Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — DOJ unveils new election hacking charges

Today is Thursday. 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.

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

The Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled sweeping indictments against two Iranian nationals Thursday, accusing them of being behind a campaign to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The State and Treasury departments also took steps to crack down on the two individuals, who remain at large. 

Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general announced an investigation into Instagram’s potential negative impact on children and teens, and a new survey found that many voters are in favor of federal regulation for social media companies.

Let’s jump into the news.


Big election interference development 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday charged two Iranian nationals with interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, alleging they used wide-ranging cyber and disinformation efforts in an attempt to sow doubt in the election process.

Yikes: Between August and November of last year, Iranian nationals Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian are alleged to have targeted the election websites of 11 states, successfully obtaining information on more than 100,000 U.S. voters by compromising one state’s voter information website.

They then allegedly posed as members of the “Proud Boy” organization to send emails to thousands of registered Democratic voters, including some of those whose information was stolen, threatening them unless they voted for now-former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE

The two individuals also sent Facebook messages and emails posing as Proud Boys to White House officials, Republican members of Congress and news organizations claiming that the Democratic Party was attempting to exploit election infrastructure vulnerabilities and change votes, the DOJ said.

Big yikes: The individuals are accused of having attempted to leverage vulnerabilities in a U.S. media organization's network to spread disinformation the day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The unnamed media group provided a content management system to dozens of newspapers and other publications. The FBI tipped off the company ahead of time, enabling the vulnerabilities to be fixed, and the effort was unsuccessful. 

Other agencies involved: In addition to the indictments, the State Department is offering a $10 million reward for information on Kazemi and Kashian’s activities. The Treasury Department sanctioned the two men along with the Iranian cybersecurity company they worked as contractors for, and four Iranian leaders of the company. 

Read more here. 


Investigating Instagram 

State attorneys general are investigating whether Instagram’s parent company violated consumer protection laws by promoting the social media app to young users despite knowing its use is associated with negative health effects.

Background: The investigation, announced Thursday, comes after Facebook, now under the parent name Meta, has experienced weeks of backlash over its impact on kids and teens following a document leak by a company whistleblower that included internal research showing the negative effect of the company's platforms on young users.

“Doesn’t make a difference if you call it Instagram, Facebook, or Meta, the fact still remains the same: These social media platforms are extremely dangerous and have been proven to cause both physical and mental harm in young people,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said in a statement. “Time and again, Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Amazon draws COVID scrutiny Meta exec who co-founded Diem digital currency leaving the company Two lawyers who filed suit challenging election results ordered to pay nearly 7K MORE and the companies he run have put profits over safety, but our investigation seeks to end that behavior.

Several states: The effort is bipartisan, with attorneys generals from Massachusetts, California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont involved in leading the probe.

A Meta spokesperson said “these accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts,” and touted features the platform has put in place to help users “who might be dealing with negative social comparisons or body image issue.”

Read more here


Most voters support further federal regulation of social media companies, especially regarding creating rules and standards to protect children and manage personal data, according to a new survey from the progressive polling firm Data for Progress.

The survey found that just over half, 56 percent, of likely voters said the federal government should do more to regulate social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to stop behavior that incites violence or endangers minors’ mental and physical health. 

However, just 48 percent of Republicans said the federal government should do more to regulate the companies versus the 67 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents who said the same. 

The poll found even more support from likely voters when asked if they support the government creating new rules and standards for the social media companies to better protect children online. Overall, 78 percent of voters said they support the new rules, including 87 percent of Democrats And 73 percent of Republicans. 

Read more about the poll


The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has pushed a vote on a potential study on supply chain disruptions to next week.

The four commissioners in place voted unanimously on Thursday to delay consideration of the study until next Wednesday in order to make some adjustments before finalizing the study regarding what aspects of the supply chain are studied as part of the agency’s 6(b) process. 

“One well crafted study, even if it takes additional time and effort, will save resources in the review of the materials received and prevent the commission from having to issue additional studies in the future,” said Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson, who requested the motion to push the vote to next week.

FTC Chair Lina KhanLina KhanHillicon Valley — Chinese disinformation accounts removed GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority Hillicon Valley — Inside the Twitter shakeup MORE is facing a board split along party lines as President BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE’s nominee to fill an open spot — which would give Democrats an edge — awaits confirmation. 

Although Khan voted with fellow commissioners in favor of the motion to punt the vote to next week, she stressed that the issue is a matter of urgency. 

Read more about the vote

Defense bill could be big news for cyber 

The Pentagon is seen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Arlington, Va.

The Senate is eyeing the annual defense bill as a vehicle to attach critical provisions to improve the nation’s cybersecurity following a devastating year in which major attacks left the government flat-footed.  

The efforts are markedly bipartisan, a rarity for a Senate that is struggling to accomplish a long legislative to-do list before the holidays. 

“It’s a national security issue, really,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Ohio Senate candidate unveils ad comparing Biden to Carter MORE (R-Ohio) told reporters Tuesday in regards to the inclusion of cybersecurity priorities in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Language around requiring critical organizations to report cyber incidents to the federal government, and timelines for doing so, has been a key issue hotly debated in recent months.

Read more here.





Young people are more likely to turn to social media for information than older generations, though few in the younger age group said they trust social media “a lot” to provide accurate information, according to a new global survey by UNICEF and Gallup. 

Overall, 45 percent of young people ages 15 to 24 said social media is a “go-to” information source, while just 17 percent of those ages 40 and older said the same, according to the survey. The findings were based on survey responses from people in 21 countries.

The 28 percentage-point gap on social media as a source of information is the greatest gap separating the age groups among the wide-ranging questions included in the report.  

In every country surveyed, young people are at least 10 percentage points more likely than older people to use online sources for information, and in most countries the difference is 30 percentage points or more, the UNICEF report found.

Read more about the survey.


An op-ed to chew on: Two birds, one stone: Closing the digital divide and facing down Mark Zuckerberg

Lighter click: Gobble gobble

Notable links from around the web:

Inside Amazon’s Failures to Protect Your Data: Internal Voyeurs, Bribery Scandals and Backdoor Schemes (Reveal / Will Evans)

Mobilewalla says data it gathered from consumers’ cellphones ended up with government (The Wall Street Journal / Byron Tau) 

Facebook Isn’t Telling You How Popular Right-Wing Content Is on the Platform (The Markup / Corin Faife)

We tried Tesla's 'full self-driving.' Here's what happened (CNN / Matt McFarland)

One last thing: Protecting the electric grid 

More than 700 individuals associated with the bulk power grid and other related critical infrastructure participated in a simulation this week designed to test resilience against a major cyber and physical attack. 

The simulation comes amid a series of serious cyber attacks that have taken place in the last year, and amid warnings by officials that attacks against critical infrastructure are increasing. 

The GridEx simulation, held every two years, is hosted by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) Electric Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC), and is the largest grid security exercise in North America. 

The simulation took place in the wake of some of the most difficult years in the cybersecurity space, which have seen threats against every sector increase. Society has also become more reliant on less secure online systems while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Manny Cancel, senior vice president at NERC and CEO of the E-ISAC, noted that the threat landscape “has evolved and become very complex,” and that there had been a “ninefold increase in ransomware reports.”

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 Friday.