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 our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.
ELECTIONS UNDER SIEGE: Microsoft on Thursday reported that it is seeing “increasing” cyberattacks originating in Russia, China and Iran targeting its customers, including those in political groups and the presidential campaigns of President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Tom Burt, corporate vice president of customer security and trust at Microsoft, detailed in a blog post the efforts by three major foreign hacking groups to target the campaigns, along with other political organizations and individuals.
“The activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election as had been anticipated, and is consistent with what the U.S. government and others have reported,” Burt wrote.
The company reported that Russian hacking group “Strontium” targeted more than 200 organizations, political campaigns and parties over the past year, including U.S.-based consultants for the Democratic and Republican parties, think tanks such as the German Marshall Fund and political parties in the United Kingdom.
Strontium, also known as “Fancy Bear,” is the same group that hacked into the Democratic National Committee networks in 2016.
Microsoft took legal action against the group in 2017, with a federal court ordering the group to stop targeting Microsoft customers and using Microsoft logos in malicious email phishing campaigns.
“Strontium has evolved its tactics since the 2016 election to include new reconnaissance tools and new techniques to obfuscate their operations,” Burt wrote. “In 2016, the group primarily relied on spear phishing to capture people’s credentials. In recent months, it has engaged in brute force attacks and password spray, two tactics that have likely allowed them to automate aspects of their operations.”
A second hacking effort announced by Microsoft on Thursday involved Chinese-based hacking group “Zirconium." Microsoft reported evidence of “thousands” of attempted attacks by the group between May and September, with nearly 150 successful compromises.
Among the individuals targeted unsuccessfully by Zirconium were Biden campaign staffers. The group went after non-campaign emails.
TWITTER ELECTION UPDATE: Twitter announced Thursday that it is expanding its policies targeted at limiting election misinformation.
The platform will now label or remove posts that prematurely call an election winner.
In the rules, set to go into effect Sept. 17, Twitter will either label or remove content “claiming victory before election results have been certified” or seeking to “prevent a peaceful transfer of power."
Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy told The Hill that the policy will be applied in a case-by-case basis, meaning an established news outlet calling an election before every vote is counted will be treated differently than a politician seeking to take advantage of delays or confusion.
The new rule change comes amid rising fears that President Trump may try to delegitimize election results if he is not the winner this November.
The president has already sought to discredit mail-in voting, despite all evidence pointing toward it being a safe and effective alternative to visiting the polls in person.
TREASURY MAKES MOVES: The Treasury Department on Thursday added four Russian and Ukrainian individuals to its specially designated nationals list, citing attempts by the individuals to interfere in U.S. elections.
One of the individuals added to the list was Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian member of parliament, who was cited by William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, last month for spreading disinformation to “undermine” former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption — including through publicizing leaked phone calls — to undermine former Vice President BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” Evanina wrote in an assessment released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last month, which warned Russia, China and Iran were actively interfering in the 2020 elections.
The Treasury Department noted that Derkach was added to the list for efforts to spread disinformation about officials involved in the U.S. 2020 elections in order to advance Russian interests in Ukraine and “almost certainly” targeted U.S. voters with this information through releasing edited tapes, interviews and statements that were published in some Western media.
Three Russian individuals based in St. Petersburg — Anton Andreyev, Darya Aslanova and Artem Lifshits — were also designated by the Treasury Department on Thursday for their work supporting the cryptocurrency accounts of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm that was previously sanctioned for interfering in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections.
“Andrii Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election MORE said in a statement. “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns and uphold the integrity of our election system.”
RUSSIAN HACKERS NEVER SLEEP: Russian state-backed hackers are reportedly suspected of targeting staff at a top advisory firm working with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign.
Microsoft alerted the Biden campaign that the hacking attempt was directed at employees of SKDKnickerbocker (SKDK), a campaign strategy and communications firm that has worked with Biden's team for the past two months, Reuters reported, citing three unidentified sources.
A person familiar with the cyberattack told the news service that the actors failed to get access to the company's network. It remains unclear what the hackers were after and whether it was something connected to the Biden campaign.
Microsoft reportedly contacted the campaign after determining that actors associated with the Russian government were likely involved. The hacks are said to have involved phishing, a method used to gain access to passwords.
The Biden campaign and SKDK did not immediately return requests for comment from The Hill.
BROADBAND DIVIDE EXPOSED: The coronavirus is shining a spotlight on the digital divide in America and stalled efforts to expand rural broadband as a way to help millions of students both during the pandemic and beyond.
