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Report: former Gillibrand staffer resigned over handling of sexual harassment allegation

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a well-known champion of the #MeToo movement, is facing questions about her office’s handling of a sexual harassment allegation.

A former female staffer who worked for Gillibrand alleges that the office mishandled a sexual harassment complaint that she filed last July, and provided an opaque response to retaliation the staffer says she faced after reporting the issue, according to a letter Politico’s Alex Thompson and Daniel Strauss obtained from the staffer. She ultimately resigned about three weeks after filing her initial complaint, despite having no other job set up at the time.

“I trusted and leaned on this statement that you made: ‘You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable,’” the woman wrote to Gillibrand and two other senior staffers on her final day. “Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation.”

Gillibrand’s office says it responded to the allegations of harassment and retaliation in an expedient fashion. As an aide told Vox, written documentation indicates that an investigation was launched into the sexual harassment claim within 42 minutes of its reporting. That investigation resulted in a demotion for Abbas Malik — the older male staffer facing allegations — but not a firing. The woman who resigned is in her mid-20s.

The office at the time interviewed seven current staffers but did not speak with former staffers whom the woman involved had recommended for the investigation.

Politico ultimately reached out to 20 former staffers, and these conversations revealed that Malik had a history of making misogynistic comments, including a joke about rape. After Politico revealed these allegations to Gillibrand’s office, a new review was conducted and Malik was subsequently fired.

“As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability. That’s exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time and the same is true today,” Gillibrand said in a statement.

Gillibrand is known for her stance on #MeToo. But even she isn’t immune to Capitol Hill’s broken system to address harassment.

Gillibrand has been a leader on the issue of tackling harassment and spearheaded an effort to address sexual assault in the military. She’s been an active proponent in trying to improve the process for reporting sexual harassment in Congress, and called on Sen. Al Franken to resign after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct in 2017. Her focus on gender equality is a cornerstone of her presidential campaign.

Allegations of harassment in her office appeared to hit some of the same stumbling blocks that have plagued Congress’s handling of these subjects in the past, however.

Questions around the handling of sexual harassment allegations are not unique to Gillibrand’s office. Allegations touching a number of offices in the past year underscore the deeply broken system of sexual harassment reporting on Capitol Hill. Because every lawmaker’s office effectively functions as its own small business, harassment allegations have long been reviewed by top aides in the office rather than by an impartial investigator. This dynamic can lead to questions about a review’s potential bias, as well as questions about whether it’s comprehensive enough.

In this case, Malik had been with the senator’s office for much longer than the younger female staffer:

Malik had spent years by Gillibrand’s side as her driver — the senator officiated at his wedding — while the woman was a more recent hire and had significantly less stature in the office. He was accused not of physical harassment but of making unwanted advances and using demeaning language — behavior that can be easier to downplay and can require a higher level of diligence to get to the bottom of.

Last year, per Politico, the staffer had also considered reporting her allegations via the Congressional Office of Compliance, though she found the compliance office’s response unhelpful and was worried about the mandatory delays involved. At the time, staffers were required to undergo a 30-day “cooling off” period as part of the reporting process.

A law Congress passed to improve the harassment reporting process last year has increased lawmaker accountability and eliminated the cooling-off period, though offices still have relatively broad discretion when it comes to addressing internal harassment complaints.

This law is among the changes lawmakers have sought to make to ensure that staffers are protected when they file allegations about harassment.

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Look at How Much “Game of Thrones” Characters Have Changed Over 8 Seasons

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During the summer of 2019, the final season of Game of Thrones aired. The show had gone on for almost 10 years which is a long time not only for the characters but also for the actors who portrayed them.

Bright Side is remembering what characters looked like in the very first episodes of the groundbreaking series and is comparing them to what they look like in the final season of the show.

1. Cersei Lannister

2. Jon Snow

3. Tyrion Lannister

4. Daenerys Targaryen

5. Sansa Stark

6. Arya Stark

7. Jorah Mormont

8. Varys

9. Jaime Lannister

10. Sandor Clegane

11. Brienne of Tarth

12. Samwell Tarly

13. Davos Seaworth

14. Theon Greyjoy

15. Brandon Stark

Did you watch Game of Thrones? Did you enjoy season 8? Tell us in the comment section below.

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Baltimore’s ransomware attack, explained – Vox

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Thirteen bitcoins are standing between the city of Baltimore and many of the services and processes its citizens rely on after hackers seized thousands of government computers at the start of the month. The ordeal has been going on for two weeks, and there’s no clear end in sight.

