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Latest Heist Highlights Cryptocurrency Trading Risks

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

The most recent bitcoin theft involving one of India’s largest cryptocurrency trading platforms serves as a reminder of the risks associated with buying and selling internet money.

Coinsecure fell victim to a heist in April, resulting in the loss of 438 bitcoins – roughly $3.6 million at current bitcoin prices.

According to Coinsecure’s website, the stolen tokens were siphoned off to a bitcoin address, also known as a wallet, between 12:35 a.m. and 6:29 a.m., April 9. Though a chief security officer notified the platform’s technology head, questions remained over what happened and how it was handled.

Coinsecure’s incident is the latest of a growing list involving cryptocurrency exchange thefts – one of the major issues that leave proponents and critics divided on the future of such decentralized digital currencies, which don’t require a central bank but rather function through individual transactions.

Supporters believe that cryptocurrencies, like bitcoins, are the wave of the future – a paradigm shift from the traditional banking system. For example, Tim Draper, a bitcoin supporter and founder of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, predicted on Twitter in April that bitcoins will be worth $250,000 each by 2022.

As a major investor in bitcoins, Draper’s optimistic prediction shouldn’t be shocking, but sharply contrasts opinions held by other Wall Street powerhouses, among them Warren Buffett and Charles Munger of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Skeptics, or “nocoiners” as they are called in crypto-culture, are accused by critics for opposing bitcoin because of competitive reasons. But many observers consider the speculative value of the cryptocurrency to be a major problem.

“In most markets, when you trade an instrument there is some purpose to the instrument underneath. You buy a stock because there’s a company that has earnings, you buy currencies because there’s a country that has a gross domestic product – imports and exports,” said David Golumbia, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of “Politics of Bitcoins: Software as Right-Wing Extremism.”

“Bitcoin is just bitcoin; there is nothing that drives its value.”

Concerns over speculative value are one possible reason these e-coins have received a risky image. Other factors include the hacks and heists that spotlight security issues within the platforms many coin-holders use for trading.

For example, Coincheck, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in Asia, suffered a hack in January that resulted in roughly $530 million of stolen funds, overtaking the disappearance of $480 million worth of bitcoins from an exchange called Mt. Gox in 2014.

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Golumbia, these exchange companies are one of the major ways individuals make off with millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins. In many cases, he said, the exchanges themselves were responsible for the thefts.

The popularity of the exchanges gives a glimpse into understanding the difficulties associated with buying and selling cryptocurrencies.

A bitcoin owner who wants to sell it for U.S. dollars would have to use a blockchain, a digital list that allows people to transfer cryptocurrencies and also publicly records the transactions.

“There’s no organization associated with that; there’s no company,” said Golumbia, whose book examines the influence of libertarian and conservative thought in the cryptocurrency movement. “All you can do on that network is send bitcoins from one address to another and there’s a fee associated with that. That’s all you’re doing – moving the money.”

However, there’s no guarantee someone will accept the transaction on blockchain. This is where exchanges come in. Cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Coinsecure, connect buyers and sellers for a price. They act as middlemen, taking a fraction of the currency as payment for making the trade happen.

“Roughly speaking, you pay a little bit more than you would on the blockchain network,” Golumbia explained, and “the transactions will happen relatively quickly because it’s kind of internal to [exchanges], as opposed to putting [a transaction] up on the blockchain where it could literally never happen.”

Not only that, there may also be concerns about Russian involvement in blockchain technology. Last year, members from over two dozen countries attended a meeting in Tokyo to discuss standards for blockchain. When asked why Russia was so interested in the technology, a Russian intelligence agent said that “the internet belongs to the Americans – but blockchain will belong to us,” according to the New York Times.

Because there is no guarantee that a buyer will actually pay for the bitcoin, exchanges have become popular for trading cryptocurrencies, but they also “essentially hold your bitcoin, and that isn’t how the bitcoin network was supposed to work,” Golumbia said. Someone who owns cryptocurrency tokens and uses an exchange to buy and sell must rely on the exchange’s security.

