Hillicon Valley: Three arrested in Twitter hack | Trump pushes to break up TikTok | House approves $500M for election security

Hillicon Valley: Three arrested in Twitter hack | Trump pushes to break up TikTok | House approves $500M for election security
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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

ARRESTS MADE IN TWITTER HACK: A Florida teenager and two others have been arrested for allegedly perpetrating a major Twitter hack earlier this month that resulted in several prominent accounts posting messages for a bitcoin scam.


The Department of Justice announced that U.K. resident Mason Shepard, 19, and Orlando resident Nima Fazeli, 22, who go by the hacking aliases "Chaewon" and "Rolex" respectively, were charged with helping carry out the hack. A third person, a 17-year-old who lives in Tampa, has also been charged.

The 17-year-old is facing 30 felony charges including organized fraud, communications fraud, identity theft and hacking, carrying potential penalties of more than $100,000. Those charges have been filed in Florida by Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, who described the teenager as the "mastermind" of the hack.

Shepard and Fazeli, meanwhile, have been charged in federal court in California. Shepard was charged with computer intrusion, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, with the most serious charge bringing 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Fazeli was charged with one count of computer intrusion, which carries a max sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.

The hack, which took place July 15, affected a number of prominent Twitter accounts, including those of former President Obama, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings MORE, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskBlue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Virgin Hyperloop to build new certification center in West Virginia SpaceX awarded contract to build US military tracking satellites MORE, among others.

Authorities say the defendants were able to reap more than $100,000 in bitcoin by posting messages on the hacked accounts asking followers to send funds.

Twitter later said that the hackers obtained employee credentials, allowing them to target 130 accounts, tweeting from 45, accessing direct message inboxes of 36 and downloading data from seven. Twitter temporarily prevented verified accounts from tweeting on the day of the incident, and announced an immediate investigation into what occurred.

“Today’s charging announcement demonstrates that the elation of nefarious hacking into a secure environment for fun or profit will be short-lived," U.S. Attorney David Anderson said in a statement.


“In particular, I want to say to would-be offenders, break the law, and we will find you,” Anderson said.

Read more about the case here.


TRUMP EYES ACTION ON TIKTOK: President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE plans to announce an executive order soon aimed at forcing Beijing-based ByteDance to sell U.S. operations for the popular social media platform TikTok, according to multiple reports on Friday.

Bloomberg reported that Trump could sign the executive order as soon as Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Trump told reporters while leaving the White House earlier in the day that he was "looking at TikTok" and considering a ban.

“We may be banning TikTok, we may be doing some other things,” Trump said. “There are a couple of options, but a lot of things are happening so we will see what happens. We are looking at a lot of alternatives with TikTok.”

Trump’s comments echo those of Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo says US to open embassy in the Maldives Microsoft: Iranian hacking group targeting attendees of major international security conferences American money for American ideas: Think tanks should disclose foreign funding MORE, who said last month that the administration was considering banning Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, due to national security concerns. 

The White House did not have any immediate further comment, while the Treasury Department did not immediately respond to The Hill’s requests for comment.

Read more about the potential order here.


MICROSOFT WAITS IN THE WINGS: Microsoft is in talks to purchase TikTok, The New York Times reported Friday.

The news came as reports emerged that President Trump was considering signing an executive order requiring Beijing-based ByteDance to divest the U.S. portion of TikTok due to concerns that the company may be giving sensitive U.S. data collected through the app to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The New York Times cited an anonymous source who said the purchase could come later in the day Friday. Microsoft did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the potential purchase. 

A spokesperson for TikTok told The Hill that “while we do not comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok.”

Read more about the potential deal here.


ELECTION SECURITY FUNDS IN THE PIPELINE: The House approved $500 million in election security funding for states as part of an annual appropriations package that advanced mostly along party lines Friday.

The 2021 appropriations package included the money as part of funding for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The funds were part of a wider deal that also included funding for the departments of Defense, Energy, Justice, Commerce, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Labor, among other measures. 

