Current Events in December 2020

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    New York state’s pension fund to divest from all fossil fuel investments

    Clean energy is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the energy sector

    New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its fossil fuel investments.

    The fund -- which is the third largest pension fund in the U.S. with a value of $194.3 billion and more than one million members, retirees, and beneficiaries -- decided that selling off its “riskiest” oil and gas stocks is the right action to take due to growing climate concerns. The state’s final goal is to completely eliminate all carbon polluters from its investment portfolio by 2040. 

    With a stroke of New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s pen, a clear message was sent that the smart money is on getting out of the fossil fuel game now rather than later.

    “We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement Wednesday morning. 

    “Those that fail to meet our minimum standards may be removed from our portfolio. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investment’s long-term value at risk.”

    The shape of things to come?

    The Paris Climate Agreement is coming up on its fifth anniversary, but its last couple of years have been a tug of war. Once President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord, tech executives from Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others came together to voice their concerns. Meanwhile, the world’s five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies fought against governmental measures to curb emissions.

    While the consumption side of fossil fuels hasn’t changed dramatically in the last 20 years, renewable energy -- hydroelectric power, geothermal, solar, and wind -- is getting closer in the energy sector’s rear view mirror. At last count, the renewable option was generating 17.6 percent of all electric power.

    New York may be the first to come down this hard on fossil fuel, but other states have been working on similar moves. As of late April, 15 U.S. states and territories had taken either executive or legislative action toward a 100 percent clean energy future -- one that includes clean electricity policies and economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution-reduction programs.

    What’s the energy future for consumers?

    Even more important is the consumer side of the energy consumption equation. While the decrease in gas prices has American consumers moving toward buying more SUVs and trucks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps pushing for exponentially less polluting and more efficient vehicles. 

    At home, clean energy, such as solar power, is also getting the reputation as a more environmentally friendly option. 

    “Solar energy is most efficient in terms of environmental impact, whereas coal and natural gas are more efficient by reliable applications,” writes ConsumerAffairs’ Kathryn Parkman in her review of how certain energy resources impact consumers in terms of efficiency, cost, and long-term availability.

    And, as for cost? “Given the consumption rate of fossil fuels, the world is reaching a point where there will be little choice in the matter. Nonrenewable fossil fuels are extracted at a much faster rate than they're being replenished. Because of this, some fossil fuels, like coal, are on track to be more expensive than solar within the next decade,” Parkman said.

    New York state’s pension fund found itself with a new world record on Thursday when it decided to become the largest pension fund to divest from all of its...

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      McDonald’s to roll out 10 days of free food for the holidays

      Items include movie character-inspired McDoubles, hot cakes, and Egg McMuffins

      McDonald’s is giving away food for the holidays. Every day from Monday, December 14, through December 24, the fast food icon is offering daily deals on menu items that feature favorite holiday characters from TV and film.

      “After a year like 2020, I think we could all use some extra cheer this season,” said McDonald’s U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley. 

      Before you schedule a family trip to McDonald’s in hopes of taking advantage of the free feeding frenzy, you should know that each daily-promoted menu item requires a $1 minimum purchase -- and the purchases have to be made through the “deals” section of the McDonald’s app.

      However, in a nod to Santa, a 2-pack/3-pack of chocolate chip cookies will be available completely free on Christmas Eve, no minimum purchase required.

      The daily deals

      As you’ll see, McDonald’s daily deals all have some sort of a connection to a character in a classic holiday movie or TV episode. Here’s the list: 

      Dec. 14: The Griswolds, free Double Cheeseburger. Note: The company did not list any exceptions for Cousin Eddie or his “tenement on wheels,” nor did they say if Clark Griswold might be dropping by with free eggnog refills.

      Dec. 15: The Abominable Snowmonster, free Big Mac

      Dec. 16: Grinch, free Egg McMuffin

      Dec. 17: John McClane, free McDouble. This tie-in is a bit of a stretch, but John McClane was the role Bruce Willis played in ‘Die Hard,’ which opened up with Willis traveling to Los Angeles to attend a Christmas Eve party.

      Dec. 18: Rudolph, free medium Fry

      Dec. 19: Gizmo, free 6-piece McNuggets. By the way, Gizmo is that furry little pet Billy’s dad gave him for Christmas in the ‘Gremlins’ movie.