“These securities have been shown to be real places of failure,” Golumbia said, “either because people can hack them, or because the operators have been dishonest and walk away with a lot of the [tokens].”

Naval Ravikant, CEO of AngelList, a website for company start-ups and investors, views the issue differently. “Blockchains are a new invention that allows meritorious participants in an open network to govern without a ruler and without money,” he said in a 2017 tweetstorm.

The Mt. Gox hack serves as an example of the cybersecurity risks associated with using these exchanges.

Short for “Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange,” Mt. Gox was created in 2006 to buy and sell trading cards online for the fantasy game, Magic: The Gathering. In 2010, Mt. Gox switched to exchanging bitcoins instead of trading cards, soon becoming the largest bitcoin exchange on the planet.

When Mt. Gox began exchanging bitcoins, the company “started to have huge amounts of money in their accounts,” Golumbia said. “Those accounts are like bank accounts, but they don’t have anything like the security infrastructure that a bank has.”

By the beginning of 2015, Mt. Gox was bankrupt, $480 million in cryptocurrencies had vanished, and Mark Karpelès, the chief executive of the company, was arrested by Japanese police in connection to the company’s collapse.

While cryptocurrency exchanges add a level of transaction security, there’s no guarantee the exchanges themselves are legitimate or have proper security in customer holdings.

Considering the security risks associated with the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies and that nothing truly backsthem, a question remains: Are these currencies anything like the yen or dollar? Or is the trading just glorified gambling?

Golumbia leans toward the latter and believes regulators will likely think the same.

But Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, has said that bitcoins were like “bars of gold in a vault that never move” and that it’s a “hedge of sorts against the whole world falling apart,” according to CNBC.

So far in 2018, a few companies have stopped allowing bitcoins as acceptable payment, including Microsoft and Steam, a large video game distribution platform, according to Forbes magazine. In January, the North American Bitcoin Conference stopped allowing individuals to pay for the conference’s tickets with cryptocurrencies, according to Business Insider.

Regulation could be a crucial step for the future of cryptocurrencies, potentially convincing more companies to accept it as a form of payment.

Goldman Sachs understands this, which is why they soon hope to trade bitcoins if the company can receive regulatory approval, according to the New York Times.

However, regulation could come with a catch.

“If [regulators] did allow a market, it would be because the currency didn’t move very much,” Golumbia said. “In which case, who would care?”

This is a double-edged sword for cryptocurrencies. If bitcoins were to become a stabilized currency, they would lose some of their appeal. If someone bought a bitcoin for $250,000 in 2022 – assuming Draper is correct about his prediction – and sold it for $251,000 in 2023, traders would no longer have the huge earning potential that made cryptocurrencies so popular.

“This has been the paradox of the bitcoin stuff from the beginning,” Golumbia said.

Meantime, Coinsecure has been assuring customers that funds held by the company are safe and that an investigationis underway. The company also stated that all bitcoins will be returned to customers if recovered. If the bitcoins are not recovered, 10 percent will be refunded in bitcoins and 90 percent in rupees.

“We are working with global exchanges and experts to help us track the movement of funds,” the company stated on its website.

Opponents and Supporters Disagree on Future of Cryptocurrencies

As bitcoin grows in popularity as a standard for internet money, becoming a common topic in mainstream media and economic communities, skeptics and supporters disagree where the future of cryptocurrencies is headed.

Bitcoin supporters see benefits in a currency market untethered from traditional regulation.

Mike Novogratz, the former manager of Fortress Investment Group, is starting a $500 million cryptocurrency hedge fund. Novogratz believes that people “can make a whole lot of money on the way up, and we plan on it,” according toBloomberg.

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning, free-market economist, made remarks in the 1990s that seemed to presage cryptocurrencies, according to Coindesk. “The one thing that’s missing, but that will soon be developed, is a reliable e-cash, a method whereby on the Internet you can transfer funds from A to B, without A knowing B or B knowing A,” Friedman said.

