Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Twitter accounts of Obama, Biden, Musk, others compromised | U.S. announces sanctions on Huawei, citing human rights abuses | Pompeo ‘confident’ foreign adversaries will interfere in elections

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.


TOP TWITTER ACCOUNTS HACKED: Several prominent Twitter accounts, including those of former Vice President Joe Biden, former President Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, were compromised Wednesday in what appears to be a bitcoin scam.

The attack is likely the largest ever on Twitter’s security system and may have already cost users tens of thousands of dollars.

The accounts of several tech CEOs, including Musk, Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, posted similar messages offering to double bitcoin payments sent to an address during a set period of time.

The posts all included the address of the same bitcoin wallet, which has seen as much as $112,000 pour into it over the last few hours. It is unclear if this money came from unsuspecting users or the scammers themselves.

Other major accounts that were hacked include companies such as Uber, Square’s Cash App and Apple.

Celebrities including Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian West also posted similar messages, along with political figures such as Biden, Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

All of the tweets were deleted shortly after being posted, but, given the size of the accounts, they were widely viewed. While individual accounts are often hacked, especially ones that do not use security measures such as two-factor authentication, the scope of this effort suggests a deeper security failure.

Read more about the ongoing Twitter breach here.


ANOTHER BAD DAY FOR HUAWEI: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced that the State Department will impose visa restrictions on employees of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, saying the restrictions are meant to punish complicity in human rights abuses.

“The State Department will impose visa restrictions on certain employees of … Chinese technology companies like Huawei, that provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses globally,” Pompeo said in announcing the step.

Pompeo said Huawei is “an arm” of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China.”

“Certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses,” he added.

A spokesperson for Huawei told The Hill that the company “operates independent of the Chinese government.”

“We are a private, employee-owned firm,” they continued. “We are disappointed by this unfair and arbitrary action to restrict visas of our employees who work tirelessly to contribute to technological innovation in the U.S. and around the world.”

The State Department does not always broadcast which people are subject to visa restrictions, which typically involves barring entry to the U.S., but Pompeo indicated that he wants the Wednesday announcement to serve as a warning to other companies.

“Telecommunications companies around the world should consider themselves on notice: If they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers,” he said.

Pompeo has zeroed in on Huawei as a threat to U.S. national security for its ties to the Chinese government, and praised the United Kingdom for recently barring the telecommunications company from operating its 5G network.

“We were happy about it,” the secretary said. “Faster is always better to get this equipment out of their system, it’s a security risk. It isn’t about commercial interest, this about protecting the information in this case, of the United Kingdom’s people.”

The secretary has been part of a global pressure campaign to dissuade allies from incorporating Huawei’s hardware into their fifth-generation wireless networks.

Read more about the sanctions here.


PRAISE FOR UK HUAWEI REVERSAL: Washington is celebrating the United Kingdom’s reversal on allowing Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei into its 5G network, claiming victory after months of pressure on the British government.

In Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s announcement that buying Huawei equipment will be banned at the end of the year and that all existing gear must be ripped out by the end of 2027, he cited the U.S. Commerce Department’s sanctions against the company in May as a turning point for the U.K.

“This was a significant, material change — and one that we have to take into consideration,” Dowden told the House of Commons. “Given the uncertainty this creates around Huawei’s supply chain, the U.K. can no longer be confident it will be able to guarantee the security of future Huawei 5G equipment affected by the change in the U.S. foreign direct product rules.”

The Commerce sanctions are just one component of a U.S. pressure campaign to dissuade allies from developing their fifth-generation wireless technologies using Huawei’s hardware. American intelligence agencies and regulators have long maintained that Huawei poses a national security threat because of the Chinese Communist Party’s power over companies based in China.

Immediately after the U.K. announced in January that it would allow Huawei technology in its 5G networks, the Trump administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle sprang into action, urging their British counterparts to reconsider and even suggesting that following through with the decision could endanger intelligence sharing between the two longtime allies.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of the loudest critics of Chinese technology in the Trump administration, said in a statement Tuesday that the British reversal was “welcome news.”