      Dec. 20: Buddy the Elf, free Hotcakes

      Dec. 21: Scrooge, free any-size Hot or Iced Coffee

      Dec. 22: Frosty the Snowman, free any size McFlurry

      Dec. 23: On this day, McDonald’s is paying homage to ‘Seinfeld’s’ Frank Costanza and his idea for creating a “festivus for the rest-of-us” when he couldn’t get the doll George wanted for Christmas. As the daily freebie, customers can get a bakery item -- Apple Fritter, Cinnamon Roll, or Blueberry Muffin -- of their choice.

      Dec. 24: Santa, free 2-pack or 3-pack Chocolate Chip Cookies (No minimum purchase required)

      McDonald’s is giving away food for the holidays. Every day from Monday, December 14, through December 24, the fast food icon is offering daily deals on men...

      Homeowners see big equity gains due to strong housing demand

      U.S. homeowners have reportedly gained about $17,000 each in equity due to the pandemic

      As home prices rose during the pandemic, homeowners in the United States have collectively gained around $1 trillion in equity, according to a report from CoreLogic. 

      Homeowners with mortgages in the U.S. have seen an equity increase of 10.8 percent, or about $17,000 per homeowner. CoreLogic said that’s the largest equity bump seen since the first quarter of 2014.

      Since the onset of the pandemic, home prices have been trending upward. Many people decided to move for various reasons related to the work- and school-from-home conditions necessitated by the health crisis. Others opted to move to less densely populated regions in the interest of safety, and some decided to buy homes this year due to record-low mortgage rates. But while housing demand grew stronger, supply remained lean. 

      CoreLogic said homeowners will probably see their equity grow even more in the months ahead before the numbers moderate at some point over the next year.

      “Equity gains are likely to persist over the next several months as strong home-purchase demand is expected to remain high and continue pushing prices up,” the report said. “However, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast shows home prices slowing over the next 12 months as new home construction and more existing for-sale homes ease supply pressures. This could moderate the pace of both home price growth and equity gains.” 

      Varied by market

      The amount of equity gained per homeowner varied by location, with homeowners in locations with the hottest home prices seeing the biggest gains. 

      Washington had the highest year-over-year average increase at $35,800. Homeowners in California gained $33,800, and those in Massachusetts gained an average of $31,200. The smallest equity gain was seen in North Dakota, where homeowners gained just $5,400 in equity. 

      Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic, said the equity gains of 2020 can provide “an important buffer to protect families if they experience financial difficulties.” Borrowers who aren’t able to keep their homes due to financial hardships may still be able to sell into the market and make a profit.

      As home prices rose during the pandemic, homeowners in the United States have collectively gained around $1 trillion in equity, according to a report from...

      Honda recalls Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles

      The ROV can lose steering control, posing crash and injury hazards

      American Honda Motor Co. of Torrance, Calif., is recalling about 118,600 Honda Pioneer 700 & 1000 Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROVs) with Electric Power Steering (EPS).

      The ROV can lose steering control, posing crash and injury hazards.

      The firm has received eight reports of the ROV’s having either play in the steering or losing control of steering. No injuries or accidents have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2017-2019 & certain model year 2020 Honda Pioneer 700 and model year 2016-2019 & certain model year 2020 Pioneer 1000 Side-by-Side vehicles equipped with Electric Power Steering (EPS).

      The recalled vehicles were sold in various colors including: Red, blue, green, gray and yellow.

      The name “HONDA” is on the front, sides and the rear of the vehicle.

      The model name Pioneer 700 or Pioneer 1000 is printed on a label located on both sides of the vehicle.

      The serial number (VIN #) is stamped in the frame at the left rear, below the tilt-up bed/seat.

      A list of the recalled ROVs may be found here.

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S, were sold at authorized Honda Powersports dealers nationwide from August 2015, through March 2020, for approximately between $10,000 and $21,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact an authorized Honda Powersports dealer to schedule an appointment for a free inspection and repair, if necessary. Honda is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact American Honda toll-free at (866) 784-1870 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at http://powersports.honda.com/ and click on “Recall Information” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      American Honda Motor Co. of Torrance, Calif., is recalling about 118,600 Honda Pioneer 700 & 1000 Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROVs) with Electric Po...

