Hillicon Valley: Trump officials deliver show of force on election security | Apple hits $1 trillion | How fake Facebook groups manipulated real activists | Senate group seeks new Russia sanctions

Hillicon Valley: Trump officials deliver show of force on election security | Apple hits $1 trillion | How fake Facebook groups manipulated real activists | Senate group seeks new Russia sanctions
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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.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16) and Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).


TRUMP OFFICIALS MAKE SHOW OF FORCE ON ELECTION SECURITY: The White House on Thursday trotted out five top national security officials to show how the administration is confronting Russian efforts to meddle in the midterm elections.

National security adviser John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsEx-Trump official says intel community's testimony interfered in US-North Korea talks Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? Intel agencies' threat assessment matters more than tiff with Trump MORE, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? FEMA head resigns 'El Chapo' found guilty on all charges MORE, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone all made a surprise appearance at a regular press briefing.

"The president has specifically directed us to make the action of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority. We have done that," Coats told reporters.

Each official detailed steps their agency is taking to address election meddling by foreign governments.

Why this matters: The show of force comes as the Trump administration is facing pressure over whether it is doing enough to combat threats posed by Moscow.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE has repeatedly wavered on the question of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and whether it continues to attempt to interfere in U.S. elections.

Officials went further on Thursday, saying without a doubt that Moscow meddled in that election and is already engaging in efforts related to the 2018 contests.

"The threat is not going away. Russia attempted to interfere in the last election and continues to do so to this day," Wray said. "This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously and respond to with fierce determination and focus."

Coats said the U.S. intelligence community continues to see Russian interference efforts.

"In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States," he said.

"We also know the Russians tried to hack into and steal information from candidates and government officials alike," Coats added. "We are aware that Russia is not the only country that has an interest in trying to influence our domestic political environment." Read more here.


'CRUSHING' SANCTIONS: A bipartisan group of senators is introducing legislation to impose "crushing" new financial penalties on Russia.

The bill would slap new sanctions on Moscow, require two-thirds Senate approval if President Trump wanted to withdraw from NATO and force the State Department to determine if Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism.

GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Graham demands testimony from former FBI acting Director McCabe MORE (S.C.) said current U.S. sanctions against Russia haven't stopped Moscow from trying to meddle in the November midterm elections, despite Congress passing new legislation last year.

"Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against [President Vladimir] Putin's Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the US electoral process, halts cyber-attacks on US infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria," he said in a statement.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWilliam Barr is right man for the times This week: Trump delivers State of the Union amid wall fight BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president MORE (D-N.J.) added that the bill is "the next step in tightening the screws on the Kremlin."

Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBipartisan Senators reintroduce legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia Dems seeking path to Senate majority zero-in on Sun Belt Lawmakers eager for 5G breakthrough MORE (R-Colo.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinBipartisan Senators reintroduce legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia Baseball legend Frank Robinson, first black manager in MLB, dies at 83 Biden speaking to Dems on Capitol Hill as 2020 speculation mounts: report MORE (D-Md.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Bipartisan Senators reintroduce legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia Dems seeking path to Senate majority zero-in on Sun Belt MORE (D-N.H.) are also supporting the legislation.

It comes as lawmakers are growingly increasingly concerned that Russia will try to interfere in the 2018 elections, where control of Congress hangs in the balance.

Read more here.


HOW FAKE FACEBOOK PAGES MANIPULATED AND EXPLOITED ORGANIZERS: Dr. Lourdes Ashley Hunter was still reeling from President Trump's announcement banning military service by transgender people when she received an email asking if she would help organize a protest against the policy.

For Hunter, who identifies as transgender, the ban felt personal, so she was happy to help set up a protest in Washington, D.C.

The local organizer offered to connect Hunter, executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, with a woman named Mary Smith from the activist group "ReSister."

For the next two days, Mary Smith worked with Hunter on Facebook Messenger to organize the protest. She also tried to enlist Hunter's help for a New York City protest against the transgender military ban.

What Hunter didn't realize at the time was that Smith was part of a coordinated disinformation campaign intended to influence politics and stir division in the United States.

Facebook this week revealed it had identified the "Resisters," which appears to go by both Resister and ReSister stylings in emails, Facebook chats and archived versions of its now-deleted Facebook page, along with other pages like the "Aztlan Warriors," and "Black Elevation," to be a part of "coordinated inauthentic behavior." It said they sought to spread propaganda online while creating Facebook events that many people showed up to in real life.

In Washington, D.C., where Hunter is based, she gathered sound equipment and other materials for the protest and paid fees associated with it, which Mary Smith said she would repay.

The process seemed to be moving smoothly but Hunter noticed that some things seemed off.

Hunter's event was one of many:

At least three of the events co-organized on Facebook by a group the company now thinks was part of a coordinated disinformation network appear to have been held, and to have been attended, by hundreds of people.

The events, in New York City and Springfield, Mo., were all co-hosted on Facebook by a group called the Resisters. All three events were critical of President Trump.

Archived versions of the event pages showed that 674 people responded on Facebook to say that they would attend the "We Stand with DREAMers! Support DACA!" event in New York on Sept. 9 last year. Another 3,000 said they were interested in attending.

Read more here.


GOOD FOR YOU: The State Department on Wednesday lauded Facebook for removing several "inauthentic" accounts that it found were associated with a coordinated campaign to spread disinformation, and specifically called out Russia for its efforts to sow discord.

"We applaud Facebook's decision to expunge accounts, orchestrated from abroad, that foment division and violence inside the United States," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"These efforts are part of a broader external campaign aimed at weakening America and threatening our way of life by pitting citizens against each other and sowing discord in general," she added. "We urge all technology companies to take an aggressive approach to this insidious problem. We demand that Russia and all other malign actors immediately cease this reckless behavior."

