Hillicon Valley: Google boots dozens of Iran-linked accounts | DNC hack is false alarm | NSA leaker gets five years in prison | Facebook removes data-security app

Hillicon Valley: Google boots dozens of Iran-linked accounts | DNC hack is false alarm | NSA leaker gets five years in prison | Facebook removes data-security app
© Getty

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, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Ali Breland (@alibreland).

 

GOOGLE CLICKS *DELETE*: Google said on Thursday that it has removed 58 accounts linked to Iranian state-sponsored influence efforts on its platforms.

The search giant's disclosure of Iranian accounts attempting to influence foreign politics on its platforms comes after Facebook and Twitter also deleted Iranian accounts from their sites.

ADVERTISEMENT

Google booted 39 accounts from YouTube, six from Blogger and 13 from Google Plus.

"Actors engaged in this type of influence operation violate our policies, and we swiftly remove such content from our services and terminate these actors' accounts," Kent Walker, the company's senior vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post announcing the news.

Read more here.

 

JUST KIDDING: The Democratic National Committee (DNC) said late Thursday that the fake login page it had reported as a potential hack on its database was actually a test.

DNC chief security officer Bob Lord said in a statement provided to The Hill that the organization now believes the site, apparently designed to be used in a spear-phishing attack, "was built by a third party as part of a simulated phishing test" on the service that hosts the database, VoteBuilder.

"The test, which mimicked several attributes of actual attacks on the Democratic party's voter file, was not authorized by the DNC, VoteBuilder nor any of our vendors," Lord said. "There are constant attempts to hack the DNC and our Democratic infrastructure, and while we are extremely relieved that this wasn't an attempted intrusion by a foreign adversary, this incident is further proof that we need to continue to be vigilant in light of potential attacks."

The DNC said on Wednesday that a private security firm unaffiliated with the organization had detected an attempt to hack into the database, finding a fake website designed to look like the login page that would solicit users to enter their credentials. The group reported the attempted hack to the FBI.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Michigan Democratic Party had contracted a third-party vendor to carry out the test. Brandon Dillon, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, characterized the test as a "misstep" in a statement to The Hill.

"In an abundance of caution, our digital partners ran tests that followed extensive training. Despite our misstep and the alarms that were set off, it's most important that all of the security systems in place worked," Dillon said, adding that the party "will continue to work with our partners, including the DNC, to protect our systems and our democracy."

The report of the attempted hack came shortly after Microsoft announced that it had seized and shut down six domains designed to look like web pages affiliated with a pair of conservative think tanks and the Senate, which the company said could have potentially been used to carry out spear-phishing attacks. Microsoft said it had no evidence that a cyberattack was facilitated through the sites. Read more here.

 

Some RNC trolling to top the blunder off: Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielTrump fundraiser at Trump Hotel charges 0k per person GOP chairwoman accuses Scarborough of using 9/11 to 'score political points' White House changed cellphone policy after Omarosa recording in Situation Room: report MORE, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), mocked the DNC after it turned out that a reported hack was in fact just a test conducted by the Michigan Democratic Party.

"I guess the Democrats still haven't figured out how to talk to people in Michigan," McDaniel tweeted Thursday. Read more here.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE beat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Hillary Clinton urges Americans to 'check and reject' Trump's 'authoritarian tendencies' by voting in midterms EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency MORE in Michigan by just over 10,000 votes.

 

WINNER SENTENCED TO FIVE YEARS: Reality Winner, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who pleaded guilty to leaking classified information to a news outlet in June, has been sentenced to more than five years in federal prison.

Winner, 26, was sentenced to 63 months in prison in federal court in Georgia on Thursday. Winner was arrested in June 2017 after leaking a classified NSA document to The Intercept that described Russian government efforts to breach state voting systems ahead of the 2016 elections. The Intercept reported on the document that month, and Winner's arrest was made public shortly thereafter.

Winner, a former linguist for the Air Force, had been working as a contractor at a government facility in Georgia since February 2017 where she had a top security clearance, affording her access to highly classified material.

Winner was charged with one count of violating the Espionage Act and is the first individual to be prosecuted under the law during the Trump administration. This past June, Winner pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, which called for the sentence of 63 months -- five years and three months -- in prison.

According to court documents, Winner's prison time will be followed by three years supervised release. Winner's sentence is the longest ever imposed over unauthorized leaks to the media.

Federal officials said that they hoped Winner's sentence would serve as a deterrent against other potentially damaging national security leaks in the future. Read more here.

 

HEY HO, HEY HO, AUSTRALIA SAYS HUAWEI HAS GOT TO GO: Australia is barring the Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE from building a 5G mobile broadband network, joining the U.S. in rejecting the companies.