“With this decision, the UK joins a growing list of countries from around the world that are standing up for their national security by prohibiting the use of untrusted, high-risk vendors,” he said referring to other countries — Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Estonia — that have signed joint statements on 5G security with the U.S.

“We will continue to work with our British friends on fostering a secure and vibrant 5G ecosystem, which is critical to Transatlantic security and prosperity,” he added.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the U.K. decision “reflects a growing international consensus” of the threat that vendors like Huawei pose because “they remain beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.”

The U.K.’s shift to that position extends beyond January — Britain in 2005 was the first country to allow Huawei into Europe — and underscores the diplomatic strength the U.S. still retains to push allies toward favorable positions.

Read more about the praise here.


LAW STUDENTS HAVE CONCERNS: Thousands of law school graduates are gearing up to take the bar exam online this year as the COVID-19 pandemic hinders plans to hold the test in person.

But with states allowing recent graduates to take the exam remotely in large numbers for the first time, test-takers are increasingly worried that security and technical glitches could create unnecessary headaches around their last major obstacle to practicing law.

“What the state bar is essentially asking the class of 2020 is to be guinea pigs of software that has never been tested on this important of a test and leaving everything up to chance,” Emily Davis, a recent graduate of Rutgers Law School in Newark, N.J., told The Hill.

The bar exam is typically administered annually at the end of July, with law school graduates unable to practice law until they pass it. This year, many states have decided to offer the multi-day test through one of three online vendors in early October in hopes of helping halt the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding the in-person testing. However, the move also leaves graduates unemployed for at least two extra months.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which drafts the Multistate Bar Examination portion of the test, announced earlier this month that it would provide an “emergency remote testing option” for jurisdictions struggling to safely offer the exam in person.

States and jurisdictions will be allowed to select a vendor to administer the test, with individuals monitored remotely while taking the exam. According to a spokesperson for the NCBE, the three vendors are ExamSoft, Extegrity and ILG Technologies, all of which have previously been used for online testing in classrooms.

“Each technology vendor has systems in place to help maintain the security of the remote exam and ensure a smooth testing experience for candidates,” the spokesperson said. “Jurisdictions that decide to administer the emergency remote exam will work with their selected vendor to address any security and technical issues that arise.”

Some privacy advocates are concerned about the off-site monitoring of test-takers.

John Davisson, counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The Hill that this type of surveillance raises “alarms.”

“There are just so many questions when you have testing surveillance software that is going to allow proctors to peer into the homes and in many cases the bedrooms and intimate spaces of test takers,” Davisson said. “What data is it collecting? Is it only collecting what data is necessary for proctoring purposes?”

Read more about bar exam concerns here.


POMPEO SOUNDS THE ALARM: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday expressed confidence that other countries, including potentially Russia and China, would attempt to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections.

“Yes, I am confident that many countries will do their level best to have an impact on our election,” Pompeo said during a virtual event hosted by The Hill on the future of national security. “Foreign efforts to interfere in American elections is something we constantly must contend with, and we’ll contend with that here.”

Pompeo made the remarks in response to a question from The Hill’s editor-in-chief, Bob Cusack, on whether Russia was interfering in the election process this year, four years after Russian agents launched a sweeping interference campaign during the lead-up to the 2016 elections. 

The secretary also pointed to the work that has been done by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security since 2016 “to make sure our adversaries understand the cost imposed” if they interfere in U.S. elections.

“The American people should rest assured that whether it’s Chinese interference, Iranian interference, Russian interference, or North Korean interference, any country, or even non-state actors who now have capabilities to try to meddle in our elections, know that this administration takes seriously its responsibility to make sure every American’s vote is counted, counted properly, and that foreign influence is minimized,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s remarks came two days after he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on a variety of issues. According to the State Department, Pompeo “raised the issue” of election security, but the agency did not give further details on the specifics of what was discussed around this topic. 

Read more about election security concerns here.


ZUCKERBERG TO INTERVIEW FAUCI: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will interview Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, on Thursday.

The discussion, which will take place on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, will focus on the U.S.’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and what steps need to be taken to contain it.