With the explosion of virtual education, along with the proliferation of telehealth and the need to work from home as businesses adhere to health orders, the lack of high-speed internet is hitting rural communities the hardest.
Experts say the longtime debate on Capitol Hill over infrastructure spending to build out broadband is unlikely to be solved quickly, posing a significant challenge for students whose households and schools lack the connectivity of other parts of the country.
“Coronavirus has really shone the spotlight on something that we’ve been talking about for a really long time,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association. “It’s a little bit of a ‘we’ve been telling you so’ moment, because I just feel like the last decade we’ve been talking to policymakers about how you build it out, what programs are important, what is working, how do you build a network that will be future-proof and robust enough to do all of the things you now see people doing.”
Congress has taken some action on boosting rural broadband to tackle education concerns, but legislation has yet to cross the finish line and make it to President Trump’s desk.
A House-passed coronavirus relief package in May, which the GOP-controlled Senate has declined to take up, would provide $4 billion in emergency broadband connectivity funding and other money for students and health care providers to access broadband. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE (R-Ky.) has said he doesn’t want to include infrastructure spending in a coronavirus relief package.
DO BETTER: The European Commission is reportedly calling on the world's biggest tech companies to do more to fight disinformation campaigns targeting users on their platforms in a new report.
Reuters reported Thursday that the commission identified several ways in which it said that tech companies' existing self-regulating code of conduct for handling misinformation or "fake news" was insufficient for dealing with the threat.
“These can be grouped in four broad categories: inconsistent and incomplete application of the code across platforms and member states, lack of uniform definitions, existence of several gaps in the coverage of the code commitments, and limitations intrinsic to the self-regulatory nature of the code,” the report reads, according to Reuters.
A top official for the commission told Reuters in a statement that social media platforms must take further action and be more transparent about their efforts to fight disinformation.
“As we also witness new threats and actors the time is ripe to go further and propose new measures. The platforms need to become more accountable and transparent. They need to open up and provide better access to data, among others,” said Vera Jourova, the commission's vice president for values and transparency.
NOW HIRING: Amazon said Wednesday it is seeking to hire 33,000 people in tech and corporate positions in the month ahead.
The retail giant said the hiring is different from its typical seasonal staffing ahead of the holiday season, according to The Associated Press.
The hiring comes as Amazon is one of the only companies to see improved business during the pandemic. As demand for online delivery increased, the company saw its revenues and profits reach all-time highs in April and June.
The new positions will be based at the company’s various offices around the nation, including Seattle, New York, Denver and Phoenix. New hires will start off working from home, but the company intends for them to eventually begin office work, according to the AP.
A planned second headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area remains on the agenda, Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development, told the AP.
SEEMS CONCERNING: Dozens of Amazon products sold under its AmazonBasics line have exploded and started fires, CNN reported Thursday, citing customer reviews and interviews.
At least 1,500 reviews, covering more than 70 items, have described products exploding, catching on fire, smoking, melting, causing electrical malfunctions or otherwise posing risks, since 2016, according to a CNN analysis of AmazonBasics electronics and appliances on its websites.
Many customers in the reviews reportedly called items potentially dangerous, using such terms as “hazard” or “fire” to describe them, or calling for the products to be recalled. Some of the customer reviews include images showing the explosions or burnt items.
About 30 items with three or more of those reviews remain for sale on Amazon’s website, while at least 11 others were no longer for sale at the time CNN published its report.
Amazon confirmed to CNN at least one of these products had been under investigation, but said the company determined that these items all met its safety standards.
MASK BY APPLE: Apple said it has developed and is producing face masks for corporate and retail employees to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Apple confirmed to Bloomberg News that the company conducted research and testing to find the right materials to filter the air properly while not disturbing the supply of personal protective equipment to medical personnel.
The Apple Face Mask was reportedly developed in-house by the Cupertino, Calif.,-based company’s engineering and industrial design teams, the same staffers who work on Apple's devices including iPhones and iPads.
The new masks are made up of three layers to filter incoming and outgoing particles, Bloomberg News reported, adding that the company told employees the masks can be washed and reused as many as five times.
Lighter click: Rules are rules
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Cleaners Demand Harassment Safeguards From the Booking Service Handy (New York Times / Kellen Browning and Kate Conger)
Bezos’s likely Amazon successor is an executive made in Bezos’s image (The Washington Post / Jay Greene)
Jessica Rosenworcel could be the FCC chair under Biden. She certainly sounds the part (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum)
NSA’s Cybersecurity Directorate is still figuring out how to measure success (CyberScoop / Shannon Vavra)