Hillicon Valley: FTC votes to expand antitrust enforcement powers | US, UK agencies warn of Russian hackers using 'brute force' to target hundreds of groups | Trump allies launch new social media platform

Hillicon Valley: FTC votes to expand antitrust enforcement powers | US, UK agencies warn of Russian hackers using 'brute force' to target hundreds of groups | Trump allies launch new social media platform
© Screenshot/Gettr app

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 by clicking HERE. 

Welcome and Happy Thursday! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage. 

The Federal Trade Commission took a major step on Thursday to hit back against anti-competitive behavior, voting to expand its enforcement powers in a party-line vote. Meanwhile, a group of U.S. agencies and authorities in the United Kingdom came together to warn of ongoing cybersecurity attacks linked to the Russian government, which will likely serve to only further escalate tensions between the U.S. and Russia after ongoing cyber incidents. 

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KHAN’S COMMISSION TAKE ONE: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday voted to expand the regulatory agency’s enforcement powers, a signal of Democratic commissioners' willingness to crack down on alleged anti-competitive behavior. 

The Democratic-controlled commission voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal a 2015 policy statement that blocked the regulatory agency from challenging “unfair methods of competition” that don’t violate existing antitrust laws. The update comes at a time when federal and state regulators are sinking their teeth into investigations of the market power of tech giants. 

“In practice, the 2015 statement has doubled down on the agency's long standing failure to investigate and pursue unfair methods of competition,” Chair Lina KhanLina KhanHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Democrats press FTC to resolve data privacy 'crisis' Democrats ask FTC to fix data privacy 'crisis' Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE said at the meeting, the first under her charge. 

The guidance had “only hindered the agency's enforcement efforts,” she said. 

Fellow Democrats on the commission, Rohit ChopraRohit ChopraSenate poised to battle over Biden's pick of big bank critic Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE and Rebecca Slaughter, voted with Khan in repealing the Obama-era policy statement, while Republican commissioners Christine Wilson and Noah Phillips opposed the measure. 

Read more about the meeting

RUSSIA NEVER SLEEPS: A group of top agencies in the United States and United Kingdom on Thursday warned of an ongoing campaign by Russian government-backed hackers using “brute force” hacking techniques to target hundreds of organizations around the world.

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The FBI, the National Security Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a joint advisory outlining the hacking campaign, ongoing since 2019 and carried out by the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

The GRU, an advanced persistent threat organization, has used what the agencies described as “brute force access attempts” against the targeted organizations over the past two years. 

The hundreds of organizations targeted include government and military agencies, political groups, think tanks, defense contractors, energy companies, logistics companies, media outlets, law firms and higher education institutions. 

The new advisory was issued on the heels of escalating cyberattacks on critical U.S. organizations either linked to the Russian government or to Russian-speaking cyber criminals likely being harbored by the nation, raising U.S.-Russian tensions. 

Read more about the ongoing attacks here.

BLOCKED: A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a Florida social media law that would have fined companies for kicking politicians off their platforms.

District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday to stop the law from going into effect on Thursday, The Washington Post reported.

Hinkle issued the injunction as he believes the law will be found unconstitutional.

“The plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that these statutes violate the First Amendment,” Hinkle wrote. “There is nothing that could be severed and survive.”

Tech trade groups sued the state after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisHillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — Instagram 'pausing' kid-targeted plan DeSantis orders Florida official to investigate Facebook for 'alleged election interference' America isn't first — it's far behind — and studies point to Republicans MORE (R) signed a bill into law that would fine companies $250,000 a day for banning statewide politicians from their platforms and $25,000 a day for other politicians. 

Read more here

GETTR MAKES AN ENTRANCE: A new platform that describes itself as a “non-bias social network” has launched and is reportedly tied to allies of former President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE's. 

The platform, called Gettr, is in both the Apple App Store and Google Play store as of Thursday afternoon. 

The launch comes after mainstream platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, took action to suspend or ban the former president after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. 

Former Trump campaign aide Jason Miller is leading the effort behind Gettr, Politico reported. Last month, sources confirmed to The Hill that Miller was leaving his role as Trump’s spokesperson for a tech start-up. 

Axios also reported Thursday that Miller is launching Gettr. Miller did not respond to requests for comment. 

Read more here

GOVERNMENTS BEWARE: Chinese-speaking hackers recently targeted the top tiers of the Afghan government, along with the governments of other nearby nations, research published Thursday found.

According to findings from cybersecurity group Check Point Research, a hacking group known as “IndigoZebra” is involved in an ongoing espionage effort against the Afghan government through the use of malicious phishing emails.

Some of the emails masqueraded as coming from the Office of the President of Afghanistan, and targeted the Afghan National Security Council (NSC). Emails urged the targeted employee to review an attachment regarding details of a NSC press conference.

The Afghan government was not the only one in the region targeted by the same group. Check Point found evidence of ongoing targeting of the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Check Point’s investigation into these efforts is ongoing.

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Read more about the hacking campaign here.

NEW SENATE BILL: A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday would attempt to address cybersecurity threats to the federal government stemming from the use of potentially insecure third party services.

The Supply Chain Security Training Act, introduced by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Officials urge Congress to consider fining companies that fail to report cyber incidents Senate Democrats announce million investment in key battlegrounds ahead of 2022 MORE (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda MORE (R-Wis.), would establish a training program for federal employees tasked with purchasing information technology products for agencies. 

The General Services Administration would coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in creating the program, and OMB would be required to develop guidance for federal agencies to understand how to implement the program. 

The bill was introduced more than six months after the SolarWinds hack was discovered in December, one of the largest cyberattacks in U.S. history. The incident involved Russian government hackers exploiting a software update from IT group SolarWinds to compromise its customers, which included nine federal agencies and 100 private sector groups. 

Read more about the legislation here.

  

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