Huawei said in a tweet on Thursday that it and its rival company ZTE had been banned from providing 5G tech to Australia, criticizing the move as an "extremely disappointing result for consumers."

In a statement on Thursday, a pair of Australian ministers noted that as the country builds out its broadband network, it would exercise caution against companies "who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law," noting that involvement with those companies "may risk failure by the carrier to adequately protect a 5G network."

The ministers did not specifically name Huawei or ZTE or specify China or any countries that might pose such threats. U.S. intelligence has warned American lawmakers about the threat that companies like ZTE and Huawei pose. They claim that because of China's tight ties to private businesses based within its borders, such firms can be easily compelled to offer a backdoor into their systems that would let the Chinese government spy on Americans and other countries' government officials.

Huawei and ZTE have both maintained that they are private companies that operate independently of the Chinese government.

Read more here.

 

OH NO THEY DIDN'T: Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordOutdated global postal system hurts US manufacturers Tech mobilizes to boost election security State Department unit created to fight foreign election interference still waiting on funding: report MORE (R-Okla.) is pushing back on claims that the White House sought to block an election security bill that aims to secure U.S. election systems from cyberattacks. When asked by a reporter why the White House aggressively sought to "kill this bill" that he introduced with Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGOP in striking distance to retake Franken seat Warner: 'overwhelming majority' of Republicans would back social media regulations Republicans block Democratic bid to subpoena Kavanaugh documents MORE (D-Minn.), Lankford replied "they didn't."

"The White House was pretty clear with me yesterday at the end of the day, 'That was not us trying to kill this,'" Lankford said, noting that he spoke "directly" with the administration. "Now there are issues that may come up that they are going to raise, but the White House did not have any kind of official statement. They didn't come to us and say, 'We are going to try to be able to kill this.'"

Lankford indicated the problem boiled down to pushback over word choice, noting that a lot of people want to have their say on this matter.

His remarks come amid claims the administration sought to block the bill from moving forward.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Warren wants companies to disclose more about climate change impacts DHS transferred about 0M from separate agencies to ICE this year: report MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday claimed the White House canceled a previously scheduled Senate Rules Committee markup of the bill on Wednesday because they didn't like the bill.

"The hearing was canceled on this bill because the White House weighed in and said they don't want it," Merkley said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports." "I want the White House to say that if Russia continues and messes around with our 2018 election, there will be enormous bipartisan efforts."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Although the reasons for the delay depend on who is being asked, lawmakers have previously clashed over the degree to which the federal government should play in state elections.

Klobuchar, the top Democrat on Senate Rules Committee and the bill's Democratic co-sponsor, indicated that the delay is from a lack of Republican support.

"For everyone else who delayed this action today, I hope that you will listen to the clarion cry of our intelligence community and continue to work with us and reschedule the markup and pass the bill into law," she said in a Wednesday statement after the markup was postponed.

Read more here.

 

TRUMP-JUSTICE FEUD DEEPENS: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions: DOJ concerned about suppression of free speech on college campuses Faith communities are mobilizing against Trump’s family separation policy Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lands book deal MORE in a rare statement Thursday said that the Justice Department "will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."

In one of his toughest statements following criticism from President Trump, Sessions defended his leadership of the Justice Department, which has come under increasing attack from the president and his allies.

"While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action," Sessions said in a direct response to Trump's interview on Fox.

"However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States," Sessions said.

Sessions's statement came after President Trump criticized the attorney general once more, during an interview with Fox News, for his recusal from matters related to the federal investigation into Russian election interference.

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK TELLS DATA SECURITY APP 'BABY, BYE BYE BYE': Facebook has removed a data-security app from Apple's app store after the iPhone maker warned that it violated its privacy policies.

The free app, Onavo Protect, is a virtual private network (VPN) that gives users the ability to channel their data through a private server operated by Facebook. Onavo, which has been available in the app store for years, touts itself as a way to "keep you and your data safe." Its removal is part of a new privacy push from Apple. Apple confirmed that the app had been removed from the store on Wednesday.

"We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem," a spokesman said in a statement. "With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user's device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used."

The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported last year that Facebook was using the data collected by Onavo to study other popular apps and determine their strategy for acquiring startups.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: What do you and Lana Del Rey have in common?

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Yes, there are raptors in the Valley.

 

A TICKET TO RIDE... TO VOTE: Lyft to offer 50 percent off on rides to polls on Election Day.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Bolton says he warned Russian counterpart against 2018 election meddling. (The Hill)

Ripple wants you to know that it is indeed decentralized. (Ripple)

Facebook: Too much content, too few humans to moderate it. (Motherboard)

Europe's new data law upends global online advertising. (Reuters)