But many experts and economists are skeptical of anonymous internet trading using cryptocurrencies. They cite such concerns as the drug trade, tax evasion, and market instability.

Charles Munger, vice chairman for Berkshire Hathaway, called bitcoins a “noxious poison” at a Daily Journal Corp.meeting in February. Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway’s multi-billionaire CEO, told MarketWatch that “you can’t value bitcoin because it’s not a value-producing asset.”

Only time will tell how cryptocurrencies will integrate into future markets – if bitcoins are “Enron in the making” as billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said on CNBC, or if they’ll soon be worth a quarter of a million dollars each as bitcoin supporter and venture capitalist Tim Draper predicted.

As of May 3, the price of a single bitcoin was just over $9,500.

New Law Puts Focus on Suicide Prevention Efforts in Virginia

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As suicides have risen in Virginia – including a 29 percent increase among children in 2016 – Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation calling on state officials to report how they are addressing the problem.

House Bill 569, introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to report annually its progress and activities on suicide prevention. The report will go to the governor and General Assembly.

The bill is of special significance to Gooditis, who was elected in November to represent the 10th House District, which includes parts of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties. During the first two weeks of her candidacy, Gooditis lost her brother to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He had a number of suicide attempts. It was part of the reason I was running in the first place. I found him dead two weeks after I announced my candidacy,” Gooditis said. “At that point, I don’t think anyone would’ve penalized me for quitting. But I had met so many who needed help, I couldn’t quit. I had to run and try to get the seat to try to speak for people who need someone to speak for them.”

Northam signed Gooditis’ bill last month – about the time that the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released its latest annual report on causes of death in Virginia.

Compiled by Kathrin Hobron, a forensic epidemiologist, the study provides statistical details on deaths that occurred in 2016, including homicides, suicides, accidents and other causes. The report states that it “reveals several trends of which the citizens and leaders of Virginia should be aware.”

Those trends include a spike in suicide rates for children (defined as 17 and younger) in Virginia. In 2016, the rate was the highest it has been in at least 18 years.

In 1999, the report said, 23 children in Virginia committed suicide – a rate of 1.3 suicides per 100,000 population. In 2015, 35 children committed suicide in the state. In 2016, the number jumped to 45 child suicides – or 2.4 suicides per 100,000 children.

“Child suicides are very similar to adult suicides as they occur more frequently in males (roughly 62 percent) and whites (roughly 78 percent). White males have the highest rate of child suicide,” the report stated.

Twenty-two – almost half – of the 45 child suicides in Virginia in 2016 involved firearms, usually handguns. That was the most common method of child suicide, followed by asphyxiation.

Under Virginia law, it is a misdemeanor to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen.” Even so, some children manage to obtain a gun and commit suicide each year.

Gooditis said in an interview that she was familiar with the medical examiner’s report. It further demonstrates that something must be done, she said.

“It’s just horrific. We have to intervene and teach [children] ways of handling their emotions so those emotions don’t take over,” Gooditis said.

The number of suicides of Virginians of all ages also has increased in recent years. In 2016, it reached 1,156 – up from 1,097 the previous year. By comparison, there were 884 suicides statewide in 2006.

In 2017, the General Assembly passed a bill requiring the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to issue a one-time report about its suicides prevention measures. HB 569 builds on that legislation by having the agency report on its efforts every year.

In its report last year, the department updated the governor and the General Assembly on projects such as the Lock and Talk Virginia Campaign, which aims to reduce suicides by restricting individuals’ access to firearms and poisons when they are in a mental health crisis. The agency also discussed its efforts to educate the public on how to recognize and respond to suicidal warning signs.

Under the bill Northam signed into law March 19, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services must issue such a report by Dec. 1 every year.

New Law Would Lower GED Age Requirement

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — It will be easier for Virginians who drop out of high school at 16 or 17 to earn their high school equivalency diploma if Gov. Ralph Northam signs a bill approved by the General Assembly.

House Bill 803, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, would reduce from 18 to 16 the age for taking the General Educational Development tests. Supporters say the measure could save some teenagers time and money in pursuing a GED diploma.

