Jr. to the coach.

“John Meadows was an unbelievable teacher,” Edmund said. “John was the first coach that I trusted my son with and my son believed in.”

The Punishers won the league championship that season, and Meadows went into a rare full-go celebration mode. He hugged Quick. He ran to the fence to embrace McAllister. He took countless pictures; this time with Mary, Alexander and Jonathan holding that first-place trophy.

Meadows family
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“That game was just phenomenal,” Quick said. “The whole time it was going back and forth like any good football game would. John was just on his coaching that day. He had all the offensive plays dialed up. We were just on the same page all day.”

Meadows called Seals afterward, too.

“He was more excited about that then when he got his IBFF Pro Card,” Seals confirmed.

“That captured that joy and that excitement and all of his plans, meeting with the coaches and working with the coaches,” Mary Meadows added. ” It brought it all to fruition. That’s what his goal was.”

Like any high achiever, however, John set higher goals for the 2021 season.

*****

Sutherland has been the eighth-grade coach at Ridgeview Junior High School since 2011. By now he had developed a close friendship with Meadows, who approached him about taking a coaching job with cross-town rival Lakeview. Sutherland encouraged Meadows to take the challenge because of the coaching style.

“He was kind of the opposite of what you would think he would be as a coach,” Sutherland said. “Of course you see a guy that big, you think he’s going to be a screamer. Completely opposite. Talked articulately. Very well-received by kids and parents. The way he communicated football was the way he communicated bodybuilding. He never once made you feel like you were inferior.”

Meadows had started cross-over preparation while maintaining his career in fitness. By this time, Meadows’ influence spread to the NFL. Philadelphia Eagles players such as Boston Scott and Lane Johnson trained with Meadows, who was a regular at offseason camps.

Scott made the trip to Pickerington last summer. Mary said Scott played the guitar with Alexander and hit up the PlayStation 4 with Jonathan. Meadows used that opportunity to talk about football, too. On one of his trips to Philadelphia, Meadows called Sutherland, sometimes between sets while training. He was ready for that next challenge.

“He called me from camp and was actually telling me plays they were showing him, some simple things he could teach a little-league or junior-high program,” Sutherland said. “A coach leads by example. He never stopped in that regard.”

In 2021, Meadows and McAllister were set to defend the senior division championship. On Aug. 7, the PYAA conducted its draft with all the coaches, and when it was over, Meadows had a new team.

The Eagles looked great on paper. Mary said Meadows spent that afternoon picking up “goodies” for his new players. League director Rob Zook remembers calling Meadows that afternoon.

“We were laughing and joking about the season,” Zook said. “He was always talking about the kids and what he could do to make them better.”

Berry also called Meadows that day.

“I had just competed in a Pro Show,” Berry said. “We had a great conversation and he didn’t sound any different than any other day.”

John Meadows died in his sleep that night.

*****

Seals was one of the first call Mary made after John passed away.

“It just broke my heart,” Seals said. “I started crying right there.”

In the bodybuilding and personal fitness world, Meadows left a huge void. The plan is to continue Granite Supplements, Mountain Dog Diet and the YouTube series which put Meadows in weight rooms across the country. Seals knows Meadows will have a lasting legacy.

Cris Edmunds is part of keeping that moving at Mountain Dog Diet. Edmunds met Meadows in 2008, and the Salem, Va., native had the same experience as everyone else. He was a bodybuilding coach for Meadows, but he also made the trip to Pickerington the previous week to help with football evaluations. Edmunds had just sent pictures from one of his workouts to John, and that’s when Mary called with the news.

“It still is heartbreaking,” Edmunds said. “We just released a YouTube video of the last training session I did with him, and it’s hard for me to watch. I miss him. I miss my friend.”

Berry puts it into perspective like this: Arnold Schwarzenegger remains one of the most-popular figures in bodybuidling, partly because of his fame as a Hollywood celebrity. Meadows was the hero for the every-day bodybuilder working their way up the ranks.

