FEATURED:

Hillicon Valley: Sessions out | Facebook took down over 100 Russian pages before midterms | DHS says no sign of successful midterm cyberattack | US customers affected by HSBC bank breach | Zuckerberg snubs UK, Canada call to testify

Hillicon Valley: Sessions out | Facebook took down over 100 Russian pages before midterms | DHS says no sign of successful midterm cyberattack | US customers affected by HSBC bank breach | Zuckerberg snubs UK, Canada call to testify
© 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.

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). And CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

HAPPY DAY AFTER ELECTION DAY: Remember those things, elections? Hillicon Valley took the day off while we tracked the races, but we're back with plenty of news.

 

BYE, BYE SESSIONS: Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report Acting AG will meet with DOJ ethics officials to discuss possible recusal: reports Swalwell calls acting AG an 'assassin' hired to 'take out' Mueller probe MORE has resigned as the top Justice Department official at President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE's request, a development that is likely to spark a firestorm of criticism following the midterm elections.

The decision punctuates months of criticism by President Trump of his top law enforcement officer over his recusal from the ongoing Russia investigation. And it confirms widespread speculation that Trump would move to fire Sessions sometime after the midterms.

Sessions agreed to resign at Trump's request, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hill.

"I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country," Sessions wrote. "I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice."

His temporary replacement, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, is already facing pushback from Democrats who are demanding that he recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's probe over Whitaker's past criticism of the investigation.

Whitaker wrote in an op-ed for CNN last year that Mueller has "gone too far" when it comes to possibly probing the president's finances, and he also pushed back against the concept of a special counsel in an opinion piece for The Hill last year.

And his appointment is also a lesson in "delete your tweets": A quick search for terms like Mueller, Russia and FBI on Whitaker's official Twitter account finds that he's been critical of the investigation over the past year.

"One thought, is Mueller trying to catch #Manafort in a "lying to Congress" case to exert pressure being day after interview with staffers?" he tweeted in August 2017, linking to piece from the National Review.

And he also shared an opinion piece from Philly.com a few days earlier with the headline "Note to Trump's lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob." "Worth a read," Whitaker tweeted.

 

ZUCKERBERG SAYS 'THANKS, BUT NO THANKS': Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Social media struggles with new forms of misinformation | US, Russia decline to join pledge on fighting cybercrimes | Trump hits Comcast after antitrust complaint | Zuckerberg pressed to testify before global panel Lawmakers from five countries pressure Zuckerberg to testify in front of global panel Ex-Facebook exec ousted from company sparked controversy with pro-Trump views: report MORE on Wednesday snubbed a joint panel of U.K. and Canadian lawmakers investigating fake news.

Zuckerberg declined an invitation from British Member of Parliament Damian Collins and Canadian Member of Parliament Bob Zimmer to testify on Facebook's data privacy practices and disinformation on its platform.

"It is not possible for Mr. Zuckerberg to be available to all Parliaments," Rebecca Stimson, Facebook's head of U.K. public policy and Kevin Chan, Facebook's head of Canada public policy, wrote in a letter to the lawmakers on behalf of Zuckerberg.

"While he is unable to accept your invitation we continue to fully recognize the seriousness of these issues and remain committed to working with you to provide any additional relevant information you require for your respective inquiries," they continued in the letter, which was dated Nov. 2 but not released until Wednesday.

Collins's Oct. 31 invitation for Zuckerberg to testify was the second opportunity for the Facebook CEO to appear before British lawmakers. He also declined a previous invitation from the committee in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, in which a British firm improperly obtained data from 87 million Facebook users.

Stimson and Chan said they felt that, aside from rebuffing lawmakers' invitations for Zuckerberg to testify, Facebook was otherwise compliant with their requests. 

Read more here.

 

FACEBOOK TOOK DOWN MORE THAN 100 RUSSIAN ACCOUNTS AHEAD OF MIDTERMS: Facebook revealed late Tuesday that the accounts it removed on the eve of the midterm elections were linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm alleged to be conducting online disinformation campaigns.

"Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head cybersecurity policy, said in a statement.

Facebook had revealed Monday night that it was suspending 115 accounts -- 30 on Facebook and 85 on Instagram -- after being alerted by law enforcement.

Though the company didn't say on Monday where they suspected the accounts were originating from, it noted that the Facebook accounts were mostly posting in French or Russian while the Instagram accounts were in English. 

Read more here.

 

MISINFORMATION SPREADS ON ELECTION DAY MISINFORMATION: Notable hoaxes could be found on social media on Election Day, even as tech companies said they were working to crack down on misinformation.

A pro-QAnon Twitter account on Tuesday posted a false video of a voting machine in Ohio that appeared to have changed a Republican vote to a one for a Democrat.

A Franklin County, Ohio board of elections spokesperson told The New York Times's Kevin Roose that the video was incorrect and the voting issues the result of a printer error.

