Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Democrats demand answers over Russian interference bulletin | Google Cloud wins defense contract for cancer research | Cyberattack disrupts virtual classes

Greg Nash

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.

ELECTION INTERFERENCE REPORT WITHHELD: House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) are demanding answers about a report that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld information on Russian interference in the presidential election.

ABC News reported Wednesday that DHS withheld the publication of a bulletin from the Office of Intelligence Analysis that found evidence that Russian actors were attempting to use “allegations over the poor mental health” of former Vice President Joe Biden to sway the election.

According to ABC News, the analysis was scheduled to be distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement partners on July 9, but a senior DHS official intervened on July 7 and delayed the bulletin’s release. The analysis has still not been sent out, with DHS telling ABC News that it had failed to meet the agency’s standards for release. 

Thompson and Rose – who serves as chairman of the subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism – wrote to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Wednesday saying they viewed the decision to withhold the bulletin as an effort to “skew” the intelligence analysis process. 

“This is the latest in a series of actions that politically appointed Department leaders have taken to politicize the operations of the Department and skew the intelligence analysis that so many law enforcement officers across the country count on to keep Americans safe,” the Democrats wrote. “It also runs counter to the mission and integrity of any intelligence organization to have its products edited or held up for review by political advisers.”

The lawmakers asked Wolf to produce by Sept. 16 all documents related to the decision to delay the release of the bulletin, any intelligence products cited by the bulletin, and details on other publications that had been withheld or edited by the agency in the past. 

In a second letter to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, the House members urged him to review the ABC News report and consider updating a plan around an ongoing investigation into DHS and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. 

Read more here.


GOOGLE WINS MILITARY CLOUD CONTRACT: Google announced Wednesday that its cloud wing has received a contract from the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to develop artificial intelligence solutions for cancer screening at Department of Defense (DOD) facilities.

The project is aimed at helping analyze data collected when making diagnostic and treatment decisions to help lower the misdiagnosis rate.

Google Cloud is planning to provide DIU with a prototype of an augmented reality microscope that provides doctors with real-time info while working.

The technology will first be available at a few Defense Health Agency and Veteran’s Affairs facilities.

“This is extraordinarily important to us because it is a very practical application of the work we have done as a pioneer in the [Artificial Intelligence] AI area,” Mike Daniels, a vice president at Google Cloud, told The Hill in an interview.

The contract is one of Google’s many efforts to turn its development of artificial intelligence into tangible products.

“This is about how we are taking our investments in artificial intelligence and applying them to practical problems utilizing government datasets to drive outcomes and efficiency; health just happens to be a tremendous area for us to be able to do so,” Daniels said. 

Read more.


SCHOOL DISTRICT IN THE CROSSHAIRS: Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) announced late Tuesday that its virtual classroom systems had been hit by a cyberattack that temporarily disrupted online classes amid the pandemic.

In a statement, the district noted that its My School Online distance learning platform had been hit by a distributed denial of service, or DDoS attack, that negatively impacted the first two days of the 2020-2021 school year.

M-DCPS had initially concluded that the connectivity problems on the learning platform had resulted from a software malfunction, but were notified on Tuesday night by Comcast, which provides internet service for the district, that glitches on the platform were also caused by the DDoS attack. 

DDoS attacks involve an attacker attempting to take down a server by overwhelming it with traffic. 

“At no time were our firewalls compromised and no student or employee personal data was accessed,” M-DCPS wrote in a statement. “The cyber attacks did create a significant burden and caused massive disruption to all District web-based systems.”

In a separate statement released by M-DCPS on Wednesday, the district said that “multiple” cyberattacks had been targeted at the district “this morning,” but that “the District’s security and safeguard measures have been successful thus far.”

The district warned its 200,000 students who were using the virtual learning platform to stay logged on. 

Read more here.


OVERSEAS VOTING CONCERNS: A group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday raised concerns around the ability of overseas U.S. voters to cast a ballot in the upcoming general election due to mail delays and COVID-19 interruptions. 

Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, sent a letter to almost two dozen U.S. embassies raising concerns around the ability of overseas U.S. voters to participate in the November election.

“In every election, postal delivery issues and strict state deadlines mean that ballots from some voters living abroad go uncounted,” the senators wrote. “Obstacles to voting coupled with concerns that their ballots will not count mean that many Americans living overseas will decide not to vote at all.”

According to the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), there are around 3 million U.S. citizens eligible to vote living overseas, though according to the senators, only around 7 percent of these citizens successfully voted in the 2016 U.S. elections, a number the senators described as “unacceptable.”

“We are deeply concerned that delays and confusion resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will make matters worse,” the senators wrote. “The United States Postal Service (USPS) has warned election officials across the U.S. that the delivery of election mail may be delayed, and the situation may be even worse for many voters living overseas.”

Read more here.


REPUBLICAN RAISES TWITTER CONCERNS: House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) on Wednesday sharply criticized Twitter for not taking enough steps to manage the security of the platform and the trustworthiness of employees. 

