Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline

Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline
© 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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

HEALTH AGENCY ATTACKED: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was attacked by hackers over the weekend as the agency worked to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The cyberattack, first reported by Bloomberg News, involved hackers accessing HHS's systems on Sunday night. According to Bloomberg, they were not able to steal anything, and the goal was to slow down systems. 

HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley told The Hill in a statement that the agency was "fully operational" and investigating the cybersecurity incident.

"HHS has an IT infrastructure with risk-based security controls continuously monitored in order to detect and address cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities," Oakley said. "On Sunday, we became aware of a significant increase in activity on HHS cyber infrastructure and are fully operational as we actively investigate the matter."

She noted that "early on while preparing and responding to COVID-19, HHS put extra protections in place. We are coordinating with federal law enforcement and remain vigilant and focused on ensuring the integrity of our IT infrastructure."

HHS Secretary Alex Azar played down the hacking incident during a press conference later on Monday. 

"We have extremely strong barriers, we had no penetration into our networks, no degradation of the functioning of our networks, we had no limitation on the ability or capacity of our people to telework, we've taken very strong defensive actions," Azar told reporters at the White House.

ADVERTISEMENT

Read more on the attack here.

 

SCHOOLS MOVE ONLINE: A group of 16 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Monday urging it to free up funds for schools to provide internet for students as more classes have to shift online because of coronavirus.

The lawmakers are asking for the FCC to determine how much of the E-Rate program, which has a $4 billion yearly cap, can be used for one-time discounts to schools attempting to loan out Wi-Fi hotspots or enable internet access on other devices.

"The E-Rate program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation's schools and libraries to the internet," the lawmakers, led by Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards | Democratic lawmakers ask Interior to require masks indoors at national parks | Harris climate agenda stresses need for justice Markey riffs on JFK quote in new ad touting progressive bona fides EPA finalizes rollback of Obama-era oil and gas methane emissions standards MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner Expanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 MORE (D-Colo.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLobbying world Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb Senate rejects broad restrictions on transfers of military-grade equipment to police MORE (D-Hawaii), wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

"We believe that the FCC can use its emergency powers to temporarily waive relevant E-rate program rules and allow its beneficiaries to utilize universal service funding to provide home wireless service to existing school devices and hotspots for students who lack internet access at home. This swift, immediate action would help ensure that all students can remotely continue their education during the current public health emergency."

The letter comes as schools across the country are shuttering in an attempt to quell the spread of the coronavirus.

That has moved many classes online, highlighting the millions of students in American who do not have internet access at home.

Read more here.

 

BERNIE RAMPS UP SPENDING: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersChris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Kamala Harris: The outreach Latinos need Biden and Harris seen as more moderate than Trump and Pence: poll MORE (I-Vt.) has ramped up spending on Facebook ads in states holding primaries this week, as he faces an increasingly steep climb to winning the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Vermont independent more than doubled Facebook spending by his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE, in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio from March 5-11, according to data compiled by crowdfunding technology platform Booster that was first shared with The Hill.

Ohio's governor on Monday called for postponing the state's primary elections until June due to the worsening coronavirus outbreak.

Sanders spent $525,239 on Facebook advertising in the four states, capturing 67 percent of the spending between the two candidates. Biden spent a little more than $217,000 in those states.

ADVERTISEMENT

Biden slightly outspent Sanders in overall Facebook ad spending, $1.25 million to Sanders's $1.24 million. A significant chunk of Biden's ad budget has gone toward states that have already voted, suggesting his campaign is already shifting its focus to the general election.

For example, 12 percent of Biden's Facebook ad budget was focused on fundraising in California, which held its primary on March 3.

Read more here.

 

FRENCH FINE: France's competition agency, the Autorité de la Concurrence, announced Monday it is fining Apple a record $1.2 billion for artificially keeping prices high.

The regulator claims Apple and two top resellers, which were also each fined between 60 million and 80 million euros, agreed to align prices for products including the iPad.

"In the course of this case, the Autorité untangled the very particular practices that had been implemented by Apple for the distribution of its products in France (excluding iPhones), such as iPad," agency President Isabelle de Silva said in a statement.

ADVERTISEMENT

The agency claims Apple engaged in three anti-competitive practices.

First, Apple and its two wholesalers -- Tech Data and Ingram Micro -- allegedly agreed not to compete. Second, the agency claims Apple stopped the "premium" resellers from being able to lower their prices. Third, Apple is accused of treating those resellers unfairly, in some instances limiting their supply.

Read more here.

 

HOLD UP:  Three Democratic chairmen of relevant House committees sent a letter Monday to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asking for the implementation of the Real ID Act to be delayed, citing the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The law's implementation plan stipulates that on Oct. 1, 2020, people will need Real ID-compliant identification in order to board commercial flights, enter federal buildings or gain access to American nuclear plants.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonProgressive Caucus co-chair: Reported oversight change in intelligence office 'seems a bit...fascist' House lawmakers to launch probe into DHS excluding NY from Trusted Traveler Program Cuomo says Wolf, Cuccinelli violated oath of office and should be investigated MORE (D-Miss), and Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security Chairman Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaCriminalization that never should have been: Cannabis Man arrested, charged with threatening to attack Muslims in Germany Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in their letter that the deadline should be pushed back.