      Continental Glatt Kosher Meats recalls ready-to-eat meat and poultry products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      Continental Glatt Kosher Meats of Spring Valley, N.Y., is recalling approximately 61,504 pounds of turkey, chicken and beef products that did not undergo federal inspection.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      A list of the recalled items, were from June 26, 2020, through November 20, 2020, with various sell-by dates ranging from October 2, 2020, through April 18, 2021, may be found here.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 40009” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in New York.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Abraham Gruenzweig at (845) 659-4733.

      Continental Glatt Kosher Meats of Spring Valley, N.Y., is recalling approximately 61,504 pounds of turkey, chicken and beef products that did not undergo f...

      Royal Caribbean test cruise forced back to port after positive COVID-19 case

      Passengers are being kept aboard the ship until more tests can be administered

      Royal Caribbean may have gotten a little too eager in its desire to start cruising again. Just weeks after the cruise line set out to recruit 100,000 volunteers for test cruises, one of its ships was forced to return to port in Singapore after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19.

      According to a report by CNN, the Quantum of the Seas ship was hosting a three-night, four-day "cruise to nowhere" itinerary sailing around Singapore and had been at sea for two days before the incident occured. The passenger, whose name has yet to be released, is an 83-year-old male who contacted ship personnel after he began experiencing diarrhea, a symptom of coronavirus.

      The “healthy return” that went wrong

      While Royal Caribbean had joined other cruise lines in moving its sailing dates back to 2021, it left Singapore departures off that list. When the company announced the Quantum voyage, it said it was celebrating its “healthy return to sailing” after “months of careful planning and collaboration with Singapore's health and tourism authorities.”

      Once the passenger’s test was confirmed as positive, the ship informed Singaporean officials and headed back to port. However, CNN reports that guests have not yet been permitted to disembark from the ship. They likely won’t be able to leave until contact tracing measures have been carried out and the 1,679 passengers and 1,148 crew members remaining onboard are tested for the coronavirus and produce a negative test result.

      In all fairness, Royal Caribbean had reason to think it was playing things safe. The Quantum was operating at 50 percent capacity, and every passenger had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to board. All guests were also required to wear masks at all times when outside their staterooms. 

      Given the fact that Singapore had only one positive COVID-19 case in the last week, it seemed prudent to only allow Singaporean citizens to buy tickets for the cruise. Royal Caribbean also went the extra mile by having crew members spend 14 days quarantining in the city-state in order to be cleared for work. However, all bets are off when it comes to COVID-19. 

      "We worked closely with the government to develop a thorough system that tests and monitors all guests and crew and follows public health best practices," a Royal Caribbean representative said. "That we were able to quickly identify this single case and take immediate action is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to do."

      Royal Caribbean may have gotten a little too eager in its desire to start cruising again. Just weeks after the cruise line set out to recruit 100,000 volun...

      Coronavirus update: Adverse reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, New York considers a vaccine mandate

      Senators are reporting problems with testing capacity

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,189,410 (14,975,348)

      Total U.S. deaths: 286,521 (284,131)

      Total global cases: 68,469,834 (67,803,057)

      Total global deaths: 1,561,953 (1,549,332)

      U.K.: Pfizer vaccine not for people with allergies

      Two days into the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine rollout, British health officials have a warning for people with a “significant history of allergic reactions” -- they should not take the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

      The warning was issued after two hospital workers received the vaccine and had “adverse reactions.” Officials said both suffered from allergies.

      "Any person with a history of a significant allergic reaction to a vaccine, medicine or food (such as previous history of anaphylactoid reaction or those who have been advised to carry an adrenaline autoinjector) should not receive the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine," British health officials said in an advisory.

      New York may require residents to be vaccinated

      With polls showing hesitation on the part of the public -- including New York City firefighters -- to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a state lawmaker is proposing a bill that could make it mandatory.

      Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan introduced a bill that would require the state to "safely and effectively" distribute an FDA-approved vaccine "in accordance with the department [of health]'s COVID-19 vaccination administration program." 

      The bill would give the state health department authority to “mandate vaccination” if state officials determined that not enough people are getting the vaccine to promote herd immunity.

      Senators claim gaps in U.S. testing capacity

      Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) say they have discovered “significant gaps” in the nation’s ability to administer and collect COVID-19 tests.

      In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the two lawmakers said they made their discovery after consulting with the major diagnostic testing labs in the U.S. The letter said the labs reported a significant spike in testing demand during the summer that stretched resources, making more federal aid necessary.