Wired also spotted a Facebook post falsely claiming that a modern-day version of the Black Panthers are "armed with assault weapons roaming the streets and neighborhoods as well as the voting polls in Georgia to intimidate" and "persuade" Voters to vote" for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. 

Read more here.

 

BUT IS IT A WIN? Trump said at a press conference Wednesday after the midterms that election security "is very important, and we have been working very hard on China and Russia and everybody else looking into our elections or meddling in our elections."

"Unlike the previous administration, we've done a lot of work on that issue," he told reporters. "If you speak with the FBI, speak with the Department of Justice, speak to Homeland Security, we've spent a lot of time -- it gets very little coverage in the papers."

But we cover election security, Mr. President... You can click here to subscribe.

 

DHS officials said shortly after midnight on Wednesday that it hadn't observed any successful cyberattacks by foreign adversaries on election systems in the United States during Election Day.

"We've not seen, or we're not aware, of any successful cybersecurity-related compromises of election infrastructure," a DHS official told reporters at the time.

While not having a visible, successful cyberattack on voting systems is a victory for election officials after the Russian interference in 2016, it's possible that an attack could emerge in the days after the election, or that an adversary could falsely claim it had interfered to try and undermine confidence in the results.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report Trump moves to restrict asylum claims at border Hillicon Valley: Sessions out | Facebook took down over 100 Russian pages before midterms | DHS says no sign of successful midterm cyberattack | US customers affected by HSBC bank breach | Zuckerberg snubs UK, Canada call to testify MORE had made similar comments earlier Tuesday, saying there was "no indication of compromise to our nation's election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts, or distrust the ability to tally votes."

 

Tuesday's elections were a major test for officials, and all looks clear – for now. Even if foreign election interference took place during the midterms, it could be weeks before the public learns about it.

Under an executive order signed by President Trump in September, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will have 45 days to determine if any foreign election interference took place.

If the office found that it has, it will then refer the findings to DHS or the Department of Justice, which will have 45 additional days to decide if any punishment is necessary.

When asked early Wednesday if there was any activity observed during the elections that could trigger the executive order, a DOJ spokesman told The Hill that the department "generally does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation."

 

FCC CALLS FOR TELECOMS TO CRACK DOWN ON ROBOCALLS: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is urging the nation's telecommunications providers to crack down on illegal robocalls.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to more than a dozen companies urging them to adopt frameworks for combatting the illegal practice of "spoofing" -- a method commonly used by robocallers to mask the origin of the calls and make it appear as if they're coming from a number from the same region as the recipient.

In his letters to the top executives at companies like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, Pai urged them to adopt industry frameworks for call authentication.

"Combatting illegal robocalls is our top consumer priority at the FCC," Pai said in a statement. "That's why we need call authentication to become a reality--it's the best way to ensure that consumers can answer their phones with confidence. By this time next year, I expect that consumers will begin to see this on their phones."

The FCC's top enforcement and technology officials followed up with their own letters to industry leaders on Tuesday, urging them to implement traceback capabilities that will allow them to detect and catch illegal robocallers. 

Read more here.

 

EUROPE TAKES ON DISINFORMATION: Russia and Spain have agreed to set up a joint cybersecurity group that aims to stop the spread of damaging disinformation campaigns that have begun to strain their relations, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The foreign ministers of the two nations announced the plan amid rising tension in the wake of accusations by Spanish officials that Russians have spread false or misleading information, which has, in part, fueled instability in Spain's Catalonia region.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said he accepts the proposal for a joint cyber group put forth by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which he said will help Madrid "gauge the extent of the problem and analyze it to prevent it from becoming a source of friction," according to the AP.

Lavrov also reportedly said he conceded to Borrell that "some Russian mass media go beyond the limits of their professional activity and create inadmissible interference in other countries' issues." 

Read more here.

 

UH OH: Multinational bank HSBC this week said hackers gained unauthorized access to the accounts of some of its U.S. customers in October.

The lender sent a letter to California-based customers on Nov. 4 notifying them that hackers may have accessed sensitive information like their "full name, mailing address, phone number, email address, date of birth, account numbers, account types, account balances, transaction history, payee account information, and statement history where available."

The cyberattack took place Oct. 4-14 and less than 1 percent of U.S.-based clients were affected, HSBC said.

Public details about the breach are limited, and it is unclear whether the hackers sought to use such data to pilfer savings at the bank. Read more here.

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Congress should pass bill to prevent stacked taxation of digital purchases.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Scott Walker was an Instagram influencer

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

It was too easy for Brian Kemp's last-minute dog whistle about Stacey Abrams to go viral (Slate)

Google workers reject Silicon Valley individualism. (The New York Times)

'Boycott Amazon' was trending in Saudi Arabia (CNN)

Apple's Social Network (Stratechery)

Google's hometown passes new business tax to cope with rise in tech commuters. (The Washington Post)