Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Twitter tightens rules before election | Intelligence chief briefed lawmakers on foreign influence threats | Democrats launch inquiry into Pentagon’s moves on a national 5G network


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 team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

TWITTER TAKES A STAND: Twitter announced a series of policy updates Friday aimed at countering the potential spread of misinformation around this year’s elections.

Starting Oct. 20, users will be asked to add their own comment before retweeting a post, an attempt to slow users down from amplifying tweets. That change will last at least through Election Day.

Twitter will also change what shows up on timelines and in trends, removing posts that are recommended from people whom users don’t follow.

Trends will only be surfaced in the “For You” tab if they have additional context attached to them.

“Twitter has a critical role to play in protecting the integrity of the election conversation, and we encourage candidates, campaigns, news outlets and voters to use Twitter respectfully and to recognize our collective responsibility to the electorate to guarantee a safe, fair and legitimate democratic process this November,” Twitter executives Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour wrote in a blog post.

Twitter will also add new labels to hide misleading tweets from popular accounts. If users try to share content that Twitter has flagged as false, a notice will warn them that they are about to share inaccurate information.

The platform further clarified its policy around premature election victory declarations, which will include labels and direct users to Twitter’s official election page.

Read more here.


FOREIGN INFLUENCE EFFORTS TARGET CONGRESS: The nation’s top intelligence official briefed lawmakers last month that foreign influence campaigns targeting Congress were more expansive than previously known, but a lack of specifics has left some with questions, multiple sources tell The Hill.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe led intelligence officials in separately briefing the House and Senate Intelligence panels behind closed doors on the threats, informing lawmakers that the burgeoning foreign influence threat is being perpetrated by the usual suspects: China, Russia and Iran, though he indicated that Beijing was the primary aggressor.

Ratcliffe gave ballpark estimates of how many lawmakers have been targeted, suggesting it is from the dozens to roughly 50. But in the briefings, he declined to identify which members of Congress were the targets and he did not indicate if one party was being more heavily targeted than the other.

Asked about the briefings, an intelligence official said China is leading Russia and Iran in election influence operations.

“The [intelligence community] has become aware of Chinese influence operations targeting members of Congress at a rate of approximately six times that of Russia, and 12 times that of Iran,” the intelligence official told The Hill.

But there is a debate in the intelligence sphere over what Ratcliffe considers interference, including distinguishing election interference from foreign government lobbying, foreign government pressure or foreign government influence.

Some sources said Ratcliffe appeared to be categorizing efforts by countries such as China to lobby members of Congress to support a certain agenda — something viewed as a fairly common practice by foreign nations — as an effort to interfere.

Read more here.


DEMS VS. DOD ON 5G: Two top Democrats launched an inquiry Friday into the Defense Department’s potential steps toward a national 5G network, raising concerns about the Pentagon’s recent engagement with the wireless telecommunications industry.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the top Democrat on the panel’s Communications and Technology subcommittee, are seeking details about a request for information from the Pentagon that seeks input from wireless carriers.

The lawmakers said they are worried that the Defense Department is working to own and operate nationalized 5G and lease federal spectrum for commercial purposes.

“We have heard reports that the suddenness of this request and the short turnaround timeframe have been prompted directly by senior White House Officials,” the Democrats said in a joint statement accompanying letters to both the Government Accountability Office and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

They added they have also heard reports that the White House informed the Pentagon to “proceed immediately” to what’s known as a request for proposal, signaling movement beyond a request for information.

Read more here.


HOSPITAL ATTACK FALLOUT: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Friday raised concerns around a recent cyberattack on hospital chain Universal Health Services (UHS) that resulted in the data of millions of customers potentially being compromised. 

In a letter to UHS Chairman and CEO Alan Miller, Warner, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked a series of questions in relation to a ransomware attack on UHS last month that crashed systems at hospital facilities across the nation. 

UHS has more than 400 facilities in the U.S. and United Kingdom, including over 90,000 employees, and it has previously stressed that there is no evidence any data was stolen or accessed. NBC News reported last week that the incident had the potential to be one of the largest cyberattacks on the medical sector in U.S. history. 

“I write you with grave concerns about United Health Services’ digital medical records and clinical healthcare operations succumbing to an apparent ransomware attack,” Warner wrote to Miller. “As one of the nation’s largest medical facility operators with 3.5 million patient visits a year, it is imperative that medical care is provided to all patients without any interruption or disturbance created by inadequate cybersecurity.”

Warner noted that “while initial reports suggest that the attackers did not access patient or employee data, an incident such as this sharply highlights the need to ensure adequate cybersecurity hygiene in a healthcare setting.”

The cyberattack took place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed huge stress on healthcare groups around the world, with Warner noting that the attack on UHS “only exacerbates the consequences of insufficient cybersecurity.”

Read more here.


SQUEAKY CLEAN STAY: Home-sharing company Airbnb announced Thursday that its hosts will now be required to follow the company’s enhanced cleaning requirements in order to address safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The global company outlined its “Airbnb Enhanced Clean” standards on its website, which includes a “five-step process” based on “Airbnb’s cleaning handbook, which was developed in partnership with former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and backed by global health and hospitality experts.” 

Airbnb’s website states that starting Nov. 20, all hosts will be required to follow the new safety guidelines and procedures, which include scrubbing floors and other surfaces with soap and water; washing linens on high heat; disinfecting high-touch items like door knobs; and ventilating rooms.

The company added that guests and hosts must wear masks and socially distance when interacting with each other.

The company says that all hosts who do not adhere to the new guidelines “may be subject to warnings, suspensions and, in some cases, removal from the Airbnb platform.”

According to the Associated Press, Airbnb said hosts in China are not subject to these new guidelines because they have their own local cleaning program. 

Read more here.

Lighter click: Nothing suspicious here

An op-ed to chew on: Don’t forget: The Trump campaign gave its most sensitive data to a Russian spy 


Tech companies urge Trump to rescind ban on diversity training (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum) 

Researchers’ experience with Apple offers peek at ‘confusing’ vulnerability award process (CyberScoop / Shannon Vavra) 

Oracle and Google’s Supreme Court showdown was a battle of metaphors (The Verge / Adi Robertson) 

Microsoft expands work from home options, giving some the option to do so permanently (The Washington Post / Jay Greene)

Tags Hillicon Valley John Ratcliffe Mark Warner Mike Doyle Vivek Murthy

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