In case you missed it: Facebook announced Tuesday that it had removed 32 pages and accounts across its main platform and Instagram involved in "inauthentic behavior" after the company discovered them last week.

Read more.


APPLE MAKES IT TO A TRILLION: Apple on Thursday became the first U.S. public company to be valued at $1 trillion dollars.

The tech giant's market cap briefly hit the milestone Thursday morning when its shares reached $207.05 before dropping slightly again.

Apple's shares later rose again to a high of $208.38 in the afternoon and closed slightly lower, still holding on to the $1 trillion value.

It's a largely symbolic achievement for the company, which has seen its shares rise 28 percent over the past year.

The benchmark comes after Apple reported a strong second quarter, with $11.52 billion in profits and total revenue of $53.27 billion.

--Check out this New York Times graphic putting Apple's value into perspective compared with other giant companies.

The surge in stock price may have been helped along by Apple's record share buybacks, a practice where companies inflate shareholder value by purchasing their own stocks.

Buybacks have become increasingly common among U.S. businesses in the months since the Republicans' tax-cut legislation passed at the end of last year.

Read more here.


NEW HACKER GROUP TARGETS ELECTRIC UTILITIES: Security analysts have discovered a new hacking group that has been successful in breaching the networks of electric utilities in the United States.

The new research from cybersecurity firm Dragos is yet more evidence that hacking groups are looking for ways to penetrate networks of critical infrastructure -- potentially with the intention to stage disruptive or destructive attacks.

The hacking group has been penetrating targets in the United States, as well as the Middle East, Europe and East Asia, for at least a year, according to Dragos.

In the United States, the group -- which analysts at Dragos have named "Raspite" -- has been particularly focused on breaching companies that manage generation, transmission or distribution of energy across the country.

The hacking group, while not particularly sophisticated, has been effective. The group successfully breached networks of the companies' business sides by using common tools and tactics like phishing emails and so-called watering hole attacks -- a strategy in which a hacker infects a legitimate website that its target frequently visits.

While the hacker group has not made its way onto operational networks -- which would provide attackers access to the industrial control systems that power elements of the electric grid -- analysts at Dragos say the group could develop that capability within 18-24 months.

Analysts also say the hackers are likely aiming to collect intelligence on industrial systems so they can develop capabilities to disrupt them in the future -- a capability they have not yet demonstrated.

The bottom line: Analysts say there's not cause for alarm with regards to this specific group, at least not yet, because they haven't breached networks on the operational side. However, this is more evidence of the growing threat to critical infrastructure.

Key quote: "The ability to attack industrial control and energy has become in vogue," Caltagirone said. "That's a very scary thing for nations and defenders who are focused on defending critical infrastructure."

Read more here.


AMAZON PULLS WHITE SUPREMACIST MERCHANDISE FROM SITE: Amazon has pulled items from its site featuring racist imagery like burning crosses and swastikas, a company executive said in a letter to a lawmaker this week.

Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonIlhan Omar defends 2012 tweet: 'I don't know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans' States scramble to fill void left by federal shutdown 116th Congress breaks records for women, minority lawmakers MORE (D-Minn.) had sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last month, questioning why the site was selling and profiting from some of the items featuring the racist symbols.

Amazon's vice president of public policy Brian Huseman replied to Ellison in a letter dated July 31, telling the lawmaker that the site had removed the items cited in his original letter, according to the news site.

"Amazon has reviewed the products and content referenced in your letter, and we have removed those listings, and permanently blocked the seller accounts found to be in violation of our policies," Huseman wrote. "We have restricted the inventory to prevent it from being sold and are in the process of removing it from our fulfillment centers."

Read more here.


WATCHDOG PRESSED TO PROBE NSA CALL RECORDS: A pair of U.S. senators is asking the National Security Agency's inspector general to investigate the circumstances surrounding the spy agency's decision to delete scores of call records that it collected for foreign intelligence purposes.

The NSA announced in late June that it was deleting all so-called call detail records (CDRs) collected since 2015 after discovering that "technical irregularities" resulted in the agency collecting data it was not authorized to receive.

The NSA said it publicly disclosed the developments in accordance with the agency's "core values of respect for the law, accountability, integrity, and transparency." While the spy agency said the root of the problem has been addressed, it went into little further detail about the issue.

Now, Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDem lawmaker: 'Trump's presidency is the real national emergency' Dems introduce bill to take gender-specific terms out of tax code to make it LGBT-inclusive 8 surprising times our intel community spied on US citizens MORE (D-Ore.) are asking Robert Storch, the NSA inspector general, to launch an investigation into "the circumstances surrounding, and any systemic problems that may have led to, the deletion by the National Security Agency (NSA) of certain call detail records," according to a letter sent Thursday.

The senators also asked the inspector general to, if possible, issue an unclassified report about his findings.

Read more about the NSA's actions, and what the senators want from the investigation, here.


A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: In this week's, 'That Tweet Didn't Age Well.'


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Recruiting terrorists: We're losing the fight against online extremism – here's why.



Bannon says Trump should fire Rosenstein if he doesn't provide documents in 72 hours. (The Hill)

A report on "state practice and precedent in cybersecurity negotiations," from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

suspected Russian spy was working at the U.S. embassy in Moscow for over a decade. (The Guardian)

Obama's cyber coordinator responds to Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' Pelosi dismisses GOP criticism of Omar: 'They do not have clean hands' Pence rips Omar's 'inadequate' apology for tweets criticized as anti-Semitic MORE's accusations that the prior administration lagged behind on cybersecurity. (CNET)

Concerns grow that the nation is not protected from election interference. (The Washington Post)

Google's road back to China littered with obstacles. (The Wall Street Journal)