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Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Tech groups take aim at Texas

Today is Wednesday. Welcome to Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Tech industry groups are channeling the playbook they used to block a Florida social media bill in Texas, suing the Lone Star State over its recently passed bill that aims to prohibit platforms from banning users over political views. 

Meanwhile, a coalition of key security agencies told businesses to be on guard against a prolific ransomware variant that has already created chaos around the world, and two Republican lawmakers expressed concerns around the use of Huawei's cloud services. 

Follow The Hill's cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

Let's jump in.

 

Social media sites sue Lone Star State 

Tech industry groups are suing Texas over the state's recently passed law that aims to block social media companies from banning users based on political views. 

Their complaint: The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice co-filed the suit Wednesday, arguing the law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) earlier this month is unconstitutional and would undermine platforms' ability to ban language such as pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda and medical misinformation. 

"These restrictions - by striking at the heart of protected expression and editorial judgment - will prohibit platforms from taking action to protect themselves, their users, advertisers, and the public more generally from harmful and objectionable matter," the complaint states. 

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users from banning users based on their political views. Republicans have widely accused social media giants of censoring content with an anti-conservative bias, but there is a lack of evidence to back up their claims. 

Recent success: Florida passed a similar law targeting social media giants, but a federal judge blocked it in June after CCIA and NetChoice challenged it in court. The decision is now on appeal. 

Read more here

 

A MESSAGE FROM XEROX 

  

Feds raise new alarm on ransomware 

The FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Wednesday issued a warning to U.S. organizations to be aware of a specific type of ransomware that has already wreaked havoc on hundreds of groups.

Fallout: The agencies issued a joint alert specifically warning groups to be on guard against the Conti ransomware variant, with the agencies noting that 400 U.S. and international groups had already fallen victim to Conti.

"The cyber criminals now running the Conti ransomware-as-a-service have historically targeted critical infrastructure, such as the Defense Industrial Base (DIB), prior to Conti campaigns, and the advisory highlights actions organizations can take right now to counter the threat," Rob Joyce, director of Cybersecurity at NSA, said in a statement Wednesday. "We highly recommend using the mitigations outlined in this advisory to protect against Conti malware and mitigate your risk against any ransomware attack."

The alert outlined steps that organizations can take to protect against the Conti ransomware variant, which involves cybercriminals using malicious emails, phone calls, or stolen credentials to steal and encrypt information and demand payment from victims to regain access.  

Big picture: The Conti ransomware variant is part of a wider struggle for the FBI, with FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying to the House Homeland Security Committee that his agency is currently investigating over 100 different types of ransomware.

"Ransomware has mushroomed significantly over the last year, and it's on pace to mushroom again this year," Wray said.

Read more here.

 

CLOUD CONCERNS

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) are raising concerns around U.S. and foreign governments' potential use of Chinese telecommunications group Huawei's cloud services, warning of security and privacy issues. 

Cotton and Gallagher sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday detailing their concerns around the use of Huawei cloud services in over 40 countries due to the access it gives the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to systems, and urging Blinken to ensure that the use of these services does not expand any further. 

"Huawei Cloud's e-Government services promise to help countries streamline document digitization, tax services, national ID systems, elections, and more," the lawmakers wrote. "However, they also expose Huawei's clients to the prying eyes of the CCP. When Huawei's client is a private firm, every one of its customers is at risk."

"When Huawei's client is a country, its entire population and political structure sits in the crosshairs," they wrote. 

Read more here.

LET'S CHECK ON THAT

The oversight board at Facebook says it will review the social media giant's "XCheck" system following a report from The Wall Street Journal, which found it allows VIP users to use the platform exempt from most or all of its rules and regulations.

The report from the Journal found that some VIP users are freely "posting material including harassment and incitement to violence that would typically lead to sanctions" without oversight or consequences bestowed on other users who violate these Facebook user policies.

One example highlighted in the report includes when Brazilian soccer player Neymar posted nude photos and video of a woman who accused him of rape in 2019. Though the post violates Facebook's rules on "nonconsensual intimate imagery," Neymar's XCheck prevented the company's moderators from removing the images for more than a day.

Read more here

A MESSAGE FROM XEROX

 

  

FACEBOOK CTO TO STEP DOWN

Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said he will be stepping down from his top position at the social media giant sometime next year. 

Schroepfer will stay on in a part-time role as Facebook's first senior fellow after his 13-year tenure at the company. 

"This is a difficult decision because of how much I love Facebook and how excited I am about the future we are building together. This change in role will allow me to dedicate more time to my family and my personal philanthropic efforts while staying deeply connected to the company working on key initiatives including recruiting and developing technical talent and continuing to foster our AI investments in critical technologies like PyTorch," Schroepfer said in a Facebook post.

Read more here

 

NEW ROBINHOOD FEATURE

Popular trading and investing app Robinhood on Wednesday announced the launch of a new cryptocurrency wallet feature on its platform as more users are looking to invest in digital currency.

The wallets, which already have a waitlist in place, will be able to accept and distribute cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum within an existing Robinhood account. As with other transactions, any trading done with cryptocurrencies on the app will be free of commission fees.

"We're excited to make crypto more accessible by making investing simpler, more straightforward, and low cost - just as we've done for equities," the company said in a blog post confirming the new feature. 

Read more here.

BITS AND PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Webb: Big Tech won't change; the tech sector can

Lighter clickRoom rater exception

Notable links from around the web:

Tim Cook says employees who leak memos do not belong at Apple, according to leaked memo (The Verge / Zoe Schiffer)

A Square error affected tipping - costing workers hundreds of dollars on a busy weekend day (Washington Post / Rachel Lerman)

Facebook Grew Marketplace to 1 Billion Users. Now Scammers Are Using It to Target People Around the World. (ProPublica / Craig Silverman, A.C. Thompson, Peter Elkind)

One last thing: Some bad news

Internet freedom has declined for the 11th consecutive year globally, according to an annual report released this week.

The study from Washington-based democracy watchdog organization Freedom House analyzed 70 countries that account for 88 percent of internet users worldwide and measured indicators such as accessibility and content. Both a lack of internet regulation and excessive restraints to online material contributed to this year's decline, the group said.

In the United States, internet freedom declined for the fifth consecutive year, with Freedom House saying "its laissez-faire approach to the tech industry created opportunities for authoritarian manipulation, data exploitation, and widespread malfeasance." Without proper oversight, misinformation was able to flourish and "proliferate," even influencing public perception and acceptance of the country's 2020 presidential election, the report said.

Overall, the U.S. ranked 12th in internet freedom. Iceland was ranked No. 1 for the third consecutive year, with the report citing its easy accessibility, few content limitations and preservation of users' rights.

Read more here.

That's it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill's technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We'll see you Thursday.

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