      At a White House event Tuesday, President Trump defended U.S. efforts to test for the virus and said new tests are on the way that will make the process easier.

      Roche partnering with Moderna in last stage of vaccine trial

      Moderna is in the final stages of its vaccine clinical trial, and it’s teaming up with Roche’s diagnostics unit to determine how well the vaccine works. Moderna will use a Roche test, which received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month, to measure antibodies produced by the vaccine.

      “Measuring the quantitative levels of anti-RBD SARS-CoV-2 antibodies using Roche’s test will help Moderna to gain valuable insights into the correlation between protection from vaccination and antibody levels,” Roche said in a press release. 

      The company said the information could play a role in assessing if, or when, an individual needs revaccination. It could also help “answer other clinically relevant questions.”

      UC Davis joins Novavax trial

      Pfizer and Moderna are likely to get conditional FDA approval for their vaccines in the coming days, but that doesn’t mean the search for a vaccine to stamp out COVID-19 has ended. Other vaccine efforts are still underway.

      University of California (UC) Davis is partnering with Novavax in a clinical trial for that company’s vaccine. The vaccine, called NVX-CoV2373, has a subunit from the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. The subunit is combined with an adjuvant, a boosting agent to improve the body’s immune response to the vaccine.

      “The vaccine contains protein antigens that cannot replicate or cause COVID-19. The antibodies generated to the vaccine will help protect the body from the real, fully-potent virus,” said Stuart Cohen, head of Infectious Diseases at UC Davis Health. 

      Around the nation

      • New York: A restaurant trade group in New York has taken aim at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that indoor dining may shut down in New York City soon if COVID-19 hospitalization rates keep going up. “Governor Cuomo has given New Yorkers a one-week warning that indoor dining will likely be shut down, regardless of the number of positive cases that are specifically tied back to restaurants,” Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

      • Tennessee: State health officials have reported 100 deaths in a day for the first time since the pandemic began. The state also reported 6,019 new cases of COVID-19, as well as an 18.47 percent positive for Tuesday.

      • Oklahoma: Doctors and nurses at SSM St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City invited TV reporters into the ICU, hoping state residents would be shocked into wearing masks and social distancing. “Just do the right things and wear a mask, and follow CDC guidelines because honestly, we’re strained to the point where this is not sustainable. We can’t do this anymore,” said critical care unit charge nurse Stephanie Collier.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 15,189,410 (14,975,...

      McDonald’s Happy Meals could cost more in 2021

      The fast food chain is eliminating a subsidy that helped keep the cost of the menu item down

      The price of McDonald’s Happy Meals could rise in 2021 as a result of the end of a deal between the fast food giant and its franchisees. Previously, the deal subsidized the price of the toys that come with Happy Meals. 

      About 95 percent of U.S. McDonald’s locations are owned and operated by independent franchisees, which are in charge of setting prices for menu items. For years, McDonald's has been giving each franchise around $300 per month to keep the cost of Happy Meals down. Without the contribution, many franchisees say they will be forced to raise the price of the popular menu item. 

      The company told franchisees that it’s doing away with the subsidy because it’s "no longer fueling growth in the way it once was.” As a result, franchises have been cleared to increase the price of a Happy Meal by 20 cents starting next year if they so choose. 

      The National Owners Association, a group of McDonald's franchisees, said in a team message that it "does not support, nor did we endorse" the elimination of the financial support, according to CNN Business.

      "We believe the Happy Meal rebates represent a token of partnership and acknowledgment by the company that each owner [and] operator invests to drive affordable family business to our restaurants," the group said in the letter.

      The price of McDonald’s Happy Meals could rise in 2021 as a result of the end of a deal between the fast food giant and its franchisees. Previously, the de...

      Dry ice supplies could impact COVID-19 vaccine release

      Experts say successfully distributing vaccines will likely be ‘challenging’

      The release of a COVID-19 vaccine could be impacted by dry ice supplies in the U.S., Reuters reports. 

      Dry ice is a crucial factor in keeping doses of many vaccinations at the required temperature. For example, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 Celsius. Failure to keep vaccinations at the proper temperature could render them ineffective. 

      But some dry ice suppliers are anticipating a level of “vulnerability” in dry ice supplies during the vaccine rollout because it’s unclear how much of it will be needed. 

