Hillicon Valley: Cyber agency crippled by shutdown | Dem asks FEC to investigate disinformation in special election | Google shareholder sues board over payout to executive

Hillicon Valley: Cyber agency crippled by shutdown | Dem asks FEC to investigate disinformation in special election | Google shareholder sues board over payout to executive
© Stefani Reynolds

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


SHUTDOWN HITS CYBER AGENCY: The partial government shutdown has furloughed nearly half the staff of a new cybersecurity agency, dealing a major setback to protecting vulnerabilities in federal infrastructure.

Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials and lawmakers fear the shutdown, now in its 20th day, could have both short- and long-term effects, hurting the new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's (CISA) efforts to get off the ground and potentially pushing existing talent out the door.


Cyber experts say foreign adversaries could try to take advantage of the shutdown now that fewer resources are working to thwart them.

The administration officially launched the new agency, which replaced the department's National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), late last year. Cyber officials had celebrated in November when President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE signed a bill renaming the cybersecurity division after the legislation lagged in Congress for months.

But now former DHS officials say efforts to get the agency to full capability are stalled, with about 43 percent of CISA staff currently furloughed, according to planning documents, and the remaining staff likely focused on keeping basic security programs up and running.

"There's so much work behind the scenes that still needs to be done to really fulfill the promise of this new agency," Suzanne Spaulding, the former head of the NPPD, told The Hill. Read more here.


DEM WANTS FEC TO PROBE DISINFORMATION: Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) has requested that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigate disinformation tactics that were used to benefit him during a special Senate election in 2017.

The formal inquiry was made to the FEC on Wednesday, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

In a letter to the FEC, Jones asked for a "thorough investigation" and suggested that the "maximum penalties allowed" be imposed if any wrongdoing is discovered, the newspaper reported.

"It is imperative to send a clear message that these disinformation tactics will not be tolerated and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Jones wrote.

"Such deceptive tactics have no place in American politics and must be repudiated by those involved in our political system," Jones added. Read more here.


GOOGLE BOARD HIT WITH LAWSUIT OVER PAYOUT: A Google shareholder is suing the internet giant's founders and the board of directors for its parent company Alphabet over a $90 million severance payout made to an executive who was pushed out amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit alleges that co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with the rest of the board of directors, participated in a "multi-year scheme to cover up sexual harassment and discrimination at Alphabet," Google's parent company.

The New York Times first reported the 2014 payout to Andy Rubin, the father of the Android mobile operating system in October, after an investigation found allegations that he had coerced a Google employee into performing oral sex on him to be credible.

The report set off an internal firestorm that led to more than 20,000 Google employees staging a mass walkout at company offices around the world in a demonstration against the internet search giant's handling of sexual misconduct.

Thursday's lawsuit is the first shareholder lawsuit against the company over the Rubin debacle. It was filed by shareholder James Martin and alleges that the board failed in its duties by covering up the Rubin incident. Read more here.


POLLSTER PROBLEMS: Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE's team met last year with a pollster for President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, CNN reported Thursday.

CNN journalists saw Tony Fabrizio leave the special counsel's office in February 2018 and have confirmed that he was there to meet with the special counsel.

The special counsel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion on the part of the Trump campaign.

Fabrizio, who was hired by the Trump campaign in May 2016 and who is also a former associate of Trump's ex-campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortEx-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates testifies against former Obama counsel Gregory Craig Trial of ex-Obama White House counsel suddenly postponed Top Mueller probe prosecutor to join Georgetown Law as lecturer MORE, declined comment to CNN for its story.

His polling firm -- Fabrizio, Lee & Associates -- did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.

The special counsel's office declined comment to The Hill. Read more here.


DOMINATED DOMAINS: A hacking campaign linked to Iran appears to be targeting dozens of domains across the globe by way of domain name system (DNS) hijacking, a security firm said Thursday.

The cyber firm FireEye said the campaign has spread across the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and North America, affecting domains associated with governments as well as telecommunications and internet infrastructure entities.

"Preliminary technical evidence allows us to assess with moderate confidence that this activity is conducted by persons based in Iran and that the activity aligns with Iranian government interests," the company said in a blog post.

"While we do not currently link this activity to any tracked group, initial research suggests the actor or actors responsible have a nexus to Iran," it added.

FireEye said it based the determination on Iranian IP addresses that were "previously observed during the response to an intrusion attributed to Iranian cyber espionage actors" as well as the victims impacted by the campaign. Read more here.


JEFF 'BEAUTY' BEZOS: President Trump on Thursday wished Jeff Bezos "luck" on his divorce.

"I wish him luck," said Trump, who himself has been divorced twice, told reporters at the White House as he prepared to depart for a trip to the southern border.

"It's going to be a beauty," he added.

Bezos announced Wednesday that he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, were getting a divorce.

"Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends," Bezos said in a statement. Read more here.


NO FORGET-ME-NOWS FOR GOOGLE: Google does not have to extend the "right to be forgotten" rule to its search engines outside of Europe, an adviser to the European Union's top court said Thursday.

Advocate General Maciej Szpunar wrote in an opinion that the "right to be forgotten" must be balanced against public's right to information, according to Reuters.


"The fundamental right to be forgotten must be balanced against other fundamental rights, such as the right to data protection and the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate public interest in accessing the information sought," he said.

He added the European Court of Justice should "limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out" and that it shouldn't extend to search engines outside of the European Union, The Associated Press reportedRead more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: What the government shutdown means for our nation's cybersecurity.


A LIGHTER CLICK: We promise this isn't the Beto teeth Instagram post.



Cohen to testify publicly before Congress. (The Hill)

International public braces for cyberattacks on elections, infrastructure, national security. (Pew Research Center)

America's electric grid has a vulnerable back door -- and Russia walked through it. (The Wall Street Journal)

Twitter users in China face detention and threats in new Beijing crackdown. (The New York Times)

How cartographers for the U.S. military created a house of horrors in South Africa. (Gizmodo)