“I’m grateful for Dr. Fauci’s leadership and looking forward to hearing from him,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the interview.

The discussion comes amid rising tensions between Fauci and the Trump administration, which has sought to discredit the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It also gives Zuckerberg an opportunity to share updates on Facebook’s efforts to limit misinformation about the pandemic on its platform.

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

Facebook has taken several steps to combat the spread of that disinformation, elevating information from trusted sources and limiting the spread of potentially harmful posts.

Read more about the upcoming interview here.


WORK’S OUT FOREVER: Amazon is extending its work-from-home policy through January 2021 for corporate employees, a spokesperson told The Hill on Wednesday.

“We continue to prioritize the health of our employees and follow local government guidance. Employees who work in a role that can effectively be done from home are welcome to do so until January 8,” they said. 

“We have invested significant funds and resources to keep those who choose to come to the office safe through physical distancing, deep cleaning, temperature checks, and by providing face coverings and hand sanitizer,” they added.

The decision mirrors the timelines of other major tech companies that have decided to postpone bringing white-collar workers back to offices.

Google and Facebook have extended their work-from-home policies through the end of 2020, while Jack Dorsey has announced employees at Twitter and Square will be able to work from home indefinitely.

Read more about the work-from-home policies here.


APPLE WINS BIG: A European Union (EU) court on Wednesday ruled Apple does not have to pay nearly $15 billion in back taxes to Ireland.

In 2016, the European Commission alleged the tech giant had paid minuscule tax rates through an illegal deal with the Irish government and owed 13 billion euros, saying it underreported its European profits for more than a decade using two Irish shell companies.

However, the EU’s General Court ruled Wednesday the commission “did not succeed in showing to the requisite legal standard that there was an advantage,” according to a press release from the court.

The EU’s second-highest court called the commission “wrong” in its declaration that the company “had been granted a selective economic advantage and, by extension, state aid.” 

The Irish government and Apple both said they welcomed the ruling. Apple CEO Tim Cook previously called the case “total political crap.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the United States have sided with the Cupertino, Calif., company in the dispute and have previously criticized the European Commission’s finding in 2016. 

Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager said she is analyzing the ruling to “reflect on possible next steps.”

Read more about the case here.


KUSHNER WON’T DIVEST: Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has reportedly halted his plans to divest from a tech startup that he co-founded.

CNBC reported Wednesday that Kushner is no longer seeking to divest from his part ownership of Cadre, which provides high-tech services to clients making high-end real estate investments.

The White House did not immediately return requests for comment to CNBC or The Hill.

Kushner originally planned to divest from the company after it was revealed that it had been partially fueled by foreign investors, according to CNBC, and transferred his shares to a blind trust in February. His stake in the company reportedly ranges from $25 million to $50 million, totaling nearly 2.5 million shares.

In late June, an Office of Government Ethics (OGE) report detailing Kushner’s plans to sell the stock was withdrawn, indicating that the sale had been canceled, CNBC first reported.

Responding to the news in a lengthy blog post, experts with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wrote that Kushner’s continued ownership of Cadre stock was an “ethical landmine.”

Read more here.

Lighter click: Miranda Priestly judges you

An op-ed to chew on: Kids face greater online risks with COVID-19; will Congress act? 



Secret Trump order gives CIA more powers to launch cyberattacks (Yahoo News / Zach Dorfman, Kim Zetter, Jenna McLaughlin, and Sean Naylor) 

Facebook’s plan for privacy laws? ‘Co-creating’ with Congress (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky) 

You’re doomscrolling again. Here is how to snap out of it (The New York Times / Brian Chen) 

Tags 5G Anthony Fauci Apple Bob Cusack Concerns over Chinese involvement in 5G wireless networks Elon Musk Facebook Huawei Jared Kushner Jeff Bezos Joe Biden Kanye West Kim Kardashian Kim Kardashian West Mark Zuckerberg Mark Zuckerberg Michael Bloomberg Mike Pompeo Mike Pompeo Telecommunications Twitter Twitter hacking

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