Hillicon Valley: Health workers warn of virus misinformation | Grenell announces new intel 'cyber exec' | Lawmakers push for IT modernization in next aid package

Hillicon Valley: Health workers warn of virus misinformation | Grenell announces new intel 'cyber exec' | Lawmakers push for IT modernization in next aid package
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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

HEALTH WORKERS WARN ABOUT MISINFO: More than 100 doctors and nurses working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic sent letters to the largest social media platforms this week calling on them to tackle medical misinformation more aggressively.


Tech giants spotlighted: The letter sent to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube — and republished as an ad in The New York Times on Thursday — warns that misleading info about the disease is threatening lives.

"Stories claiming cocaine is a cure, or that COVID-19 was developed as a biological weapon by China or the US, have spread faster than the virus itself," the health practitioners wrote in collaboration with the nonprofit activist group Avaaz.

"Tech companies have tried to act, taking down certain content when it is flagged, and allowing the World Health Organization to run free ads. But their efforts are far from enough," the letter says.

Conspiracy theories and unfounded claims about the virus, its origins and ways to combat it have surged on social media in step with the disease itself, causing what the World Health Organization has branded an “infodemic.”

Social media platforms have taken several steps to limit the spread of harmful content about the virus while also elevating authoritative information.

The doctors and nurses said the companies should go further and retroactively notify users when they have been exposed to health misinformation.

Read more here.



CYBER REORGANIZATION: Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell on Friday announced the creation of an intelligence community (IC) “cyber executive” as part of other organizational changes.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the new position will “provide a single ODNI focus point for the cyber mission, which will strengthen the IC’s cyber posture to better defend U.S. national security interests.”

Consolidation: The cyber executive position will oversee four consolidated, previously separate ODNI cyber-focused organizations.

The ODNI did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on which four organizations would be combined, or whether an individual had been selected to fill the position.

The creation of the cyber executive post comes after more than a year of staff and leadership review of organizational changes, according to the ODNI. 

Other changes announced by Grenell on Friday included the establishment of the “Director’s Advisor for Military Affairs” position. This individual will serve as Grenell’s principal adviser for defense issues, and is intended to boost the ODNI’s efforts to collaborate with the Department of Defense.

The changes will also eliminate the ODNI’s Directorate of National Security Partnerships and transfer its functions to other ODNI offices. The group was tasked with coordinating IC and defense intelligence operations, among other duties.

Read more about the changes here.


NEW PUSH FOR IT SECURITY: A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is working together to gather support for including funds to boost state-level information technology security and modernization efforts in the next COVID-19 stimulus package.

Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulWarren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates Bipartisan action needed to counter Chinese influence Hillicon Valley: House panel says Intelligence Community not equipped to address Chinese threats | House approves bill to send cyber resources to state, local governments MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, alongside Reps. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinDOJ: Russian hackers targeted 2018 Olympics, French elections Hillicon Valley: Trump refuses to condemn QAnon | Twitter revises its policy, lets users share disputed article | Google sees foreign cyber threats Democrats introduce bill providing 0 million to protect schools from cyberattacks MORE (D-R.I.), Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherFederal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations MORE (R-Wis.), and Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump combative, Biden earnest during distanced TV duel Cedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins Democrats preview strategy on Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week MORE (D-La.), plan to send a “Dear Colleagues” letter next week to House lawmakers asking them to support funding state efforts to boost network security. 

“Unfortunately, our digital infrastructure is (virtually) crumbling,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Federal agencies often rely on IT systems that are decades old, and the problems are all the more acute at the state and local level.”

They emphasized that “we believe the urgent need for revamping our digital government infrastructure has never been more clear,” and asked their colleagues to join them in sending a letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a Senate vote | Pelosi, Mnuchin see progress, but no breakthrough | Trump, House lawyers return to court in fight over financial records Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a vote in Senate MORE (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy: 'I would think I already have the votes' to remain as House GOP leader Conservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE (R-Calif.) asking for IT modernization funding. 

