Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley — Twitter thrust into the hot seat

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
The Twitter application is seen on a digital device, Monday, April 25, 2022, in San Diego.

A Twitter whistleblower testified before a Senate panel Tuesday and expanded on his allegations of widespread security deficiencies at the company. 

Meanwhile, Twitter shareholders voted to approve Elon Musk’s embattled $44 billion deal to buy the company. And in non-Twitter news, two Democrats are pushing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to discontinue its use of facial recognition and other surveillance technologies. 

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.

Another big Big Tech hearing 

Former Twitter security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday alleging widespread security deficiencies at the social media platform, expanding on his bombshell whistleblower disclosure made public in reports last month.  

  • During a two-and-a-half hourhearing, Zatko alleged Twitter lacked a framework to protect user data or log who was accessing the information — to the extent that he said an “employee could take over the accounts of all the senators in this room.”  
  • Twitter continued to push back on the allegations. A spokesperson said “today’s hearing only confirms that Mr. Zatko’s allegations are riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies.” 

Here are four takeaways from the hearing:

Twitter lacks framework for protecting user data: Zatko accused Twitter of failing to prioritize user safety and data protection in a way that threatened national security.  

  • “What I discovered when I joined Twitter was that this enormously influential company was over a decade behind industry security standards,” he said. 
     
  • Zatko said Twitter doesn’t know “what data they have, where it lives, or where it came from.” 

US regulators’ enforcement not up to par: Zatko said the Federal Trade Commission is “over their head” when dealing with large tech companies, like Twitter.  

“Compared to the size of the Big Tech companies and the challenge they have against them, they are left letting companies grade their own homework,” Zatko said. 

Bipartisan consensus to target tech, but lack of action on bills:  

Although there are lingering partisan differences on tech issues, mainly on content moderation, Tuesday’s hearing again showcased the rare unified support from both sides of the aisle to take action to hold tech companies accountable. 

  • But lawmakers have not been able to get bills targeting the companies across the finish line. 
  • “Despite this probably being our 50th hearing … between commerce and judiciary we have not passed one bill out of the U.S. Senate when it comes to competition, when it comes to privacy, when it comes to better funding the agencies, when it comes to the protection of kids,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar
    (D-Minn.) said. 

Calls for Twitter to be restructured: 

The hearing also led to calls for Twitter management to be restructured.  

  • Ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) suggested Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal may not be fit to continue leading the company.  
  • “If these allegations are true, I don’t see how Mr. Agrawal can maintain his position at Twitter,” Grassley said. 

Read more about the hearing here.  

Shareholders approve Musk’s Twitter deal  

Twitter shareholders on Tuesday approved a $44 billion merger agreement with Elon Musk, though the deal remains in limbo as a lawsuit between the social media company and the SpaceX CEO moves through a Delaware court. 

During the special meeting, the shareholders also approved a measure relating to compensation for Twitter executives resulting from the merger agreement. 

  • After the meeting concluded, an official said more details would be provided publicly in the near future. 
  • A form will also be filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
     
  • Ahead of the meeting, Twitter’s board of directors recommended the shareholders approve the merger and the financial compensation agreement, which the board has already unanimously approved of. 

Read more here.  

DEMOCRATS URGE ICE TO STOP ‘ORWELLIAN’ TACTICS  

Two Democratic senators called on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to discontinue its use of facial recognition and other surveillance technologies that they say threaten individual privacy rights.  

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to ICE acting Director Tae Johnson on Monday pointing to a Georgetown University report that detailed that ICE has used facial recognition and bought information from data brokers to build a “dragnet security system” to help carry out deportation proceedings.  

The senators said these secretive methods have allowed ICE to obtain data about most people living in the United States. 

“This surveillance network has exploited privacy-protection gaps and has enormous civil rights implications,” Markey and Wyden said. “ICE should immediately shut down its Orwellian data gathering efforts that indiscriminately collect far too much data on far too many individuals.” 

Read more here

SMALLER COMPANIES URGE ANTITRUST VOTE 

Smaller tech companies that offer more privacy options than the dominant giants on Tuesday sent a letter urging Congress to pass a key antitrust bill. 

A dozen companies, including Proton, Mozilla and DuckDuckGo, asked House and Senate leaders to bring the American Innovation and Choice Online Act to a vote “as soon as possible,” arguing it would lead to more competition and therefore more privacy options for consumers.  

“Massive tech platforms can exert influence over society and the digital economy because they ultimately have the power to collect, analyze, and monetize exorbitant amounts of personal information. This is not by accident, as some of the tech giants have intentionally abused their gatekeeper positions to lock users into perpetual surveillance while simultaneously making it difficult to switch to privacy-protective alternatives,” the companies wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared with The Hill. 

Read more here.  

BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: How the CHIPS Act supercharges the US quantum industry 

Notable links from around the web: 

Celsius Network Plots a Comeback After a Crypto Crash (The New York Times / David Yaffe-Bellany) 

San Mateo jails are spying on attorney messages, a new lawsuit says (Protocol / Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu) 

Disinformation via text message is a problem with few answers (NBC News / Kevin Collier) 

🍂 Lighter click: It’s fall, y’all

One more thing: Threats to election workers 

Kim Wyman, the head of election security at the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is warning against threats to election workers which have forced many to quit their positions ahead of the midterms. 

In a recent interview with CBS News, Wyman, who served as the secretary of state of Washington, said that about 1 in 3 elections officials and poll workers have left their posts over concerns for their personal safety. 

“We are facing a workforce problem,” Wyman said. 

“As these stories of threats and intimidation are shared, people who would normally be poll workers on election day or work at a voting center are taking a step back and saying, ‘I don’t know that it’s worth my life or worth my personal safety,”’ she added.

Read more 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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