“There’s been young people who have dropped out of school in our region at 16 or 17, and they’ve realized, ‘Hey, shouldn’t have done that. I’d like to get my high school diploma so I can go to work,’ and they’ve had to wait until they were 18,” said Jacob Holmes, O’Quinn’s legislative director.

 “It kind of put them off for a year or two. [O’ Quinn] was trying to find an avenue to allow those kids who’ve made that mistake to get back on the right track.”

Under current law, a GED certificate is available only to:

●      Adults who did not complete high school

●      Students granted permission by their division superintendent

●      Students who are home-schooled and have completed home-school instruction

●      Students released from compulsory attendance for religious or health reasons

●      People required by court order to participate in the testing program

 According to existing law, Virginians as young as 16 can earn a GED diploma if they are housed in adult correctional facilities or have been expelled from school for certain reasons.

If granted permission by their division superintendent, students must complete an Individual Student Alternative Education Plan before they are allowed to take the GED tests.

According to Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, to complete an alternative education plan, a student must:

●      Receive career counseling

●      Attend a high school equivalency preparation program

●      Earn a Career and Technical Education credential as approved by the Virginia Board of Education

●      Complete a course in economics and personal finance

●      Receive counseling on the potential economic impact of failing to complete high school along with procedures for re-enrollment

 HB 803 would allow an individual who is at least 16 years old to take the GED exam without having to complete an alternative education plan.

However, the legislation does not mean students can quit high school the day they turn 16. It “does not amend the commonwealth’s compulsory education statute, which requires attendance in school up until the 18th birthday and describes the circumstances under which a person under the age of 18 can be excused from attending school,” Pyle said.

Holmes added that O’Quinn “was not intending to have an incentive for people to drop out of high school.”

O’Quinn’s bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. Northam has until April 9 to decide whether to sign it into law. Rebecca Blacksten, a 10th-grader at McLean High School in Fairfax County, said she hopes he does.

“I personally feel like it’s a wonderful idea,” Blacksten said. “I think that in a country where education is of the utmost importance, everyone should have the ability to get a GED, even if it is earlier than 18 because of needs they might have.”

Governor Signs Bill Reshaping How Energy Giants Operate

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Friday reshaping the way the state’s monopoly utility companies, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, are allowed to spend revenues received from customers.

In approving the bill, the governor turned back late-session pleas by opponents who fear the bill will allow the electric companies to regulate themselves.

Northam, on Twitter, described the legislation as “ending the freeze on energy utility rates, returning money to customers, and investing in clean energy and a modern grid. I am proud that my team and I improved this bill significantly and thank the General Assembly for its continued work on the measure.”

Senate Bill 966, also known as the Grid Transformation and Security Act, was introduced by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and changes the way utilities are allowed to collect and spend “over-earnings” -- what state regulators consider to be excessive profits. The bill also removes a rate freeze imposed by a 2015 law, which made the State Corporation Committee unable to order customer refunds and set utility rates.

The legislation states that utilities may spend excess profits toward modernizing the state’s energy grid as well as for projects focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Before the 2015 rate freeze, ratepayers would have received a percentage refund for over-earnings.

However, legislators opposed to the bill fear it is worded in such a way as to lessen the SCC’s regulating power on the utilities, allowing them to use the excess profits in other ways.

Northam’s signature comes two days after Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, sent the governor a letter urging him to amend sections of the legislation.

The two senators said they believe that the bill “takes power away from the SCC, and places it into the hands of the General Assembly” and that it deems “a variety of projects, ‘in the public interest,’ including various transmission, generation, and energy storage projects, without full review by the SCC.”

Dominion Energy released a statement thanking the legislation’s supporters.

“We appreciate the hard work put in by the broad coalition of supporters, the governor’s office, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reach consensus on creating a smarter, stronger, greener electric grid with tremendous customer benefits,” said Dominion Energy spokesman Rayhan Daudani.

