Hillicon Valley: Russian-linked hackers may have impersonated US officials | Trump signs DHS cyber bill | Prosecutors inadvertently reveal charges against Assange | Accenture workers protest border enforcement work | App mines crypto for bail bonds

Hillicon Valley: Russian-linked hackers may have impersonated US officials | Trump signs DHS cyber bill | Prosecutors inadvertently reveal charges against Assange | Accenture workers protest border enforcement work | App mines crypto for bail bonds

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.


BOMBSHELL ALERT: Kremlin-linked hackers may be behind a campaign to infect U.S. networks through impersonating State Department employees, according to a pair of U.S. cybersecurity firms.


Crowdstrike and FireEye told The Hill on Friday that for the past two days cyber actors have sent emails designed to look as though they're originating from the account of a State Department public affairs staffer, and that the emails include links to a compromised website.

The firms said they are attempting to attribute the source of the phishing emails, while noting that the actions appear to be similar to those of a hacking group linked to the Russian government.

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the agency is aware of the findings of the two cyber firms and that the actions are "indicative of the kind of common malicious activity that affects many organizations."

The spokesperson said that the department has a program dedicated to protecting government employees from cyber threats, but that State "cannot get into the details surrounding our cyber defenses and threat analysis programs and capabilities."

The phishing campaign was first reported by Reuters. The emails were sent to accounts of people working in a variety of fields, including think tanks, law enforcement and government agencies. Russian actors have used phishing campaigns in the past to hack into networks, as they did in 2016 when they accessed the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Read more here.


SHAKY GROUND FOR ASSANGE: The Department of Justice appears to have inadvertently revealed in an unsealed court filing that they have prepared charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

There is some confusion about whether Assange has been charged, but the development appears to be tied to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's Russia investigation, according to The Washington Post.

The charges were reportedly disclosed in a filing in an unrelated case for a different person charged with coercion and enticement of a minor, in which there were two references to charges against Assange. That legal filing argued for the third-party's case to be kept sealed.

The Post reports that Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer asked a judge to keep the charges sealed because "due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged."

Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would "need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested."

People familiar with the case say Dwyer, who is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case, said what he disclosed was true, but unintentional.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Virginia told the Post that "The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing."

Read more here.


ACCENTURE WORKERS SPEAK OUT ON ICE: Accenture staff are circulating letter urging company leadership to end its contract with U.S. border enforcement, following reports earlier this year of harsh treatment of detained families at the U.S.-Mexican border.

"The technology we provide is sold in the name of efficiency, but all we see is technology supercharging inhumane and cruel policies," the employees wrote in their letter, obtained by The Hill and first reported by Bloomberg. "We cannot support CBP [Customs and Border Protection] while it is engaged in these immoral and illegal activities. Our work directly strengthens CBP's capacity to execute these policies."

Accenture spokeswoman Stacey Jones told The Hill that "We welcome the feedback from our people and are aware of the posting on our internal blog site. An important part of our culture is that we encourage all our people to have a dialogue about issues that arise in the workplace and beyond."

In the summer, fellow management consulting firm McKinsey cut its ties with ICE following pressure from employees.

In the technology industry, workers at a number of firms including Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Salesforce have urged their executives to stop doing business with border enforcement, local law enforcement and the Pentagon.

Read our coverage and the letter here.


MINING CRYPTO FOR BAIL BONDS: A new app mines cryptocurrency and uses the funds garnered to help pay bail for individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The app, called Bail Bloc, lets users donate their computer memory towards mining the cryptocurrency Monero, and then donates the mined assets to the Immigration Bail Fund, a non-profit which contributes money towards bond for people being held by ICE in Connecticut. 

The app was originally launched in 2017, but only helped contribute money toward the bond of people being detained in the Queens and Bronx boroughs of New York City, via the Bronx Freedom Fund.

Read more here.


WHAT NIELSEN IS PROBABLY SAYING -- 'FINALLY': President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE on Friday signed into law a bill that cements the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) role as the main agency overseeing civilian cybersecurity, with a focus on securing federal networks and protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

The cybersecurity branch known as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will now be elevated to the same stature as other units within DHS, such as Secret Service or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The bill Trump signed Friday, which unanimously passed the House earlier this week, also rebrands DHS's main cybersecurity unit, known as National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Agency.

