Hillicon Valley: Russian hackers return to spotlight with vaccine research attack | Twitter says 130 accounts targeted in this week's cyberattack | Four fired, dozens suspended in CBP probe into racist, sexist Facebook groups

Hillicon Valley: Russian hackers return to spotlight with vaccine research attack | Twitter says 130 accounts targeted in this week's cyberattack | Four fired, dozens suspended in CBP probe into racist, sexist Facebook groups

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.

THE NEVER-ENDING THREAT: Russia is facing renewed scrutiny for its cyber espionage efforts after the U.S., Great Britain and Canada alleged Thursday that a Kremlin-linked hacking group is attempting to steal research related to coronavirus vaccine developments and testing.


The hacking group known as APT29, or “Cozy Bear,” is largely believed to operate as part of Russia's security services, and the three countries say that it is carrying out a persistent and ongoing cyber campaign to steal intellectual property about a possible coronavirus vaccine.

According to cybersecurity organization CrowdStrike, the group was also one of two Russian cells that hacked into Democratic National Committee networks between 2015 and 2016 in the lead-up to the presidential election. 

The United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) first revealed the findings in a report posted online Thursday that warned APT29 has targeted research and development organizations in the U.K., U.S. and Canada using a variety of tools, including spear-phishing techniques and custom malware to help in their hacking attempts. 

Top intelligence lawmakers including Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are calling for more powerful responses to Russian’s virtual aggressions.

“It should be clear by now that Russia’s hacking efforts didn’t stop after the 2016 election,” Warner said in a statement to The Hill. “Moving forward, the United States and the western world need to be prepared for increasingly aggressive cyber-attacks from Russian actors.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests MORE (D-Calif.) said the hacking efforts were a sign of desperation from Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Not a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' MORE.

“With an economy one-tenth the size of ours and a scientific research and development capacity that has withered in the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that Vladimir Putin reportedly would resort to theft as a way of trying to secure every possible advantage as Russia and other countries vie with the United States and others in the search for a vaccine,” Schiff said in a statement. 


Read more about the hacking efforts here.

TWITTER GIVES AN UPDATE: Twitter said Thursday night that 130 accounts were targeted in a hacking incident this week that constituted one of the biggest security breaches suffered by the social media platform.

Among those whose accounts were hacked were former President Obama, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore HuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Jill Biden says she plans to continue teaching if she becomes first lady MORE and Tesla CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskSpaceX is building the road to the moon and Mars in Texas Hearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation MORE.

“Based on what we know right now, we believe approximately 130 accounts were targeted by the attackers in some way as part of the incident,” the company tweeted. “For a small subset of these accounts, the attackers were able to gain control of the accounts and then send Tweets from those accounts.”

The incident began Tuesday night, when several high-profile verified Twitter accounts began tweeting out posts asking users to send them money through bitcoin. Twitter later said hackers targeted employees with access to internal systems and tools in what the company described as a successful “coordinated social engineering attack.” 

While the posts were quickly taken down by Twitter and verified accounts were partially locked down for hours to ensure no other accounts posted the message, the individuals responsible raised the equivalent of over $115,000. 

Accounts compromised also included those of Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosHearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Five takeaways from Big Tech's blowout earnings Hillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom MORE and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. The accounts of major companies including Uber and Apple were also targeted. 

Twitter said Thursday night that it was working with the owners of the targeted accounts and that the company was still assessing whether “non-public data” was compromised during the hacking incident. Experts have raised concerns that sensitive direct messages tied to the accounts could have been accessed and that other data may have been stolen. 

Read more about the ongoing investigation here.

CBP EMPLOYEES FIRED OVER RACIST POSTS: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has fired four employees and suspended dozens of others as part of an investigation into their participation in Facebook groups full of racist and sexist content.

A spokesperson confirmed to The Hill on Friday that the agency investigated 138 cases tied to the Facebook groups exposed more than a year ago by ProPublica.

"Of those, the agency found that 63 allegations were unsubstantiated, 4 employees were removed from service, 38 employees were suspended without pay, and the remaining were disciplined with reprimands or counseling," the spokesperson said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times first reported on the firings; 6 cases remained open as of Wednesday.

The CBP announced last year that 70 current or former employees were under internal investigation for posts in the groups that included derogatory comments toward immigrants and lawmakers.


Most were involved in a group called "I'm 10-15," a reference to the code for "aliens in custody." 

In that group, which had upwards of 9,000 members, current and former employees joked about dead migrants and an edited image of a smiling President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE forcing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMichelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report Democratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Ethics Committee orders Tlaib to refund campaign ,800 for salary payments MORE’s (D-N.Y.) head toward his crotch.

In response to a post about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died last May at a Border Patrol station, one member wrote, "If he dies, he dies," while another posted an Elmo GIF that read, "Oh well."

Read more here.

ZUCKERBERG SPEAKS OUT: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Trump order targets TikTok, WeChat | TikTok fires back | Chinese firms hit hard in aftermath Female lawmakers pressure Facebook to crack down on disinformation targeting women leaders Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE criticized the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a livestream Thursday.

"At this point it is clear that the trajectory in the U.S. is significantly worse than many other countries, and that our government and this administration have been considerably less effective at handling this," he said during an interview with the nation's top infectious disease expert, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciPublic health expert: 50 percent effective coronavirus vaccine would be 'better than what we have now' Overnight Health Care: Trump to take executive action after coronavirus talks collapse | Vaccine official says he'd resign if pressured politically Fauci's DC neighbors put up 'thank you' signs in their yards MORE, on Facebook Live.