Bill Would Let Energy Giant Regulate Itself, Senator Warns

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — As the General Assembly begins to wind down, a key opponent to legislation involving Dominion Energy is continuing to warn that a bill that has reached the governor’s desk will tilt the scales in the utility’s favor.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said the legislation may limit the State Corporation Commission’s regulatory power over utilities — and give Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power “a license to overcharge customers for the foreseeable future.”

The legislation consists of two nearly identical bills: SB 966, sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, andHB 1558, sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County. With amendments, each bill has grown to 29 pages. The bill’s summary alone is more than 1,850 words. A typical bill’s summary in the Legislative Information System is less than 100 words.

The provisions in the latest version that are raising the most eyebrows concern how much profit state-approved monopolies, such as Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, may earn.

“Typically, the SCC is charged with making sure that rates are not more than is necessary to recover costs plus an allowable return on equity, which is usually 10 percent above costs,” Petersen said. “Normally, Dominion would give refunds based on that excess. This bill would take away that jurisdiction.”

For example, if Dominion made $1.2 billion in revenue in one year, and the company’s expenses were $1 billion, Dominion would have $200 million in profit. Previously, customers would have received a percentage refund for those “over-earnings.”

Under HB 1558, Dominion could keep all over-earnings provided it spends the money on designated projects — such as the Grid Transformation Project, a potentially multibillion-dollar project that includes burying power lines — as well as on investments in renewable energy, such as solar power or wind farms, according to Petersen.

The bill includes some complexities, however. Under the legislation, for example, the SCC would still have the power to review the Grid Transformation Project but would not be allowed to reject Dominion’s proposal, according to Steve Haner, a lobbyist for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“Dominion basically has written the law in such a way that it will never have to pay refunds, and it will never have to lower its rates,” Petersen said. “That’s why I called them out on it.”

Rayhan Daudani, senior communications specialist at Dominion, said many of these worries are unfounded.

“Environmental groups, like the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as the governor’s office, all agree that this bill is good for Virginians, for the environment and for our customers,” Daudani said.

Haner said the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income Virginians, is neutral toward the bill. However, personally he said he thinks the bill may not do what it says.

“It does not really return us to regulation. It leaves the SCC bound up with some very strict accounting rules and gives the utility ways to manipulate its profit margins and manipulate its spending so it will never be found to be excessive. It’ll never be ordered to refunds. It’ll never be ordered to cut its rates,” Haner said. “They’re directed to spend a certain way based on a bill they wrote.”

Dominion’s influence in the General Assembly is well known, according to Corrina Beall, the legislative and political director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter.

“Dominion is always the gorilla in the room. They are tremendously effective within the building, and their influence within the General Assembly cannot be overstated,” Beall said. “They are the No. 1 corporate campaign contributor to elected officials in the state of Virginia.”

However, Petersen said he believes the tides may be changing in the General Assembly, with Dominion receiving pushback from both Democrats and Republicans.

“This is the first time in my history that Dominion really got a lot of pushback from a diverse array of people, in terms of their agenda,” Petersen said. “Whether or not that will continue over the next couple years — new candidates will push back on Dominion and demand more consumer rights and more accountability, and less sort of a blank check — that remains to be seen. That’ll take three or four years to play out.”

SB 966 initially passed the Senate, 26-13, on Feb 9. The House then passed a substitute bill, 65-30, on Feb. 26. The Senate then agreed to the House substitute, 26-14, on Feb. 28. Now, the governor is expected to act on the bill by midnightFriday.

HB 1558 was approved by the House of Delegates on a vote of 63-35 on Feb. 13. A modified version of the bill then passed the Senate, 27-13, on Thursday. The measure is now back before the House.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, had mixed feelings about HB 1558 but voted for it last month. In an email to constituents, he called it an “imperfect (but greatly improved) bill better for Virginia consumers and the environment than current law.”

The current law, adopted by the General Assembly in 2015, froze Dominion’s electric rates because the company said it faced uncertain costs of complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants. However, the courts and the Donald Trump administration have since blocked the plan’s implementation.

