Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down foreign influence campaigns | Senior Trump officials warn of foreign interference on Super Tuesday | Apple offers $500M settlement for slowing older iPhones | Treasury sanctions Chinese hackers

Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down foreign influence campaigns | Senior Trump officials warn of foreign interference on Super Tuesday | Apple offers $500M settlement for slowing older iPhones | Treasury sanctions Chinese hackers
© Getty

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).

 

ADVERTISEMENT

FACEBOOK REMOVES FOREIGN INFLUENCE NETWORKS: Facebook on Monday said it removed five online misinformation campaigns connected to foreign countries in February, the latest indication of governments seeking to sow discord using one of Silicon Valley's most powerful social media networks.

Facebook disclosed the information, which it partially revealed last month, in its first monthly report about coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB), the company's term for networks of fake accounts and pages aimed at manipulating public conversations.

"Starting this month, we will begin publishing information about all networks we take down over the course of a month as part of regular CIB reports to make it easier for people to see progress we're making in one place," Facebook said Monday.

The company said it removed foreign influence campaigns originating in India, Egypt, Russia, Iran and Myanmar. Some of those campaigns were government-backed. Overall, the platform purged nearly 500 Facebook accounts, more than 1,200 Instagram accounts, 248 pages and 49 groups in February.

The social media giant has been under pressure to show that it is ramping up efforts to combat online foreign interference campaigns after failing to head off a widespread Russian misinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

The platform said it is seeking to differentiate between CIB in general -- which consists of fake accounts that promote certain messages, often for financial gain -- and networks of fake accounts backed by foreign governments. Government-backed inauthentic networks face the most aggressive enforcement responses, Facebook said.

Read more on Facebook's efforts here.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

WE'RE GOOD BUT...: The leaders of eight federal agencies on Monday jointly urged the public to be vigilant of foreign influence operations around the presidential primaries ahead of Super Tuesday, also emphasizing the federal government's coordination in defending against threats to elections.

In a statement released Monday, the Trump administration officials -- who included Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoMurkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump Pepper spray fired during Tiananmen Square memorial in Hong Kong The Hill's 12:30 Report: NYT publishes controversial Tom Cotton op-ed MORE, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report Davis: 72 hours cementing the real choice for November Black Lives Matter, protesters sue Trump admin over aggressive crowd clearing MORE and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfHouse Homeland Security Committee asks for more information about extremist involvement in protests Hundreds of migrant children, teens deported under pandemic border policy: report Trump administration finalizes indefinite extension of coronavirus border restrictions   MORE -- noted that they "continue to work with all 50 states, U.S. territories, local officials, political parties and private sector partners to keep elections free from foreign interference."

The officials cautioned that Americans "must also remain aware that foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions," adding that foreign actors may attempt to "spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media" in order to create doubt in the election system.

"We remain alert and ready to respond to any efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections," the officials said. "We continue to make it clear to foreign actors that any effort to undermine our democratic processes will be met with sharp consequences." 

The statement was also co-signed by Defense Secretary Defense Mark EsperMark EsperOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Black Lives Matter, protesters sue Trump admin over aggressive crowd clearing Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal MORE, acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell, FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Cyber Command Commander and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs. 

The officials emphasized that the level of "coordination" between federal agencies and state and local election officials was "stronger than it's ever been."

Read more here.

 

APPLE OFFERS IPHONE SETTLEMENT: Apple has tentatively agreed to pay a settlement worth up to $500 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of intentionally slowing down older iPhones.

The class-action settlement, released Friday after months of negotiations, still has to be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, an Obama appointee, in San Jose, Calif.

Apple continues to deny wrongdoing and is agreeing to the payment to avoid the burdens and costs of litigation, according to the proposed settlement.

The agreement would settle a bevy of cases filed between 2017 and 2018 that were later consolidated.

If approved, Apple would offer $25 to any current or former owner of a covered iPhone, which includes the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus and SE.

ADVERTISEMENT

The settlement must meet a minimum payout of $310 million, which means the $25 figure could increase if few people file claims. On the other hand, if payments go over the $500 million cap, the claimants would receive less than $25.

Up to $93 million would go to lawyers involved in the case.

Read more on the settlement offer here.

 

CANDIDATE TWEETS CORONAVIRUS MISINFO: A GOP House candidate in California has repeatedly tweeted conspiracy theories regarding the novel coronavirus, a fast-spreading flu-like disease that has spurred a wave of online misinformation.

The tweets, from Republican hopeful Joanne Wright, underline how widespread coronavirus-related conspiracy theories have become as even politicians tout debunked claims linking the disease to governments and public figures.  

Wright has tweeted multiple times over the last few weeks about the coronavirus, suggesting the virus may be manmade or even connected to prominent Democrats, the Los Angeles Times first reported.

