AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EDT


Log in, look out: Cyberattack havoc may grow at week’s start

LONDON (AP) — An unprecedented “ransomware” cyberattack that has already hit tens of thousands of victims in 150 countries could wreak greater havoc as more malicious variations appear and people return to their desks Monday and power up computers at the start of the workweek.

Officials and experts on Sunday urged organizations and companies to update their operating systems immediately to ensure they aren’t vulnerable to a second, more powerful version of the software — or to future versions that can’t be stopped.

The cyberattack paralyzed computers that run Britain’s hospital network, Germany’s national railway and scores of other companies and government agencies worldwide.

The attack, already believed to be the biggest online extortion scheme ever recorded, is an “escalating threat” after hitting 200,000 victims across the world since Friday, according to Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, Europe’s policing agency.

“The numbers are still going up,” Wainwright said. “We’ve seen that the slowdown of the infection rate over Friday night, after a temporary fix around it, has now been overcome by a second variation the criminals have released.”

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Clapper: US govt ‘under assault’ by Trump after Comey firing

WASHINGTON (AP) — American democracy is “under assault” on separate fronts from President Donald Trump and Russia, the former U.S. intelligence chief warned Sunday, expressing dismay over the abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey amid a probe into Moscow’s meddling in U.S. elections and possible ties with the Trump campaign.

As Trump works to fast-track Comey’s successor, lawmakers from both parties urged him to steer clear of any politicians for the job and say he must “clean up the mess that he mostly created.”

“I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system,” said James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence. “I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”

When he was asked, “Internally, from the president?” Clapper said, “Exactly.”

Clapper spoke following Trump’s sudden firing of Comey last week, which drew sharp criticism because it came amid the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Clapper said America’s founding fathers had created three co-equal branches of government with checks and balances, but with Trump as president, that was now “eroding.”

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GOP lawmakers mark success by flipping rules from Obama era

WASHINGTON (AP) — Final score: Republicans 14, Barack Obama’s last-minute regulations, one.

Congressional Republicans anxious to show voters they can get something done are hailing their reversal of more than a dozen Obama-era regulations on guns, the internet and the environment.

Over a few months, lawmakers used an obscure legislative rule to ram through changes that will have far-reaching implications for the coal industry, broadband customers, hunters and women seeking health care at Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

The deadline for scuttling the rules that Democrat Obama imposed during his final months in office was last Thursday. The 1996 Congressional Review Act had given Republicans the power to make the changes with a simple majority, within a set time.

While the rest of Washington focused on the furor over President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, Republicans were celebrating their effort to reverse the rules, arguing that it would boost the economy and make it easier for businesses to operate.

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In testing missile, N. Korea challenges South’s new leader

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Just five days after South Korea elected a president who expressed a desire to reach out to North Korea, Pyongyang sent a challenge to its rival’s new leader on Sunday by test-firing a ballistic missile.

The missile flew for half an hour and reached an unusually high altitude before landing in the Sea of Japan, the South Korean, Japanese and U.S. militaries said. Tokyo said the flight pattern could indicate a new type of missile.

The launch jeopardizes new South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s willingness for dialogue with the North, and came as U.S., Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.

“The president expressed deep regret over the fact that this reckless provocation … occurred just days after a new government was launched in South Korea,” senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan said. “The president said we are leaving open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but we should sternly deal with a provocation to prevent North Korea from miscalculating.”

Moon, South Korea’s first liberal leader in nearly a decade, said as he took his oath of office last week that he’d be willing to visit the North if the circumstances were right.

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France’s new president vows to fortify EU, revamp politics

PARIS (AP) — In ceremonies marked by youthful optimism and old-world Napoleonic pomp, Emmanuel Macron swept into office Sunday as France’s new president pledging to fortify the European Union, redesign French politics and glue together his divided nation.

Macron’s presidency began with a visit to troops wounded in overseas combat — a reminder of France’s large global military presence and role in fighting extremists from Syria to Africa.

He’s expected to name a prime minister imminently, and to show his commitment to reviving European unity. Macron takes his first presidential trip Monday to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a lofty but lucid inaugural speech, Macron vowed to lift France out of its sense of decline and lost purpose, and seize again its place in the world.

“The time has come for France to rise up to the occasion. The division and fractures across our society must be overcome … because the world expects us to be strong, solid, clairvoyant.”

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New York eyes ‘textalyzer’ to combat distracted driving

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Ben Lieberman just wanted to find out what may have caused the head-on collision that killed his 19-year-old son, Evan, on a highway north of New York City. It took a lawsuit and six months in court to get the cellphone records showing the driver of the car his son was in had been texting behind the wheel.

Lieberman doesn’t believe getting that information should be so hard.

He’s channeling his grief over the 2011 accident into a proposal that would allow police at accident scenes in New York to immediately examine drivers’ cellphones with a device to determine if they’d been tapping, swiping or clicking. It’s been called a Breathalyzer for texting.