      “There’s going to be spots in other parts of the country that there’s vulnerability or weakness in supply,” Steve Atkins, executive vice president of gases at nexAir in Memphis, Tennessee, told Reuters.

      Tight supplies

      Dry ice is made from carbon dioxide and is often used in the food and grocery industry, in addition to medical settings. Experts say its use for vaccine distribution threatens to cause a ripple effect that could lead to wavering supplies.

      “What is going to happen is as the Pfizer vaccine needs to get distributed at -70C, all of the dry ice is going to get sucked up for vaccine distribution or healthcare related activities and it is just sitting there now,” Evan Armstrong, president of Milwaukee-based supply chain consultancy Armstrong & Associates, told Logistics Management.

      “That is going to impact all of the food and grocery stuff that happens on the frozen side, so the ripple effects of that are going to be pretty extreme, when it comes to all of the distribution of non-healthcare products that require dry ice as well.”

      Armstrong said dry ice quantities have taken a hit due to pandemic-related declines in oil prices.

      “Dry ice manufacturing happens next to oil refinery plants, because they capture the CO2 out of the process,” Armstrong said. “When the price of oil dropped, it really created a lot less C02 and because the production went down, it impacted it…and right now dry ice supplies are very tight.”

      States rushing to secure dry ice

      Ahead of the rollout of a successful COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters said many states are already scheduling dry ice deliveries. Gehm and Sons in Akron has agreed to provide Ohio with 15,000 pounds per week of dry ice pellets for 55 cents a pound.

      More than a dozen states told the publication that they are working hard to secure enough dry ice to replenish shipping containers sent over from Pfizer. 

      Pfizer has said that the suitcase-sized containers can house vaccines for a total of 30 days as long as they are re-iced every five days. The pharmaceutical giant said it believes the dry ice supply will be able to support the rollout of its vaccine -- but challenges could still crop up. 

      “This is the most challenging vaccination program ever attempted. (It) will be especially complicated in rural and remote communities,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, an advisor to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine program and associate director at the Immunization Action Coalition. 

      The release of a COVID-19 vaccine could be impacted by dry ice supplies in the U.S., Reuters reports. Dry ice is a crucial factor in keeping doses of m...

      Delta Air Lines scraps international change fees and adds flexibility to new tickets

      Some changes might include caveats, so travelers should make sure they check all of the fare rules on a flight

      With the coronavirus vaccine about to shine some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Delta Air Lines is reframing some of its typical restrictions in hopes of attracting millions of Americans who are more than ready to get out and travel again.

      Topping the list of changes is an extension to an existing waiver that promises no change fees for all tickets purchased through March 30, 2021, for travel at any time to anywhere in the world. According to a Delta spokesperson, that includes Basic Economy fares, “which typically can’t be changed or canceled.” Delta is hoping that the modification will make it easier for travelers to book their 2021 spring break or summer vacation.

      The other change Delta is making is to permanently eliminate change fees for international travel originating from North America -- including flights operated by joint venture and codeshare partners (Air France, KLM, et al) -- effective immediately. 

      While this sounds like great news, there is one important note that wanderlusting consumers should make -- namely, that “permanently” isn’t exactly permanent in the general sense. Delta clarified to ConsumerAffairs that Basic Economy fares for international flights are excluded from this change after March 30.

      “No year has better demonstrated the value of flexibility than this one,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “Our approach has always been to put people first, which is why we’re extending our current change fee waiver and making lasting changes to our practices, so customers have the trust and confidence they need long after the pandemic ends.”

      Pay attention to the details on every flight

      The COVID-19 pandemic has put airlines on an emotional rollercoaster as carriers look for ways to keep their planes in the air and passengers in seats. American, Southwest, JetBlue, and countless other airlines all took steps to be as consumer-sensitive as possible.

      Delta’s latest move is likely to prod its competitors to do the same if not more. However, as ConsumerAffairs noted in the caveat about change fees for Delta’s Basic Economy fares, the devil is in the details. 

      Anyone looking to purchase a ticket for future flights that look like great deals should always click on the “more details” or “other fees may apply” links in a reservation before clicking on the “book now” button. If there is still confusion, the next best option is to email the airline and ask for clarification. And, by all means, keep a copy of the airline’s response in case something goes wrong.

