Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Major cybersecurity firm hacked in sophisticated nation-state attack | Senate confirms Trump FCC nominee amid Democratic pushback | Pornhub bans unverified uploads, ability to download content

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 team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

HACKERS HACK HACKERS: FireEye, a top cybersecurity firm that has built a reputation for tracking the digital fingerprints in major cyberattacks, has now become a target in a highly sophisticated attack that it says was done by a skilled nation-state.

FireEye acknowledged to The Hill and other news outlets on Tuesday that its own systems were penetrated by “a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities.”

FireEye, a key firm that helped track Russia’s cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, did not name who it believes is behind the attack, but its description points to the Kremlin. 

FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia wrote in a blog post that “based on my 25 years in cyber security and responding to incidents, I’ve concluded we are witnessing an attack by a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities.”

“We were attacked by a highly sophisticated threat actor, one whose discipline, operational security, and techniques lead us to believe it was a state-sponsored attack,” he wrote. 

Mandia noted that FireEye was working with the FBI and “other key partners,” including Microsoft, to investigate the attack.

He wrote that the “initial analysis supports our conclusion that this was the work of a highly sophisticated state-sponsored attacker utilizing novel techniques.”

The attackers were able to access FireEye’s “Red Team” tools, which are used to test customer security, according to Mandia. 

While the company has not yet seen any evidence of the Red Team tools being used by the attackers, “out of an abundance of caution,” FireEye had developed over 300 countermeasures to help minimize the potential impact of use of these tools by the attackers. 

Read more here.

 

FCC NOMINEE CONFIRMED: The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Republican Nathan Simington to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), potentially hamstringing the Biden administration before it even takes office.

Simington, a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, was confirmed 49-46 despite fierce opposition from Democrats and digital rights groups.

“Nathan Simington is a deeply dangerous nominee to the FCC,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) warned during a virtual event with civil rights groups Monday. “He’s dangerous on the issues: net neutrality, Lifeline, E-Rate, and rural broadband … he is conflicted, unprepared and unqualified.”

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) praised Simington for his “light-touch regulatory approach” after the vote.

“Nathan Simington’s confirmation will help ensure a balanced FCC and continued light-touch regulatory approach that has kept the internet free and open for all Americans,” Wicker said.

President Trump nominated Simington after pulling the renomination of Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in August.

Read more here.

 

PORNHUB’S OVERHAUL: Pornhub will ban unverified content from being posted on its website and prohibit users from downloading content effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday. 

The update came after mounting pressure following a New York Times column published last week stating that the website contained rape scenes, revenge pornography and underaged sex. Days after the piece was published, credit card companies Mastercard and Visa said they were reviewing their businesses relationships with Pornhub. 

Columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that while a “great majority” of the 6.8 million new videos posted on the side yearly may involve consenting adults, “many depict child abuse and nonconsensual violence.”

Pornhub called the allegations that it allows child videos on the site “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue.”

Pornhub announced on Tuesday that it is only allowing verified content partners or people within its “Model Program” to upload to the website, which will launch a verification process next year so “any user can upload content upon successful completion of identification protocol.”

Additionally, the website said it has removed the ability for users to download content with the exception of paid downloads within the verified Model Program. 

The previous ability for users to download directly from Pornhub had made it possible for content that may have been removed to still be shared, and possibly uploaded again. 

Read more here.

 

KREBS BLAMES TRUMP: Christopher Krebs, the nation’s former top cybersecurity official, said in an interview broadcast late Monday that President Trump is a “big part of the disinformation” around the presidential election, saying that democracy is “under attack from the inside.”

“Certainly the president is a big part of the disinformation that is coming out there about the rigged election, but there are absolutely others,” Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told “Axios on HBO.” 

Krebs, who was fired by Trump last month after pushing back against the president’s concerns around election fraud and vote interference, also argued that continued attacks on the validity of the election could undermine democracy. 

“We all just for some reason think that democracy is resilient and can withstand this sort of attack,” he said. “I actually think democracy is quite fragile, and when the institutions themselves are under attack from the inside … that’s pretty close to an existential issue, and so we need the other parts of the three-part government to actively push back and actively engage.” 

Read more here.

 

RADICALIZED BY YOUTUBE: The shooter who killed dozens of people at two mosques in New Zealand last year was radicalized in part by right-wing anti-Muslim videos hosted on YouTube, a lengthy report on the attack found.

The report released Tuesday identified a failure by the country’s intelligence agencies to take seriously both the threat of white supremacist violence as well as warnings from Muslims living in the country about a rise in hate incidents.

It also found that the shooter, Brenton Tarrant, told investigators that while he frequented hangouts such as 8chan and 4chan, much of the anti-Muslim content he accessed was found on YouTube.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said that her government would implement all the recommendations raised in the report, according to The Associated Press. She added that she would be in contact with YouTube’s leadership over the issue.

Read more here.

 

BILLIONS FOR BROADBAND: About $9 billion in subsidies will be awarded to help bring broadband access to rural areas across the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Monday. 