“You could have one conversation with him at an expo, and you would leave thinking, ‘Man, this guy could be one of my best friends,'” Berry said. “He had this uncanny ability to remember all those conversations a year later. When people do those things, it makes the other person feel good.

“When John died, there was a sense that we really lost somebody,” Berry said. “We lost a good guy in the sport; a good guy in the world. It was the energy that he put into it.”

*****

News of Meadows’ death spread in Pickerington the next day. Coaches texted and called each other. Bell said he froze when after hearing the news. Gray met Sutherland in his driveway after receiving the text. It did not make sense.

“John was there with all of us at the draft, and he was so excited about his team,” Gray said. “Then, the next day he was gone. That’s just the hard thing to wrap your arms around. We were all in such a state of shock.”

The coaches gathered the following day for a meeting. Sutherland confirmed the news, and McAllister was named the head coach in Meadows’ place. There were hugs, handshakes and most coaches fought back tears. Jon Gialluca, who coached a junior-league championship team the previous season, simply said, “Nobody was there mentally that day. Everyone was thinking about John.”

Practice still followed. Meadows would have wanted it that way.

Sutherland, Gray and Gialluca were among those in the receiving line at calling hours five days later. Every PYAA football coach in attendance wore their shirt, and Mary saw just how much John had meant to the football community in Pickerington. She listened to their stories, much like John did.

“It’s really bizarre, actually,” Mary said. “It’s sad and I have my moments, but I am overwhelmed with feeling blessed how much John impacted so many peoples’ lives.”

*****

The PYAA season football opened Aug. 28, and Meadows’ presence could be felt. Every coach wore a shirt with “JM” initials stitched on the front. Quick caught himself looking around at one moment.

“It was definitely awkward to not be able to look around and see him,” Quick said. “‘JM’ on the shirt. Just seeing that, seeing the boys, seeing Mary; it was tough but it is getting better.”

McAllister changed the team name from Eagles to Meadows, and the team walked on the field in unison for the first game. McAllister’s son scored three TDs. On the second score, Mary pushed off the fence and cheered in the back of the end zone.

“I just enjoyed watching him do something he was passionate about, and the kids were so responsive to him,” Mary said. “It made me sad the other day because he was missing what he loved.”

The Meadows won their season opener 33-0, and McAllister repeated Meadows’ mantra in the team huddle afterward.

“One sound. One mind. One team. One goal.”

In that sense, Meadows will still be there this season. That gift of motivating bodybuilders translated seamlessly to the game of football, and anybody who met Meadows would tell you that.

That is not lost on anybody who ended up doing a Google search on Meadows. The bodybuilder was a football coach, and the football coach was a family man.

“John is one of those people who comes once in a lifetime, and for somebody as well-known as he was, you wouldn’t know that at all by his personality,” Sutherland said. “He was more famous than people realize. In one life, I’ll always remember the bodybuilder. In the other life I will always recognize him as a father, coach and friend.”

In both worlds, John Meadows was that guy.

In any context, that was always in plain sight.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More




5 Ransomware Protection Tips for Your Small Business … From a Hacker

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise and continue to be the primary method of cyber infiltration by hackers. Experts estimate that this year alone, every 11 seconds there will be a ransomware attack against an unsuspecting business. In fact, the total global number so far this year exceeds the same period in 2020 by 150%. Recent high-profile ransomware targets include the Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, the NBA and Kia Motors.

Reformed Hacker Wants to Help

While we all know the cyber protection basics — keep passwords safe, use different passwords for different accounts and private internet connections, etc. — sometimes it takes a thief to stop a thief, or in this instance a hacker. One self-proclaimed reformed hacker wants to help. While he was born Giovanni Natale, he hasn’t gone by that name in years. His hacker trade name is “Johnny Xmas.”