SB 966 and HB 1558 would lift the rate freeze and allow state officials to see if Dominion is making excessive profits — and, if so, order the company to reduce its rates. That is one reason Gov. Ralph Northam has said he supports the legislation.

Northam said he brought together various groups to help craft a compromise on the issue — one that would “give Virginians as much of their money back as possible, restore oversight to ensure that utility companies do not overcharge ratepayers for power, and make Virginia a leader in clean energy and electrical grid modernization.”

However, Petersen fears that the bill won’t do that, and that it will prevent state regulators from doing their job.

“We took away from the State Corporation Commission their very skill set, which is evaluating the utilities and making sure that rates are fair and customers are not overcharged,” Petersen said.

Democrats and Republicans Spar as Another Shooting Unfolds

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the 2018 legislative session heads into its final week, tensions have been running high on an issue that sharply divides Democrats and Republicans: what to do about gun violence.

The chasm between the parties was on full display Friday in the Virginia House of Delegates, where legislators hurled insults at one another – while yet another school shooting unfolded.

Less than an hour after reports that a gunman had killed two people in a dormitory at Central Michigan University, Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, gave a speech on the House floor blaming the Democrats for blocking productive discussions on how to curtail gun violence.

“The other side of this debate will only consider one quote-unquote ‘solution’ to this problem, which is gutting or tearing apart the Second Amendment,” Freitas said.

Later in the day, Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, responded by accusing the Republicans of inconsistency.

“I’d like to know why the Republicans think we want to take their guns,” Murphy said in a telephone interview. “I think that they should talk to the president.”

Murphy was referring to a statement by President Donald Trump on Wednesday that police officers should be allowed to confiscate people's guns without due process.

In his remarks on the floor, Freitas said House Democrats had precluded a dialogue with Republicans by using inflammatory language. For instance, after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a high school in Florida on Feb. 14, Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, sent his constituents an email with the headline, “How the GOP Makes it Easy to Commit Mass Murder.”

“It’s really difficult to have an honest and open debate about this because of [House Democrats] comparing members on this side of the aisle to Nazis,” Freitas said. He also took issue with how he believed the Democrats were portraying Republican’s connections with the National Rifle Association.

“It takes a certain degree of not assuming that the only reason why we believe in the Second Amendment is because the NRA paid us off. I don’t assume that [Democrats] are all bought and paid for by Planned Parenthood,” Freitas said.

During his speech, Freitas suggested that studies have shown mass shooters tend to come from broken homes. Moreover, he insinuated a connection between mass shootings and abortions by saying that certain “left-leaning think tanks will actually say that some of [the reasons for mass shootings] can be attributed to various cultural changes that happened in the ’60s” and that this included “the abortion industry.”

Later Friday, the House minority leader, Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville, issued a press release condemning Freitas’ comments.

“The remarks made today by House Republicans, who continue to be unwilling to discuss reasonable gun safety initiatives, were deeply disappointing,” Toscano said. “Del. Freitas cited cherry-picked statistics to paint a picture suggesting that nothing can or should be done.”

The verbal sparring played out at the Capitol as authorities searched for a man in connection with the shooting at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

James Davis Jr., a CMU student and the son of a police officer, was taken into custody early Saturday morning. Authorities said they believe Davis used his father’s gun to shoot and kill both of his parents.

As both sides at the Virginia Capitol debate how to reduce gun violence, the General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn next Saturday. Republicans have killed most of the gun control legislation proposed by Democrats, including bills to require background checks on all firearm purchases and to ban bump fire stocks, a device that increases the rate of fire for semi-automatic weapons by using recoil to pull the trigger.

Democrats have urged Republicans to revive those proposals, but that is unlikely to happen.

However, a few gun-related bills are still in play during the General Assembly’s final week:

  • Senate Bill 715 would allow firefighters and emergency medical service personnel to carry a concealed handgun while on duty. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday.
  • SB 669 would restrict the firearm rights of Virginians who, as minors 14 years or older, received involuntary mental health treatment or were subject to a detention order. Currently, those restrictions apply only to people who have undergone such treatment as adults. On Friday, the House Courts of Justice Committee recommended that the full House approve the bill.