      With the coronavirus vaccine about to shine some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Delta Air Lines is reframing some of its typical restrictions in...

      Cybersecurity firm FireEye suffers major cyber attack

      Russian hackers are reportedly being investigated as the likely culprit

      FireEye, one of the nation’s leading cybersecurity firms, has shared details of a hack targeting its “Red Team” tools, which it uses to test customers’ security. The firm said there is concern that the hackers could publicly release the tools they accessed or use them to carry out other attacks. 

      In a blog post, FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia said the attack was “different from the tens of thousands of incidents we have responded to throughout the years.” 

      “The attackers tailored their world-class capabilities specifically to target and attack FireEye. They are highly trained in operational security and executed with discipline and focus,” Mandia wrote. “They operated clandestinely, using methods that counter security tools and forensic examination. They used a novel combination of techniques not witnessed by us or our partners in the past.” 

      Russia reportedly a suspect

      FireEye said it doesn’t currently have evidence that any customer information was taken. 

      Although the company didn’t say in its report who it believes is responsible for the attack, the Wall Street Journal reported that state-sponsored Russian hackers are a likely suspect. A source familiar with the matter told the Journal that Russia is currently being viewed by investigators as “the most likely culprit.” 

      “Moscow’s foreign-intelligence service, known as the SVR and one of two Russian groups that hacked the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election, is believed to be responsible, the person said,” according to the Journal. 

      FireEye didn’t specify when the hack took place or when it became aware of it. The hack is currently being investigated by FireEye, as well as the FBI and industry partners like Microsoft.

      Since becoming aware of the attack, FireEye said it’s developed hundreds of countermeasures that can detect or block the use of any of its stolen tools. The firm said it has integrated the measures into its own security products and shared them with “colleagues in the security community.” 

      FireEye said it will “continue to share and refine any additional mitigations for the Red Team tools as they become available.” 

      FireEye, one of the nation’s leading cybersecurity firms, has shared details of a hack targeting its “Red Team” tools, which it uses to test customers’ sec...

      Consumers’ behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic are improving the environment

      Researchers have found reduced air pollution levels, less deforestation, and better water quality

      Recent studies have shown how environmental factors can play a large role in future pandemics, but a new study conducted by researchers from NASA and the Goddard Space Flight Center is looking at how the environment has changed since the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

      According to their findings, the pandemic could be responsible for a great deal of positive environmental change that has occurred this year. In comparing data between 2019 and 2020, the researchers noted improvements in air pollution, deforestation, and water quality in several parts of the world. 

      “But we will need more research to clearly attribute environmental change to COVID,” said researcher Timothy Newman.

      Improved environmental outcomes

      The researchers used remote sensing data to look at specific environmental outcomes across different parts of the world to understand how things have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, they learned that things are environmentally very different from where they were before the pandemic.  

      The study revealed that air pollution levels have improved greatly in India in recent months. Results showed that levels of the pollutant particulate matter (PM) 10 decreased significantly since the start of this year; that could be a result of fewer construction projects happening across the country because of pandemic-related lockdowns. 

      Cleaner air in India also had an effect on snow in the Indus River Basin. The researchers learned that snow in this area has been less susceptible to pollutants since they are at reduced levels; that has led to an increase in the amount of time it takes the snow to melt. They explained that the snow was melting slower than it has in the last two decades, which is incredibly beneficial for the environment and the planet’s temperature. It also affects how quickly consumers in the River Basin have access to fresh water.

      The researchers also looked at how water quality has changed since the start of the pandemic. They learned that New York City experienced significant improvements in this area. By eliminating millions of daily commuters, the water was less polluted overall, and it was found to be 40 percent clearer than it was at the start of the pandemic. 

      In looking at deforestation efforts, the researchers learned that different areas have had different outcomes during the pandemic. While deforestation slowed in parts of Peru and Colombia, large parts of the Brazilian rainforest weren’t as lucky. 

      Can the benefits last?

      While many of these pandemic-related changes are beneficial to the environment, there’s a good chance that they won’t be long-lasting. 

      Though consumers have been forced to change their behaviors in recent months, the researchers predict that once things revert back to how they were pre-pandemic, these environmental advancements won’t hold up.

      Recent studies have shown how environmental factors can play a large role in future pandemics, but a new study conducted by researchers from NASA and the G...