He began hacking by committing nuisance computer annoyances as a teenager, which escalated over time into much more serious and crippling cyber assaults. He’s since transformed from a cyberpunk into a cybersecurity pro. While he’s still a hacker, he’s no longer hacking bank accounts or corporations for fun. Instead, enterprises pay him to try and punch holes, exploit weaknesses and find vulnerabilities in their internal and external networks. He then shows them how to fix those digital deficiencies.

Xmas has seen and done it all when it comes to hacking, and he recommends the following top protection steps against ransomware.
Related: Putting Off Cybersecurity Is Putting You at Much Bigger Risk Than You Realize

1. Install multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all company logins

After a user enters their username and password, an MFA adds another layer of security by sending them a verification code that’s four-to-eight digits long to a pre-registered email or text account. The code then has to be manually entered by the user to finish the login.

“It’s devastating for a hacker when they see an MFA countermeasure,” says XMas. “From a hacker’s perspective, whenever they see that come up on a login, forget it. They’re going to go somewhere else and try something else. There’s no way to guess and test a multi-number verification code before that code expires in 90 seconds. That’s the simplest and best first step to take.”

XMas adds that MFAs present additional challenges for hackers when the system has a maximum number of login attempts and then lockdowns against additional tries.

2. Verify vendors have adequate cyber-protection systems and protocols

If you use third-party vendors for HR support, web design, payroll, email marketing, accounting, legal services and so on, make sure they’ve gone through their own security testing. This is especially true for any vendor that has direct access to your website of network infrastructure.

“It’s completely acceptable to request an affidavit from them confirming when their last security assessment was, what it found, the remediation steps taken and when their next audit is scheduled,” Xmas encoueages. “That type of request is becoming the norm.”

He goes on to say that the official name of the affidavit is a “letter of attestation.” If your vendor doesn’t know what that means, then they’re likely not taking those precautions and exposing your systems as well. Be sure to take this step before signing any contract with a third-party vendor.

3. Do not let telecommuters use personal computers for work

Instead, provide workers with the most basic computer interface possible that can also be remotely managed. Xmas says one of the best and cheapest options is an “enterprise-class” Chromebook, further noting company-supplied devices can all be pre-loaded with the same malware protections. Those, in turn, can be automatically updated as new versions become available, as well as operating system security updates.

4. Have a dedicated cybersecurity and IT support individual

This can be the individual who does IT for you, but make sure they also have experience securing a small-to medium-sized business, which will be their responsibility to manage.

“They can also help draft a security policy, which doesn’t need to be more than one page for a small business,” Xmas explains. “It can outline the acceptable use policy of the hardware the company is providing and have each employee read and sign; list the frequency of security updates to remote devices and local firewall settings; and schedule weekly malware updates system wide. If you don’t think that’s a full-time job, remember that setting these systems up is just part of the process. Not only do they have to be monitored, they have to be audited on a monthly or quarterly basis. Just because it’s okay today, doesn’t mean it’ll be okay tomorrow. A lot of business owners don’t realize that.”

He says if your organization is large enough to need email and an external website to operate, it’s large enough to need an IT pro with security experience as well.

5. Systems backups are good; audits of those backups are essential

While making cloud-based and physical backups of mission-critical files are important, it’s even more important to audit those backups regularly.

“I don’t see anyone doing daily or weekly backups of their most important files, records or data,” says XMas. “When they do happen to back up their files, they’re not testing whether the backup services are working properly. Business owners can get lulled into a false sense of security that their systems are copied to the cloud or a nearby physical hard drive. But without testing and systematic audits of those copies, they won’t know if the backups captured all the necessary files accurately or if they can be easily and quickly restored.”

For real-time system-wide backups, he recommends Blackblaze or SpiderOak as some of the best options to consider.

Related: Cryptojacking Preys on the Uninformed. Is Your Computer Safe?

Technology is everywhere, and so are hackers. Cyber defense is a growing cost of doing business that wasn’t a necessity five years ago, but it is now. If you don’t protect the digital assets that belong to you, there’s an increasing likelihood they’ll soon belong to someone else.

Originally found on Entrepreneur.com Read More