Cases of COVID-19 have surged recently after some initial flattening of the infection curve.


Most states are seeing increases in case numbers and positive test rates, with Arizona, Florida and California setting records in recent days. More than 136,000 people in America have died of the virus to date.

The administration has largely struggled to contain the pandemic, actively pushing for businesses to reopen and sending mixed messages to Americans on public health measures as simple as wearing a mask in public. 

Zuckerberg specifically criticized the administration for seeming to discredit Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"I was certainly sympathetic early on when it was clear that there would be some outbreaks no matter how well we handle this," he said. 

Read more about Zuckerberg’s comments here.

THE ELECTIONS ARE ALRIGHT: The director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said Friday that he has not seen a foreign effort to influence U.S. elections so far this year.

“Compared to where things were in 2016, we are not seeing that level of coordinated, determined cyber activity from adversaries,” CISA Director Christopher Krebs said during a virtual event hosted by the Brookings Institution. “We absolutely have better visibility across the networks, and we are just not seeing that same level of activity that we saw in 2016.”


Election security is one of CISA’s main priorities, particularly in the wake of Russian interference in the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections, during which Russian agents targeted election systems in all 50 states, launched a disinformation campaign on social media designed to favor now-President Trump, and hacked into the Democratic National Committee networks. 

Krebs emphasized Friday that due to enhanced coordination between the federal government and state and local election officials, along with increased cybersecurity of systems and awareness of the threat of foreign interference, the 2020 elections will be “the most secure election in modern history.”

He noted that one major enhancement had been the placement of intrusion detection systems in all 50 states and many counties, with all 67 Florida counties using these sensors. Florida was one of the two states, along with Illinois, that saw voting infrastructure breached by Russian actors ahead of the 2016 presidential election, though there is no evidence that any votes were changed. 

Read more about election security issues here.

CLIMATE DISINFORMATION CONCERNS: A group of Democratic senators is expressing concerns over reports that Facebook is exempting climate change misinformation from fact-checking. 

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Hillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report MORE (Mass.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNot a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat | White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus | Trump faces another challenge to rewrite of bedrock environmental law NEPA White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus MORE (Del.), 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 (Hawaii) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Democrats seek to exploit Trump-GOP tensions in COVID-19 talks Liability shield fight threatens to blow up relief talks MORE (R.I.) wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg after E&E News reported that the company may consider climate information scientists have called misleading “opinion” and make it free from fact-checking. 

“Allowing the spread of climate disinformation on Facebook is wholly inconsistent with your company’s June 2020 claims that it is ‘committed to fighting the spread of false news on Facebook and Instagram’ — and represents another unfortunate example of Facebook’s refusal to fully combat the deliberate spread of misinformation,” the lawmakers wrote this week. 

They asked Zuckerberg to tell them by July 31 whether the company has a fact-checking loophole for climate denial, as well as how its climate fact-checking differs from other issues like the coronavirus.

The company says it doesn't consider climate change to be an opinion and that opinion content is not exempt from fact-checking.

"Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers can and do rate climate science content — there has never been a prohibition against doing so," a company spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.

Read more here.

SUSPECT IN CUSTODY: A suspect has been arrested in the grisly killing of tech CEO Fahim Saleh, multiple outlets reported Friday.

Saleh, 33, was found decapitated and dismembered in his Manhattan apartment by his sister on Tuesday.

His personal assistant, Tyrese Devon Haspil, is expected to be charged with second-degree murder in connection to the death, The New York Times and NBC New York both reported. 

A representative for the New York Police Department declined to comment on the case.

Saleh allegedly discovered that Haspil, 21, had stolen tens of thousands of dollars from him.

Detectives told both outlets they believe the debt was the motive for the killing.

A repayment plan had been set up, and Saleh had not reported Haspil, according to reports.

Read more about the case here.

NETFLIX SHARES SINK: Shares in Netflix fell sharply on Friday after the streaming giant reported lower-than-expected second quarter revenue and meager expectations for new subscribers.

Netflix stock was down roughly 8 percent shortly after the market opened Friday.

Despite beating expectations for revenue and global subscribers, the streaming service fell short of the earnings per share expected by analysts. Netflix also said it expects 2.5 million net subscriber additions for the third quarter, far less than the 5.27 million projected by analysts, according to CNBC.

After sharply declining with the rest of the stock market in March, shares of Netflix have climbed steadily throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

With most of the U.S. population confined largely to their homes for entertainment, lockdowns fueled a wave of subscriptions to Netflix and other streaming services.

Read more here.

Lighter click: Here’s a cute dog after a crazy week

An op-ed to chew on: The telemedicine genie is out of the bottle 


The Conspiracy Singularity Has Arrived (Vice News / Anna Merlan)

New Emails Reveal Warm Relationship Between Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Hillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' Why Joe Biden needs Kamala Harris MORE And Big Tech (HuffPost / Zach Carter)

Does TikTok Really Pose a Risk to US National Security? (Wired / Louise Matsakis)

Hackers Tell the Story of the Twitter Attack From the Inside (New York Times / Nathaniel Popper and Kate Conger)