“You think people are already looking at phones and it just doesn’t happen,” said Lieberman, who is partnering with the Israel-based tech company Cellebrite to develop the plug-in device that’s been nicknamed the “textalyzer.”

The idea already faces obstacles from constitutional and privacy advocates who are quick to note that police need the owner’s consent and a warrant to get cellphone records. They’re also concerned such technology would be used to access all of the personal information people may have on their cellphones.

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More states allow sunscreen at schools without doctor’s OK

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Susan Grenon makes sure her son is lathered with sunscreen before he leaves for school in the morning, but the fair-skinned 10-year-old can’t bring a bottle to reapply it without a doctor’s note.

Many school systems categorize sunscreen as an over-the-counter medication requiring special paperwork, but several states have been pushing to loosen restrictions to make it easier for kids to protect themselves from skin cancer.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a bill into law this month allowing students to use sunscreen at school without notes from a doctor and parent. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, enacted a similar measure late last month, following Utah in March. Oregon, Texas and New York have also freed students to use sunscreen in recent years. California did it back in 2002.

Backed by the personal care products industry, such proposals also have wide and bipartisan support from health experts and state lawmakers. Legislation is moving forward this spring in Rhode Island and Louisiana. In Florida, it’s waiting for the governor’s signature. The main opposition has come from school nurses voicing caution about children bringing in lotions that can cause allergic reactions.

Grenon, who lives in Smithfield, Rhode Island, said her concerns for her son grew after a doctor excised two basal cell carcinomas from her face in February, and another one three years ago. Grenon said she is paying the price for never using sunscreen while growing up as a military kid in sunny climates such as Hawaii and Nevada.

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Schools brace for impact if Congress cuts Medicaid spending

For school districts still getting their financial footing after the Great Recession, the Medicaid changes being advanced as part of the health care overhaul are sounding familiar alarms.

Administrators say programming and services even beyond those that receive funding from the state-federal health care program could be at risk should Congress follow through with plans to change the way Medicaid is distributed. They say any reduction in the estimated $4 billion schools receive in annual Medicaid reimbursements would be hard to absorb after years of reduced state funding and a weakened tax base.

“If they have less Medicaid money, something’s going to go away,” said Randy Liepa, superintendent of the Wayne County Regional Education Service Agency, which works with 33 school districts in the Detroit area. The agency covers about 21,000 children with special needs who are on Medicaid and it helps districts recoup about $30 million annually in reimbursements.

Districts would have to look at nonmandated positions and programs if forced to bear more of the costs for services for poor and disabled students required by federal law, said Thomas Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association.

The Senate is up next in efforts to do away with President Barack Obama’s health law, and school leaders are watching to see whether the changes advanced by the House survive. The House bill would transform the open-ended federal entitlement, which reimburses schools a percentage of the cost of the eligible services they provide to poor and disabled students, to one where reimbursements will come in a fixed, per-person amount.

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5 ways to become a smaller target for ransomware hackers

An online extortion attack that authorities say swept 150 countries this weekend is part of a growing problem of “ransomware” scams, in which people find themselves locked out of their files and presented with a demand to pay hackers to restore their access.

Hackers bait users to click on infected email links, open infected attachments or take advantage of outdated and vulnerable systems.

Lawrence Abrams, a New York-based blogger who runs BleepingComputer.com, says many organizations don’t install security upgrades because they’re worried about triggering bugs, or they can’t afford the downtime.

Here are five tips to make yourself a less-likely victim:

MAKE SAFE AND SECURE BACKUPS

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NBC reviving ‘must-see TV’ Thursdays with ‘Will & Grace’

NEW YORK (AP) — NBC is bringing back its “must-see TV” Thursday franchise this fall with the revival of “Will & Grace,” and by moving its heartwarming hit “This is Us” to the same night.

The network announced its schedule Sunday, kicking off the annual week where broadcasters outline next season’s plans to advertisers. NBC is the second most popular network behind CBS, first among the younger viewers it covets, and is bullish on next year since it will show the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl.

The comedy “Will & Grace,” which first aired from 1998 to 2006, unites its ensemble of Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally with the original creative team. If the resumption goes well, NBC hopes there will be more than the 12 episodes now on order, said Robert Greenblatt, NBC entertainment chairman.

“Will & Grace” will kick off Thursday’s lineup, followed by “Great News,” a sophomore comedy produced by Tina Fey. Greenblatt said Fey will appear periodically on air next season, too.

The key to reestablishing Thursday nights, which NBC dominated during the 1980s and 1990s, is bringing the fans who made “This is Us” the year’s biggest new hit, to that night at 9 p.m. The show also gets the high-profile slot after next winter’s Super Bowl. Greenblatt sounded conflicted about how much NBC will push the “must-see TV” concept promotionally.