Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | ‘Markeyverse’ of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections

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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 OFFICIALS GEAR UP: When Russian agents interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, government officials, election leaders, social media companies and the public were largely left struggling to respond.

Four years later, as reports emerge of a new wave of interference from Russia and other nations in the 2020 elections, officials are hoping to combat the threat with far more knowledge and preparation than before.

“We’ve really come a long way since 2016,” Election Assistance Commission Chairman Benjamin Hovland, who was nominated by President Trump, told The Hill on Friday.

Hovland, who leads a federal agency tasked with overseeing election administration, said “there has been a sea change” in communication among state, federal and local partners in recent years.

The spotlight on election security has grown since 2016, when Russian state-backed actors launched a sweeping attack seeking to sway public support and boost then-candidate Trump.

The effort involved a disinformation campaign on social media favoring Trump, the targeting of voting infrastructure in all 50 states, and hacking systems of the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

At the time, there was far less coordination among election officials, stakeholders and the federal government, and less access for outside parties to classified threats that the Obama administration was tracking in the months leading up to Election Day, making it far more difficult to respond.

Kathy Rogers, the senior vice president of government relations at Election Systems and Software (ES&S), one of the largest voting equipment vendors in the country, told The Hill that the company’s communication with federal officials has markedly improved in recent years.

Rogers said that in 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) informed the company about potentially dangerous IP addresses targeting voting systems by simply leaving a message on the company’s general voicemail. She said four years later, relations have warmed up.

Read more here. 


STEP INTO THE MARKEYVERSE: Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) began his victory speech on Tuesday night by thanking the people who made the primary win possible: his wife, his family, his campaign, its supporters and the “Markeyverse.”

That last group, a decentralized community of roughly a hundred fan accounts run largely by young people, was crucial in the incumbent’s come-from-behind win over Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.).

The organic online community, populated by progressives from all over the country, rallied support for phone banking, voter registration and donations — all while raising Markey’s profile. Despite being 35 years Kennedy’s senior, Markey, 74, enjoyed a dominant lead among voters under the age of 30 in polls taken during the final stretch of the race.

While the Markeyverse likely isn’t easily replicated, the campaign’s fostering and support of online youth involvement may provide a blueprint for progressive campaigns and causes.

At first glance, Markey, who has spent 44 years in Congress, is not the kind of candidate one would expect to be a champion of young political organizers.

The contrast with Kennedy was all the more striking considering the 39-year-old challenger made youth and electing a “new generation” of leaders a central feature of his campaign.

On the surface, the Massachusetts Senate primary looked similar to the successful 2018 primary challenge by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) against former Rep. Joe Crowley or Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s (D-Mass.) primary victory that same year over former Rep. Michael Capuano.

Unlike those races, however, Markey ran to the left of his younger challenger on key issues, with an established progressive track record to back up his positions.

Read more here. 


NEW SECTION 230 BILL: Republican Sens. Roger Wicker (Miss.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at modifying legal protections for online platforms.

The Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act would modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) by conditioning the protection on whether content decisions are “objectively reasonable,” while also limiting the things platforms can act on.

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which has come under increased scrutiny since President Trump targeted it in an executive order in May, gives internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted on their sites by third parties and allows them to make “good faith” efforts to moderate content.

The law is considered foundational for online companies, and the threat of having it revoked has increasingly been proposed as a cudgel to compel platforms to make changes by lawmakers, especially ones on the right.

This new proposal would only extend the protection to companies that restrict access to content where it has the “reasonable belief” it falls into one of the specified categories in the original CDA.

The policy’s original phrasing gives platforms wide latitude to pursue content moderation targeted at “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” content.

The bill introduced Tuesday would strike the “otherwise objectionable” phrase – which has allowed platforms to take down a wide range of dangerous content – and replace it with ‘‘promoting self-harm, promoting terrorism, or un-lawful.”

Read more here. 


APPLE VS. EPIC: Apple is seeking damages from Epic Games over an alleged breach of contract, an escalation of the legal battle between the two companies.

In a filing Tuesday, the Silicon Valley giant asked the court to hold Epic Games liable for the alleged breach and for restitution of all money Fortnite collected through its payment system.

“Epic’s lawsuit is nothing more than a basic disagreement over money,” Apple said in the filing in the District Court for the Northern District of California. “Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store.”

Epic Games first sued Apple in August after Fortnite, a wildly popular free online game, was removed from the App Store for implementing a payment system that circumvented Apple’s.

Apple requires developers that use its platform to also use Apple’s payment methods, which give the tech giant a 30 percent cut of all in-app revenue, the only way Epic makes money. In some rare cases, the fee is 15 percent.

Apple argued in Tuesday’s filing that Epic Games’s feature allowing iOS users to pick whether to make in-app purchases through the App Store or from Epic directly blindsided it.

″Unbeknownst to Apple, Epic had been busy enlisting a legion of lawyers, publicists, and technicians to orchestrate a sneak assault on the App Store,” the filing reads. 

Read more here. 


