Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley — Democrats demand answers from Twitter

Twitter
Greg Nash
A download screen for Twitter is arranged for a photograph on Friday, August 19, 2022.

The Twitter whistleblower continued to make waves in Washington, with two House Democrats pressing Twitter for answers about the alleged security deficiencies raised in the whistleblower’s complaint. 

In other news, the embattled Israeli spyware firm NSO Group is replacing its CEO and cutting 13 percent of its workforce as it tries to recover from being blacklisted by the U.S. government. 

This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca Klar and Ines Kagubare. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Twitter pressed on alleged security faults 

House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), chair of a cybersecurity subcommittee, are demanding that Twitter respond to allegations from a whistleblower about major security deficiencies that the Democrats said could pose national security threats.  

The Democrats sent a letter to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal on Thursday asking for details about security flaws identified in whistleblower Peiter Zatko’s complaint, and about action Twitter took in response to warnings raised by Zatko during his time at Twitter or after his departure.  

  • Thompson and Clarke underscored the need for Twitter to take proactive steps to protect users with the upcoming midterm elections around the corner, calling it an “inflection point” for American democracy.  
  • “Twitter plays a unique role in our information and political ecosystems. Security flaws that put users’ sensitive personal data within easy reach of a hacker looking to take control of a high-profile account or a foreign dictator looking for information on dissidents are nothing short of a threat to national security,” they wrote
  • “If substantiated, the whistleblower allegations demonstrate a pattern of willful disregard for the personal data of Twitter users and the integrity of the platform.” 

Read more here.  

Spyware firm restructures amid backlash  

The embattled Israeli spyware firm NSO Group is replacing its CEO and cutting
13 percent of its workforce
as it tries to recover from being blacklisted by the U.S. government.  

Experts say the longtime industry leader has become a “cautionary tale,” after allowing its flagship Pegasus spyware to become a high-profile threat to global security and human rights, with media outlets worldwide detailing how governments were abusing its tools.  

The company’s restructuring is likely tied to the Department of Commerce’s decision last fall to add the company to its entities list — effectively blacklisting it — and the recent failure of its acquisition deal with U.S. defense contractor L3Harris, experts added.  

“Being put on the entities list was killing the company,” said James Lewis, a senior vice president and director with the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

Read more here

US, ISRAEL ENTERS CYBER PARTNERSHIP  

The Department of Treasury and the Israeli Ministry of Finance announced on Thursday a bilateral agreement formalizing and enhancing the cybersecurity partnership between the countries. 

The agreement follows Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo’s visit to Israel last fall, when he established a bilateral partnership geared toward protecting the financial sector from cyberattacks. 

In the agreement, both nations pledged to share information related to cyber threats targeting the financial sector, train staff in the cybersecurity field, and conduct cross-border cybersecurity exercises. 

Read more here

RANSOMWARE CASES SURGED 47% IN JULY 

Ransomware attacks rose 47 percent from June to July, with the majority of attacks targeting the industrials sector, according to a report released on Thursday by cybersecurity firm NCC Group.  

Previous reports conducted by the firm indicated that ransomware cases had declined in the spring but soon picked up again, with attacks increasing from 135 in June to 198 in July. 

“This month’s [report] has revealed some major changes within the ransomware threat scene compared to June, as ransomware attacks are once again on the up,” said Matt Hull, global head of threat intelligence at NCC Group, in a statement. 

According to the report, the rise in ransomware attacks comes as several new threat actors emerge, including Lockbit 3.0, Hiveleaks and BlackBasts, which have been associated with the Conti ransomware group — a Russia-based hacker group. 

Read more here

Google to identify abortion clinics  

Google in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday said it would clearly identify facilities that provide abortions to ensure people seeking the procedure are not misled by anti-abortion clinics.  

Mark Isakowitz, the vice president for government affairs and public policy for the U.S. and Canada at Google, said in a letter to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) that the company will include labels like “Provides abortions” and “Does not provide abortions” that the company has verified at the top of advertisement search results.

Read more here

PLATFORMS REMOVED ‘PRO-WESTERN’ NARRATIVES 

Facebook and Twitter took down two overlapping sets of accounts over the past two months for promoting “pro-Western narratives” in the Middle East and Central Asia, according to a report released Wednesday.  

The social media analytics firm Graphika reported that Twitter and Meta, the company that owns Facebook, took down the accounts over a “series of covert campaigns” over a period of five years.  

Twitter said the accounts violated its policies on “platform manipulation and spam,” and Meta said it conducted “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The platforms provided portions of the accounts’ activity to Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory.  

“This activity represents the most extensive case of a covert influence operation advancing pro-Western narratives that has been publicly documented to date,” Jack Stubbs, vice president of intelligence at Graphika, told The Wall Street Journal

Read more here.  

DC PUSHES TO REVIVE AMAZON ANTITRUST CASE 

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) filed a notice of appeal Thursday to revive the antitrust case against Amazon that a judge dismissed earlier this year.  

The lawsuit, first filed in 2021, alleges Amazon has used its position as a giant in the e-commerce field to maximize profits at the expense of consumers, third-party sellers and wholesalers. It accuses Amazon of using anticompetitive practices by keeping third-party sellers from offering lower-cost proxies for products elsewhere. 

A judge dismissed the case in March in an oral ruling.  

“We’re appealing the lower court’s decision because District consumers deserve a fair marketplace that promotes competition, innovation, and choice,” Racine said in a statement. “And we’re filing this appeal because the antitrust laws and the facts are on our side—and on the side of District residents. We look forward to making our case before the Court of Appeals.” 

Read more here.  

BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: As governments shun ransomware payments, cyberattacks may cost taxpayers even more 

Notable links from around the web: 

Biden’s student loan plan could boost some fintech lenders (Protocol / Tomio Geron) 

Spiders Are Caught in a Global Web of Misinformation (The New York Times / Oliver Whang) 

Websites Can Identify If You’re Using iPhone’s New ‘Lockdown’ Mode (Motherboard / Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai) 

🐆 Lighter click: Purrrrfect

One more thing: Five photos from NASA

Since the first photos debuted from NASA’s new James Webb in July, a steady stream of breathtaking images have been released by the groundbreaking telescope. 

The $10 billion James Webb telescope, which replaced the aging Hubble telescope and launched into space in December 2021, has captured distant galaxies, blazing stars light years away and a new image of Jupiter. 

Read more and see five of the most stunning photos taken by James Webb to date here.  

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Technology and Cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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Tags Bennie Thompson Parag Agrawal Yvette Clarke
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