Here’s what’s happening: On May 7, hackers digitally seized about 10,000 Baltimore government computers and demanded around $100,000 worth in bitcoins to free them back up. It’s a so-called “ransomware” attack, where hackers deploy malicious software to block access to or take over a computer system until the owner of that system pays a ransom.

Baltimore, like several other cities that have been hit by such attacks over the past two years, is refusing to pay up. As a result, for two weeks, city employees have been locked out of their email accounts and citizens have been unable to access essential services, including websites where they pay their water bills, property taxes, and parking tickets. This is Baltimore’s second ransomware attack in about 15 months: Last year, a separate attack shut down the city’s 911 system for about a day. Baltimore has come under scrutiny for its handling of both attacks.

The ransomware attacks in Baltimore and other local governments across the US demonstrate that as ransomware attacks spread, and as common targets such as hospitals and schools beef up their online systems’ security, there are still plenty targets vulnerable to this kind of hack. It also exemplifies the conundrum that ransomware victims face: pay up and get your access back, or refuse — potentially costing much more in the long run.

What’s going on in Baltimore, briefly explained

Hackers targeted the city of Baltimore on May 7 using a ransomware called RobbinHood, which, as NPR explains, makes it impossible to access a server without a digital key that only the hackers have.

The Baltimore hackers’ ransom note, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, demanded payment of three bitcoins per system to be unlocked, which amounts to 13 bitcoins to unlock all the seized systems. The note threatened to increase the ransom if it wasn’t paid in four days, and said the information would be lost forever if it wasn’t paid in 10 days. Both deadlines have now passed.

“We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up! Tik Tak, Tik Tak, Tik Tak!” the note said.

The city government is refusing to pay, meaning that the government email systems and payment platforms the attack took down remain offline. The attack has also harmed Baltimore’s property market, because officials weren’t able to access systems needed to complete real estate sales. (The city said transactions resumed on Monday.)

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, who’s officially been in his office less than a month, said in a statement on Friday that city officials are “well into the restorative process” and have “engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts who are on-site 24-7 working with us.” The FBI is also involved in the investigation.

“Some of the restoration efforts also require that we rebuild certain systems to make sure that when we restore business functions, we are doing so in a secure manner,” Young said. He did not offer a timeline for when all systems will come back online.

The Baltimore City Council president also plans to form a special committee to investigate this latest attack and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

A similar attack using RobbinHood hit government computers in Greenville, North Carolina, in April. A spokesperson for Greenville told the Wall Street Journal that the city never wound up paying, and that while its systems aren’t entirely restored, “all of our major technology needs are now being met.”

More than 20 municipalities in the US have been hit by cyberattacks this year alone. And such attacks can be expensive, perhaps especially if targets say they won’t pay. In 2018, hackers demanded that Atlanta pay about $50,000 in bitcoins as part of a ransomware attack. The city refused, and according to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, the attack wound up costing the city $17 million to fix.

Ransomware attacks aren’t new — but we’re still figuring out how to deal with them

In 2017, a ransomware called WannaCry targeted tens of thousands of computers using Microsoft Windows operating systems in more than 100 countries. Officials in the US and the United Kingdom eventually blamed North Korea for the attack. Also in 2017, corporations in the UK, France, Russia, Israel, and Ukraine experienced ransomware attacks. US hospitals were also targeted.

Here’s how Timothy Lee explained for Vox what was going on and how ransomware had become more prolific:

The basic idea behind ransomware is simple: A criminal hacks into your computer, scrambles your files with unbreakable encryption, and then demands that you pay for the encryption key needed to unscramble the files. If you have important files on your computer, you might be willing to pay a lot to avoid losing them.

Ransomware schemes have become a lot more effective since the invention of Bitcoin in 2009. Conventional payment networks like Visa and Mastercard make it difficult to accept payments without revealing your identity. Bitcoin makes that a lot easier. So the past four years have seen a surge in ransomware schemes striking unsuspecting PC users.

Some ransomware schemes are so sophisticated that they even invest in customer service, helping victims who want to pay their ransoms navigate the complexities of obtaining bitcoins and making bitcoin payments.

Since then, a number of sectors and organizations have made improvements to their security practices to protect against ransomware. But the latest Baltimore attack exemplifies what a whack-a-mole game this is: One area improves its practices and hackers just go looking for another.


Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

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Cameron Russell for ELLE

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A film by Kai Z Feng of our February 2014 cover.

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