NEVER-ENDING SUMMER BREAK: The city of Hartford, Conn., postponed its scheduled first day of school Tuesday after a ransomware virus attack affected school systems over the weekend.  

Hartford Public Schools announced in a release that it was delaying the school reopening date and hosting no in-person or online classes Tuesday after the cyberattack. 

The restoration of the systems affected by the ransomware virus had not been completed and continued Tuesday morning, NBC Connecticut reported

“We have been informed by Metro Hartford Information Services (MHIS), our City of Hartford shared services team that manages our network infrastructure, that the ransomware virus caused an outage of critical systems and the restoration of those systems are not complete,” the school district wrote in the release.

“Everyone at Hartford Public Schools was ready to welcome back our beautiful and capable students in person and remotely,” the release said. “We will provide updates when we have additional information to share.”

Read more here. 


ZOOM-BOMBING CRACKDOWN: The Justice Department has filed charges against a Texas man who allegedly threatened to bomb the University of Houston and praised the Islamic State during an online class.

Ibraheem Amed Al Bayati, 19, allegedly said during the Zoom call last week, “What does any of this have to do with the fact that UH is about to get bombed in a few days?” before using an Arabic pro-Islamic State slogan, according to the indictment.

Bayati admitted to the incident on Friday after FBI agents tracked him to a family member’s house using his IP address, according to AFP. Bayati said the comment was meant as a joke, showing them texts from a friend advising him to “say some Arabic [s—] and leave lmaooooo.”

However, investigators said they also found messaged with another friend in which Bayati discussed recruiting Islamic State sympathizers. He also told the friend he was “literally known” as an ISIS recruiter, according to the indictment.

Bayati has been charged on two counts in connection to making a bomb threat. He is due to appear in federal court in Houston Tuesday afternoon, AFP reported.

Read more here. 


FACT-CHECK REQUEST: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany asked Twitter to fact check a misleading video circulating on the social media network where she argued the Trump administration is facilitating a coronavirus vaccine more effectively than the Obama administration did during the swine flu.

“This is a blatant LIE,” McEnany responded to a tweet that mischaracterized statements she made on Fox News. 

McEnany said the Obama administration “promised a vaccine” during the swine flu epidemic but did not deliver one as quickly as the current administration is moving on a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Some accounts shared a shortened clip that made it appear as though McEnany was pushing responsibility for a vaccine to tackle the current pandemic on the Obama administration. 

Read more here. 


ITALY LAUNCHES INVESTIGATIONS: Italy’s top authority on monopolies and trade practices announced a slew of investigations into Apple, Dropbox, and Google over the companies’ cloud storage systems.

In a press release, the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) said that the probes, six in total, were “relate[d] to alleged unfair commercial practices and the possible presence of unfair clauses in the contractual conditions.”

“In particular, the investigations for unfair practices against Google and Apple concern the failure or inadequate indication, when presenting the service, of the collection and use for commercial purposes of the data provided by the user and the possible undue influence in towards consumers, who, in order to use the cloud storage service, would not be in a position to give the operator their consent to the collection and use of information concerning them for commercial purposes,” read a translated press release from the AGCM.

Read more here. 


FACE-TO-(VIRTUAL)FACE: TechNet, a trade group consisting of tech executives, will hold its virtual fly-in this week to connect its members like Google, Apple, eBay, DoorDash and NASDAQ, with lawmakers.

The fly-in will take place Wednesday through Friday and members are slated to meet virtually with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

They also plan to meet with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.). Other companies participating include Bloom Energy, Box and Silicon Valley Bank.

The virtual meetings will cover TechNet’s lobbying priorities like freeing up capital for startups to remain solvent during this the coronavirus pandemic, immigration and expanding opportunities, especially for women and people of color, through STEM education.

TechNet was part of a group of top business leaders who filed a lawsuit in July against the administration over newly issued limits on work visas following President Trump’s move to suspend the issuance of H-1B visas, H-2B visas, H-4 visas, L-1 visas and certain J-1 visas through the end of 2020.

“As we adjust to the ‘new normal,’ it is imperative that we enact policies that support startups all across our country.  They are the drivers of innovation, economic growth, and job creation,” John Chambers, TechNet co-founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, told The Hill in a statement. 

Read more here. 


Lighter click: Famous last words

An op-ed to chew on: Will telemedicine save US health care?


How video chat fuels the American deportation machine (The Verge / Gaby Del Valle)

How the government is keeping hackers from disrupting coronavirus vaccine research (CyberScoop / Shannon Vavra) 

The FTC Is Investigating Intuit Over TurboTax Practices (ProPublica / Justin Elliot) 

Another Facebook worker quits in disgust, saying the company ‘is on the wrong side of history’ (Washington Post / Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin)

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Amy Klobuchar Ayanna Pressley Charles Schumer Deb Fischer Donald Trump Ed Markey Hillary Clinton Jacky Rosen Joe Crowley Joe Kennedy Kevin McCarthy Lindsey Graham Marsha Blackburn Michael Capuano Nancy Pelosi Roger Wicker Steny Hoyer Steve Daines
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