Top DHS officials have been pushing for the bill to pass, arguing it would better communicate their mission to the private sector and help DHS recruit top cyber talent. The bill passed the House on Tuesday, after stalling in the Senate earlier this year. 

Read more here.


TOP CYBER-MINDED LAWMAKER RECEIVES MCCARTHY ENDORSEMENT TO BE NEXT AG: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' Sunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight MORE (Calif.) and other top Republicans are calling on President Trump to name Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeProfiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers Biden considering King for director of national intelligence: report Haspel not in attendance at latest Trump intelligence briefing: reports MORE (R-Texas) as the next attorney general.

"Look, it's the president's choice ... but one thing I know is John Ratcliffe probably has the best abilities to do the job and most knowledge to do the job," McCarthy told The Hill on Friday.

Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, is one of several people mentioned as possible contenders to succeed Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 Next attorney general must embrace marijuana law reforms MORE, who resigned under pressure from Trump last week. Other names in the mix include Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Trump picked Matthew Whitaker to serve as acting attorney general, a move that has come under criticism in part because of Whitaker's public bashing of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Other Republicans in the House are also backing Ratcliffe, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and head of the House Homeland Security Committee's cyber subcommittee.

"He is a very bright lawyer. He's been a U.S. attorney. He's done federal prosecution. He knows the law as well as anybody," said Rep. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonNew RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future House GOP votes to keep leaders in place This week: Clock ticks on coronavirus, government funding deals MORE (R-La.), who was elected on Friday to chair the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest conservative caucus in Congress. "He's one of the sharpest members of the House Judiciary Committee in recent years. And I think he would serve the country very well."

Read it here first.


DEMS PRESS TELECOMS OVER THROTTLING: A trio of Democratic senators are pressing mobile carriers to answer questions about their throttling practices following a study that shows them slowing down their networks.

The study they cited, conducted by the app WeHe, found that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint throttled web traffic from a range of popular video services such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, NBC Sports and Skype.

"All online traffic should be treated equally, and internet service providers should not discriminate against particular content or applications for competitive advantage purposes or otherwise," Sens. Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) wrote in their letter to the three telecommunications companies.

The senators asked the companies to provide more details on their internal practices and service management to address potential throttling. 

Read more here.


NEW BILL WOULD BEEF UP ROBOCALL ENFORCEMENT: Two senators are pushing a new bipartisan bill to crack down on illegal robocall scams, raising the maximum civil fine for violators to $10,000 per call.

Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names MORE (R-S.D.), the current chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE (D-Mass.) on Friday unveiled their Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.

"The TRACED Act targets robocall scams and other intentional violations of telemarketing laws so that when authorities do catch violators, they can be held accountable," Thune said in a statement.

"Existing civil penalty rules were designed to impose penalties on lawful telemarketers who make mistakes. This enforcement regime is totally inadequate for scam artists and we need do more to separate enforcement of carelessness and other mistakes from more sinister actors," he added.

The new bill would also give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more time to take enforcement actions against such scammers, lengthening the statute of limitation from one to three years. 

Read more here.


T-MOBILE PREDICTS MERGER TO CLOSE EARLY NEXT YEAR: T-Mobile predicted that its $26 billion merger with Sprint could close as early as the first quarter of next year, despite significant opposition to the deal from consumer and labor groups.

The merger must win approval from both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.

"The only remaining thing that is happening is depositions with the DOJ, which have started and will be completed in a few weeks," J. Braxton Carter, T-Mobile's chief financial officer, said at a conference in Barcelona, according to Reuters.

"At this point, it's more pointing to the second quarter as more probable (but) it could still be first quarter," Carter added. 

Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Hate speech, fake news, privacy violations -- time to rein in social media.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Undefeated pun



GOP chairman plans to subpoena Comey, Lynch to testify before next Congress. (The Hill)

Next Stop, Uberland: The Onrushing Algorithmic Future of Work. (New York Magazine)

Bitcoin Giveaway Scams Are Flourishing On Twitter. They're Probably Coming From Russia. (BuzzFeed)

Tim Miller (of Definers') side of things in the Facebook story (The New York Times)