1.4 Billion Stolen Credentials Uncovered by University

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – During a security sweep, the University of Richmond’s information security staff discovered a website containing a list of stolen account credentials – a list with approximately 1.4 billion pieces of private account information such as email addresses and passwords.

“From what we’re able to tell, it’s very, very deep within the web,” Cynthia Price, the university’s director of media and public relations, said of the recent discovery. “It’s a concealed website.”

To put the list’s enormity into perspective, the largest internet-era data breach occurred in 2013 when 3 billion Yahoo users were affected by a hack, according to CSO Online, a technology news website. The next biggest was in 2014 when eBay asked 145 million users to reset their passwords after hackers accessed accounts through stolen information.

According to the Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, a breach is defined as the “unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that compromises the security, confidentiality, or integrity of personal information.”

The list on the website discovered by the University of Richmond may be related to previous data breaches.

In an email to students and staff on Friday, the university wrote that the list was “compiled from several data breaches that have occurred over the past several years, such as LinkedIn®, Adobe®, Yahoo®, and other domains,” and that “included in the list were credentials associated with approximately 3,000 richmond.edu email accounts.”

After university emails had been discovered on the list, UR sent its message to inform students and staff about the incident so they could check their accounts. Also attached was a video on creating strong passwords.

UR’s information security staff confirmed that the website acquired the information from emails tied to external sites and made it clear that the school’s information system had not been compromised.

“There is no breaching of our system whatsoever,” Price said, “but because (the website’s list) still contained emails linked to us, we wanted to make sure we alerted people to check their accounts.”

This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be concerned. The individuals who collected this information likely did so with ill intent. As Price explained, “unscrupulous people will collect that data and hold it in hopes that they can somehow use it elsewhere.”

With more than 1.4 billion credentials to sift through, the extent of the list’s information isn’t yet fully known. Attempts were made to contact the Virginia Attorney General’s office for comment on whether an investigation was underway, but the office has not responded.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Official Portrait Unveiled

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Look closely at Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s official portrait and you’ll spot an alligator.

The new painting that will hang in the state Capitol carries a subtle reference to a part of the governor’s colorful political history.

“As far as I know, Gov. McAuliffe is the only American governor who has ever wrestled an alligator,” Gavin Glakas, who painted the portrait, said when it was unveiled Wednesday at the Executive Mansion.  “So you have to be looking for it, but there’s a little alligator.”

The portrait will be displayed among those of McAuliffe’s predecessors on the third floor of the state Capitol.

Glakas, who paints and teaches at the Yellow Barn Studio in Glen Echo, Maryland, spoke before a crowd that included Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Glakas said he began painting the portrait in April, working off and on until he finished on Friday.

As to the alligator, it’s a reference to a fund-raising stunt by the governor when he worked for President Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful re-election campaign in 1980.

When it came to the overall setting of the portrait, however, McAuliffe went traditional -- he wanted the painting to show him at work, Glakas said.

“We could’ve set (the portrait) at Monticello, with the setting sun in the background,” said Glakas, whose paintings also hang in the U.S. Capitol and other prestigious locations. “But the governor wanted to talk about work—he wanted to be at work. So I knew we had to set it in his office.”

In the portrait, McAuliffe stands behind his desk with his right hand over documents on “the restoration of rights,” Glakas said. During his term as governor, McAuliffe restored the voting rights of about 170,000 felons who had served their prison time

 “I did get sued twice by the Virginia General Assembly for my restoration of rights,” McAuliffe joked, turning to Northam. “I’m the first governor to get sued for contempt of court. I’m not sure, but I’m hopeful you will, because you’re leaning in on those issues.”

Glakas described the governor’s expression as “relaxed and in charge.” However, it might also be seen as slightly stiff. “This is not something, if you know my personality, that I’m really into,” McAuliffe said. “A portrait, really?”

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