ADVERTISEMENT

"While we recognize the administration's commitment to ensuring the nation's full compliance with the REAL ID Act, the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak and its impacts on the aviation industry must lead DHS to delay the October 1 implementation deadline," they wrote.

"For implementation to go smoothly, DHS would need tens of millions of Americans to get new identifications over the next several months. Creating lines at Departments of Motor Vehicles would be foolish during a pandemic," they added.

Read more here.

 

TELEWORKING TARGETS: Experts are warning of a new wave of cyberattacks targeting Americans who are forced to work from home during the coronavirus outbreak.

There is increasing evidence that hackers are using the concerns over the virus to prey on individuals and that working outside secure office environments opens the door to more cyber vulnerabilities.

"There are nation-states that are actively taking advantage of the situation, particularly our Cold War adversaries, and we need to be keenly aware that they are aware of the lack of security that is presented by everyone telecommuting," Tom Kellermann, who served on a presidential cybersecurity commission during the Obama administration, told The Hill on Friday.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Department of Homeland Security's cyber agency, underlined Kellermann's concerns by issuing an alert on Friday pointing to specific cyber vulnerabilities around working from home versus the office.

CISA zeroed in on potential cyberattacks on virtual private networks (VPNs), which enable employees to access an organization's files remotely. 

These networks may make it easier to telecommute, but, according to CISA, they also open up a tempting way for hackers to get in. 

"As organizations use VPNs for telework, more vulnerabilities are being found and targeted by malicious cyber actors," CISA wrote. "Update VPNs, network infrastructure devices, and devices being used to remote into work environments with the latest software patches and security configurations."

The agency also underlined the importance of flagging suspicious emails, noting that "malicious cyber actors may increase phishing emails targeting teleworkers to steal their usernames and passwords."

CISA urged that organizations keep their systems updated and patched and be transparent with employees about the dangers of malicious emails, particularly those that use coronavirus fears to tempt individuals to click on them and download computer viruses. 

Read more here.

 

NEW DATA RULES: Critics are sounding the alarm over new rules introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week to give Americans more control over their health data.

They warn that while more access to health data for patients and small, consumer-focused companies, could be hugely beneficial, there are not enough protections in the rules to safeguard sensitive information or stop big tech companies from acquiring the data.

The two new rules were issued by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The ONC rule, which implements certain portions of the 2016 21st Century Cures Act, requires health providers to allow patients to electronically access their health data for free.

The CMS "Interoperability and Patient Access" rule focuses on securing the exchange of health information and requires third-party groups to provide information on their data privacy policies before information is shared with them. 

Moving health data from hospitals and electronic health record companies -- also known as EHRs -- to patients is a significant shift in how America treats medical information.

Supporters of the new rules say they will empower patients, allowing them to use their health data to access better or different treatments more easily. Patients have always been able to request data from their providers, but the process can be time-consuming and come with potentially prohibitive fees.

"[The rules are] particularly helpful for complicated patients, patients that have chronic disease that have to see a lot of specialists, if they have to transfer their records from one system to another, the way the system is set up really segments care, making data more interoperable will fix a lot of those existing problems," Olivia Webb, a policy analyst at the newly formed anti-monopoly organization the American Economic Liberties Project, told The Hill.

Read more here.

  

DELAYED DELIVERIES: Amazon warned of delayed deliveries and items going out of stock as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.

The online retailer said the increase in people shopping online is having a short-term impact on how it serves customers. 

"In particular, you will notice that we are currently out of stock on some popular brands and items, especially in household staples categories," Amazon said in a blog post updated Saturday

The retailer added that promised deliveries will take longer than usual. 

"We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability on all of our products, and bring on additional capacity to deliver all of your orders," the post added. 

Amazon included a note at the top of its website telling customers "inventory and delivery may be temporarily unavailable due to increased demand. Confirm availability at checkout."

Items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and hand soap were listed as out of stock on the website Sunday. 

Read more here.

 

FREE ONLINE CLASSES: Scholastic is offering free online courses for children as school closures sweep the nation amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The company's digital learning hub is accessible on all devices, including smartphones, and requires no sign-up, the company announced Friday

The Scholastic Learn At Home program offers three hours of learning per day with up to four weeks of instruction. Users are asked to choose a grade level, separated into pre-K and kindergarten, first and second grade, third through fifth grade, and sixth grade and above. 

The courses span the subjects of English language arts; STEM; science; social studies; and social-emotional learning.

The aim is for the program to help keep children academically active amid the massive school closures, said Lauren Tarshis, senior vice president and editor-in-chief/publisher of Scholastic Classroom Magazines.

"We designed Scholastic Learn At Home knowing that administrators and teachers need to create extensive virtual learning plans, quickly, and that students need uplifting and engaging experiences," Tarshis said in the announcement. "Our hope is that even though daily routines are being disrupted and students may not have valuable time in school with their educators, together we can support meaningful learning at home while it is necessary."

Read more here.

   

A LIGHTER CLICK: Palate cleanser

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Cyber operations already impacting coronavirus response

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Zoom conquered video chat -- now it has even bigger plans (Protocol / David Pierce)

So We're Working From Home. Can the Internet Handle It? (New York Times / Davey Alba and Cecilia Kang)

The 'Surreal' Frenzy Inside the US' Biggest Mask Maker (Wired / Paris Martineau)

False coronavirus rumors surge in 'hidden viral' text messages (NBC News / Ben Collins)