In a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Comer pointed to security concerns from an incident in July that saw hackers target 130 verified Twitter accounts, including those of former Vice President Joe Biden and major tech CEOs, in criticizing Twitter for taking insufficient steps to shore up security. 

“It has become increasingly clear that Twitter does not take security and oversight of its security practices seriously,” Comer wrote.

Comer also expressed strong concerns stemming from a Bloomberg report last month that two former Twitter employees accessed over 6,000 Twitter accounts in 2015 while working as spies for the Saudi Arabian government. According to the report, this information was used in some cases to track down, harass and abduct Saudi Arabian dissidents. 

Both former employees were charged last year by the Justice Department for allegedly working as Saudi Arabian spies.

The July security incident involved hackers using employee credentials to target 130 verified accounts and tweet messages from 45 of these accounts asking followers to donate money as part of a cryptocurrency scam that ultimately raised over $100,000. The hackers also accessed direct messages of 36 accounts, and downloaded data from seven accounts, according to Twitter.

Read more here.


LARA TRUMP CAMPAIGNS FOR LAURA LOOMER: Lara Trump recently joined GOP congressional candidate Laura Loomer at a campaign event in Florida, throwing the support of the Trump name behind the far-right activist and self-described Islamophobe who has been banned by major tech platforms.

President Trump’s daughter-in-law and campaign adviser was photographed with Loomer, the GOP nominee to challenge Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) in a reliably blue district, at a campaign event with some pictures showing a lack of face masks and social distancing.

Loomer’s primary victory last month has already caused headaches for congressional Republicans, who are grappling with her history of wildly offensive remarks as they face an uphill battle to try to win back the majority in the House. A self-described “proud Islamophobe,” Loomer has been banned from several social media platforms for violating policies around hate speech.

In 2017, she tweeted “how many more people need to die before everyone agrees that Islam is cancer & we should never let another Muslim into the civilized world?” That same year she was banned from Uber and Lyft after she tweeted that “someone needs to create a non Islamic form of @uber or @lyft.”

Read more.


SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING: The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Wednesday issued a final directive requiring all federal agencies to develop and publish cyber vulnerability disclosure policies. 

The directive, which is the finalized version of a draft order published by CISA in November, is intended to make it easier for the public to disclose cybersecurity vulnerabilities to federal agencies and what types of communication to expect after reporting the issue.  

“Cybersecurity is strongest when the public is given the ability to contribute, and a key component to receiving cybersecurity help from the public is to establish a formal policy that describes how to find and report vulnerabilities legally,” Bryan Ware, assistant director for Cybersecurity at CISA, said in a statement. 

In a separate blog post, Ware compared vulnerability disclosure to alerting authorities to a house fire or another emergency. 

“Imagine visiting a government web application – say, website.gov – on a balmy evening and noticing an open redirect on the site,” Ware wrote, referencing a type of cyber vulnerability. “You click around. Nothing on the site hints at how to report this. What do you do? If you’re into cybersecurity, you might send a short email to security@website.gov, pulse some contacts when it bounces, and tweet something spicy about website.gov.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he added. 

Read more here. 


MICROSOFT TACKLES MANIPULATED MEDIA: Microsoft on Tuesday rolled out two new technologies aimed at identifying and combatting the influence of manipulated media.

One, the Microsoft Video Authenticator, can analyze photos and videos and give a percentage chance that they have been artificially changed, the company said in a blog post.

The other includes technology helping creators add digital hashes and certificates to content made in Microsoft as well as a reader that can check those hashes and certificates.

Ideally, those two pieces would help users know the creator of content and be able to verify it has not been changed.


Read more here.


TWITTER VS. TRUMP, TAKE 1,000: Twitter removed a video from a mid-August tweet by President Trump that featured Eddy Grant‘s hit song “Electric Avenue” after the musician sued the president’s reelection campaign on Tuesday, claiming copyright infringement.

The tweet from Aug. 12 depicted Democratic candidate Joe Biden pushing a hand-powered cart down a railway while a train featuring the Trump campaign’s logo speeds away into the distance. Grant’s song played during the ad in the background.

As of Tuesday evening, the captionless tweet showed only an image indicating that the video had been removed. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the video had been removed over Grant’s copyright claim.

Read more here.


Lighter click: The prevalence of bots is frequently overhyped, but

An op-ed to chew on: Would the United States military intervene in election results? 


What Are Geofence Warrants? (The Markup / Leila Barghouty)

Anarchist Activists Say Facebook Banned Them to Placate the Right (MotherJones / Ali Breland)

Meet the Major Players in Google’s Antitrust Battle (AdWeek / Scott Nover)

Trump’s TikTok deal has hit a serious roadblock (The Verge / Russell Brandom)

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bennie Thompson Bob Menendez Chad Wolf Donald Trump Ilhan Omar James Comer Joe Biden Lara Trump Lois Frankel Max Rose Tom Carper

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video