The funds, which would be distributed by the EAC to states, are required to be used for replacing “direct-recording electronic” voting equipment with voting systems that use some form of paper ballots. States would only be allowed to use any remaining funds once they have certified to the EAC that all direct-recording election equipment has been replaced. 

“The bill includes $500 million in election security grants to help states acquire resources and equipment to conduct safe, secure, and on time elections,” Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyWomack to replace Graves on Financial Services subcommittee Preventing next pandemic requires new bill's global solutions Democrats introduce legislation to revise FDA requirements for LGBT blood donors MORE (D-Ill.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said on the House floor ahead of the vote. 


“This issue is especially relevant now, as states are currently facing the need to adjust their processes to accommodate conducting an election in the middle of a pandemic,” he added.

Read more about the funds here.


TWITTER BANS FORMER KKK LEADER: Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has been banned from Twitter for breaking the social media site’s rules against hate speech. 

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed in a statement to The Hill on Friday that Duke’s account was "permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules on hateful conduct."

It was not immediately clear if a specific tweet or post caused Duke to be removed from the site. Twitter’s ban on hateful conduct prohibits users from promoting violent behavior or threatening people based on religious affiliation, race, ethnic origin and more.

A Twitter spokesperson told The Hill that the move “is in line with our recently-updated guidance on harmful links."


The policy previously applied to those that could direct users to malware, terrorist websites and more. Earlier this week, Twitter updated the guidance to include “hateful conduct and violence.”

Read more here.


INTERNET ACCESS FOR ALL: Amazon has received authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to proceed with Project Kuiper, its initiative to launch a fleet of low-orbiting satellites that would be used to provide broadband internet access to underserved communities in the U.S.

The FCC approved of the tech giant's ambitious project by a vote of 5-0 on Thursday.

With the commission's green light, Amazon will now be able to begin the deployment of its 3,236 satellites. In total, Amazon is spending $10 billion on the project based in a new Amazon development facility in Redmond, Wash.

“We have heard so many stories lately about people who are unable to do their job or complete schoolwork because they don’t have reliable internet at home,” Dave Limp, Amazon's senior vice president, said in a statement. “There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn’t exist at all. Kuiper will change that." 

Read more about the project here.


LOBBYISTS GALORE: Three top Commerce Department officials have left the Trump administration in the past month to take on lobbying roles at the D.C. offices of major semiconductor companies.

The moves come at a time when U.S. companies and Congress are increasing efforts to counter China's expanding strength in the global market for chips. The federal government is also looking to increase domestic design and production of chips used in smartphones, medical devices and computers amid rising tensions with China and supply-chain concerns among lawmakers.

“Washington is increasingly focused on issues impacting the semiconductor sector, so our industry has bulked up its presence to ensure policymakers understand that U.S. leadership in semiconductors is essential to America’s global technology leadership, national security, economic strength, and job creation,” John Neuffer, head of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), told The Hill.

One of the Commerce departures is Patrick Wilson, former business liaison director at the agency who joined MediaTek as vice president of government affairs on Monday.

Read more here.


TWITTER WEIGHS ITS OPTIONS: Twitter has reportedly begun the process of surveying users about potential features as part of a paid service, including items such as an "undo send" button and badges to identify individuals' employers.

Social media consultant Matt Navarra shared screenshots of the survey, which asks "What would you be willing to pay for?" before providing some options.

One such option includes an "undo send" button to allow users to recall a tweet up to 30 seconds after sending it. Another possible feature involves badges to identify a user's employer, such as for journalists.

"You get a badge(s) on your profile that links you to businesses you own or work for," the survey says. "Example: A journalist can have a badge showing the magazines they write for."

Read more here.

Lighter click: That Friday feeling after a busy news week

An op-ed to chew on: America has the chance to bolster domestic chip manufacturing, research: Congress should seize it



Australia plans to make Facebook and Google pay for news (CBS News / Caitlin O’Kaine) 

Moldovan man pleads guilty in $568 million cybercrime scheme (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas) 

Cloud computing was a bright spot in the worst quarter in US history (Protocol / Tom Krazit)

Eager for alternative to Zoom, executives are getting together in video games to bond, brainstorm, or rampage (The New York Times / David Segal)