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will receive nearly $886 million, one of the largest subsidies announced by the FCC, as the company pushes forward with its experimental Starlink project that aims to beam internet access to rural areas from a constellation of satellites in space. 

The bulk of the subsidies, however, will be awarded to more traditional providers, including Charter Communications, LTD Broadband and the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium. Each has received a little more than $1 billion. The subsidies will be distributed over the next 10 years. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement the awards were the “single largest step ever taken to bridge the digital divide.”

Read more here.

 

UBER SELLS SELF-DRIVING UNIT: Uber on Monday announced it is selling its self-driving unit to an autonomous vehicles startup and investing $400 million in the company.

Aurora, which is acquiring Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), said it’s planning to first focus on trucking, rather than a self-driving taxi in line with Uber’s ride-hailing service. But the company added it is in a “unique position” to be a leading player in passenger mobility based on the deal with Uber.

“By adding the people and technology of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group to the incredible group we’ve already assembled at Aurora, we’re shifting the landscape of the automated vehicle space,” Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of Aurora, said in a statement. “With the addition of ATG, Aurora will have an incredibly strong team and technology, a clear path to several markets, and the resources to deliver.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement he is looking forward to bringing Aurora’s products to the Uber network “in the years ahead.”

Khosrowshahi will also join Aurora’s board of directors.

The companies did not disclose the financial components of the deal, which was valued at $4 billion, according to people familiar with the matter cited by Reuters.

Read more here.

 

TIKTOK BAN BLOCKED… AGAIN: A second judge has granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration from banning TikTok downloads in the U.S.

Monday’s order from U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols prevents the agency from barring the hosting of TikTok data within the U.S., content delivery services and other technical transactions, Reuters reported.

Nichols said the Commerce Department “likely overstepped” its authority in issuing the restrictions and “acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by failing to consider obvious alternatives,” according to the news outlet.

A spokesperson for TikTok told The Hill in a statement on Tuesday that it is “pleased that the court agreed with us and granted a preliminary injunction against all prohibitions of the Executive Order.”

A Commerce spokesperson, meanwhile, said in a statement to The Hill that the new order is “fully consistent with law and promotes legitimate national security interests.”

Read more here.

PUSHING FOR ONLINE ACCOUNTABILITY: Jessica González’s father was a truck driver, and her grandfather was a longshoreman, but she noticed growing up that they both read the newspaper cover to cover daily, an appreciation for the value of media that has stuck with her all her life.

González herself has worked in jobs ranging from stocking grocery shelves at 4 a.m. to teaching at a public school in Los Angeles. And as co-chief executive of the advocacy group Free Press, she fights to defend net neutrality protections, combat misinformation and even fend off Trump administration cuts to a federal program that helped her launch her legal career years ago.

Lifeline, which provides a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers, gave her a steady phone number that was critical as she applied to law school after she was laid off as a public school teacher, González said.

“It’s not that common for someone who’s benefited from a government program to then go on and actually advocate for the expansion of that program, or at least it hasn’t been in my field,” she told The Hill in an interview last week.

“I understand firsthand the importance of stable communications, and that informs a lot of my work,” González said.

She joined Free Press in the wake of the 2016 election after spending more than seven years at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which followed serving as a staff attorney at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, where she represented consumer, civil rights and public interest organizations.

“There I just really fell in love with the idea of reforming the media so that it better serves the public, so that it actually exposes racism and sexism instead of perpetuating it,” González said. “So that people have the information that they need to make good choices and so we could better understand one another.”

Read more here.

 

MUSK’S MOVE: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday he has personally relocated to Texas, citing repeated complaints with California’s regulations over technology companies, as well as what he called innovation complacency throughout Silicon Valley. 

“If a team has been winning for too long, they do tend to get a little complacent, a little entitled and then they don’t win the championship anymore. California has been winning for too long,” Musk said at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council summit Tuesday during an interview with Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray.

When asked if he had moved from California, Musk first emphasized the presence his companies still have in the nation’s largest state. 

“First of all, Tesla and SpaceX obviously have massive operations in California,” the South Africa native said, according to CNBC. “In fact, it’s worth noting that Tesla is the last car company still manufacturing cars in California. SpaceX is the last aerospace company still doing significant manufacturing in California.” 

Read more here.

 

Lighter click: Microwave

An op-ed to chew on: Trust, not escalation, should be the United States’ cyberspace policy

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

In 2020, Disinformation Broke The US (BuzzFeed News / Jane Lytvynenko)

NYC Food Delivery Workers Band to Demand Better Treatment. Will New York Listen to Los Deliveristas Unidos? (The City / Claudia Irizarry Aponte and Josefa Velasquez)

He Pretended to Be Trump’s Family. Then Trump Fell for It. (New York Times / Jack Nicas)

Huawei tested AI software that could recognize Uighur minorities and alert police, report says (Washington Post / Drew Harwell and Eva Dou)

Norwegian police implicate Russian hacking group in parliament hack (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas)

The Secret Internet of TERFs (The Atlantic / Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Tags Ajit Pai Donald Trump Elon Musk Hillicon Valley Roger Wicker

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video