The lawmakers requested that any funding sent to states include IT modernization and security funds for local governments as well, and that the funds address both current and future IT needs. 

“As we consider additional legislative measures to address the urgent needs of our citizens, we encourage you to consider the digital infrastructure on which so many of our constituents rely to access vital government services,” the House members wrote. 

Read more here.


DRUG COMPANY TARGETED: Iranian-linked hackers have targeted U.S. drug company Gilead Sciences Inc. in recent weeks as the company works to develop treatments for the coronavirus, Reuters reported Friday.

According to Reuters, the hackers posed as journalists and sent emails to Gilead staffers that were designed to trick them into disclosing their passwords. Reuters was not able to determine if any of the attempted attacks were successful. 

Key company fighting the virus: The Food and Drug Administration last week approved an emergency use authorization of Gilead’s drug remdesivir to help treat COVID-19 patients. The drug, which is an antiviral medication, was found in one clinical trial to shorten the time of recovery for those suffering from the virus. 


A spokesperson for Gilead declined to comment on the story to The Hill, saying Gilead does not comment on “information security measures.”

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, told Reuters that “the Iranian government does not engage in cyber warfare,” and that “cyber activities Iran engages in are purely defensive and to protect against further attacks on Iranian infrastructure.”

Iran is regarded by experts as one of the most dangerous nation states in cyberspace alongside Russia, China, and North Korea. Concerns over Iran’s cyber capabilities increased in January due to increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran due over the death of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Read more about the attack here.


ARDENT WEWORK CUSTOMERS: WeWork customers are uniting in a group action to demand the company not charge their membership fees during the coronavirus pandemic when state stay-at-home orders prevent them from using the work spaces. 

Customers in Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and other cities hired law firm Walden Macht & Haran to threaten to pursue arbitration in a letter to WeWork general counsel Jared DeMatteis on Thursday. 


“As long as this pandemic prohibits our clients from using their WeWork office spaces, the purpose of their membership agreements is frustrated, thus excusing their obligation to pay membership fees,” lawyer Jim Walden wrote.

Members are being charged their full monthly fees and are not offered any concessions. Membership fees vary based on location but in Washington, they range from $700 a month for a one-person standard office to $18,000 a month for a 30-person standard office, with higher prices for larger teams and private floors. For one person in a communal space, prices range from $370 a month to about $500 a month. 

Walden Macht & Haran noted in a press release on Thursday that WeWork reportedly has reduced rent payments to its own landlords. WeWork did not pay April rent at numerous of its properties in the U.S. and is struggling to renegotiate leases, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Read more here.


SOCIAL MEDIA TACKLES ‘PLANDEMIC’: Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms have removed a viral documentary-style video titled "Plandemic" that promoted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.

The 26-minute video, which was framed as part of a longer documentary on the coronavirus pandemic, promoted several false claims, including that wearing a face mask makes it easier to get the virus and that shelter-in-place orders hurt the immune system.

It also claimed without evidence that the coronavirus was invented in a laboratory in order to promote vaccinations. Judy Mikovits, an anti-vaccination activist, makes many of the claims in the video.

The video received more than 1 million videos on multiple platforms before it was removed, according to reports. It has gone viral in recent days, being shared by users with large follower counts including NFL players and Instagram influencers, according to NBC.

“Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick could lead to imminent harm, so we’re removing the video,” Facebook told Reuters.

YouTube told CNBC the video was removed for making claims about a cure for COVID-19 that is not backed by health officials.

Read more here.


Lighter click: M. Night Shyamalan is quaking

An op-ed to chew on: Why Americans have to talk about digital privacy at the kitchen table


The U.S. government plans to urge states to resist ‘high-risk’ internet voting (The Guardian / Kim Zetter) 

Hackers disrupt Ohio website that allows employers to report workers who refuse to work during pandemic (Motherboard / Joseph Cox) 

As the world weathers a pandemic, Nintendo just may be recession-proof (The Washington Post / Jon Irwin) 

Tech and other white-collar companies race to be last to return to the office (The New York Times / David Streitfeld)