ADVERTISEMENT

In one tweet, from Feb. 28, Wright questioned whether Microsoft founder Bill Gates is connected to the virus, a conspiracy theory that has made its way from the fringes of the online ecosystem to the center. She also tied the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, to Democratic mega-donor George Soros and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMark Cuban says he's decided not to run for president Trump official criticizes ex-Clinton spokesman over defunding police tweet Poll: Biden leads Trump, Cunningham neck and neck with Tillis in North Carolina MORE

"Doesn't @BillGates finance research at the Wuhan lab where the Corona virus was being created?" Wright tweeted, earning hundreds of retweets and likes. "Isn't @georgesoros a good friend of Gates? Isn't it always when @HillaryClinton tweets that fire and brimstone hits us? Check Gates Foundation and Clinton Foundation for stock sells." 

The day before, responding to a tweet espousing a largely debunked theory on the origins of the virus from Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonNYT says Tom Cotton editorial 'did not meet our standards' Engel says he refuses to seek NYT endorsement over Cotton op-ed Cotton praises NY Times for 'standing up to the woke progressive mob' in publishing opinion piece MORE (R-Ark.), Wright tweeted, "The Corona virus is a man made virus created in a Wuhan laboratory. Ask @BillGates who financed it." 

Wright did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Read more here.

 

CHINESE HACKERS SANCTIONED: The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control on Monday sanctioned two Chinese hackers for laundering cryptocurrency valued at $91 million previously stolen by North Korean cyber criminals. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The agency sanctioned Chinese nationals Tian Yinyin and Li Jiadong for providing financial and technological support for a North Korean hacking group known as Lazarus that stole $250 million from a cryptocurrency exchange in 2018. Tian and Li were sent $91 million from the funds stolen by Lazarus, as well as $9.5 million from a separate North Korean-sponsored hack. 

Once they were in possession of the stolen funds, Tian and Li are then alleged to have transferred the money to various addresses in order to cover up where the funds originated from. About $1.4 million of the stolen cryptocurrency was transferred to Apple iTunes gift cards. 

As a result of the sanctions, all U.S. property of Tian and Li have been blocked, and any individuals found to be interacting with them may open themselves up to being sanctioned as well. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO's Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million IRS faces obstacles with remaining stimulus checks On The Money: GOP turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks | Millions of Americans frustrated by delayed unemployment checks | Senate votes to give coronavirus relief program more flexibility MORE harshly condemned both the Chinese hackers and ongoing North Korea cyberattacks on financial groups in a statement on Monday. 

"The North Korean regime has continued its widespread campaign of extensive cyber-attacks on financial institutions to steal funds," Mnuchin said. "The United States will continue to protect the global financial system by holding accountable those who help North Korea engage in cyber-crime."

Read more here.

 

MAJORITY OPPOSED TO MICROTARGETING: Most Americans say they don't want political campaigns to microtarget them through digital ads, according to a poll released Monday.

That view is shared among Democrats, Republicans and independents based on the Gallup poll conducted in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said internet companies should share no information about its users to political campaigns to target certain voters with digital ads. The view is shared by 69 percent of those who identify as Democrats, 75 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents. 

Twenty percent of those polled said that they thought limited information, such as a person's gender, age or zip code, should be allowed to be shared. 

Just 7 percent of those surveyed said any available information, including specific information on a person's interests, frequently visited websites and searched topics, should be shared, based on the poll.

Despite the limited support, such tactics are in line with policies at companies like Facebook, which has not put any limits in place on ad targeting. 

Read more on the poll here.

 

PRESSURE ON SURVEILLANCE REFORMS: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and FreedomWorks are urging President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE to support including broader surveillance reforms as part of a bill reauthorizing soon-to-expire intelligence programs. 

The two groups went up on Monday with an ad, which will air on Fox News, telling Trump to support reforming the "rogue FBI." 

"President Trump, as Congress considers the Patriot Act, tell them to rein in a rogue FBI and reform our surveillance laws, so that this never happens again," the ad says. 

The ad will air through Friday and is part of a six-figure, multistate TV and digital ad campaign to urge Trump and Congress to enact broader surveillance reforms. 

Read more here on the effort here

 

PROTECT THE PIPELINES: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this past month disclosed a disruptive cyberattack on a U.S. energy facility, raising new concerns about protections for energy providers.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a division of DHS, said a ransomware attack hit a "natural gas compression facility," leading to a two-day shutdown for the entire pipeline.

While the agency did not specify the name or location of the facility, an assessment by a cybersecurity firm linked the attack to an alert put out by the U.S. Coast Guard in December about a ransomware intrusion that affected camera and physical access control systems and disrupted the entire corporate IT network at the facility.

But the revelation was more notable for the simple fact that agencies rarely acknowledge such attacks publicly.

Here's what you need to know about cyberattacks targeting the energy industry.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Divorced mens' band of the year

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Cyber planners should be carefully watching the coronavirus

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Report: Your gadgets are made by re-education camp prisoners in China (Motherboard / Matthew Gault) 

Fake cures and other coronavirus conspiracies are flooding WhatsApp, leaving governments and users with a 'sense of panic' (Washington Post / Tony Romm)

Can YouTube quiet its conspiracy theorists? (New York Times / Jack Nicas)