Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley — Chinese disinformation accounts removed

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.

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

Hundreds of Facebook accounts linked to a Chinese disinformation campaign have been removed, the social media giant said Wednesday. The campaign claimed the U.S. was pressuring the World Health Organization to blame the coronavirus pandemic on China.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are pushing back on President Biden's Federal Communications Commission nominee over her past comments about conservative media and the backlash could threaten a Democratic majority on the board. 

Let's jump into the news.

 

Chinese account takedowns 

Meta on Wednesday announced that it had removed hundreds of accounts, pages and groups linked to a Chinese effort to spread disinformation around the United States pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to blame the COVID-19 pandemic on China.

According to Meta's Adversarial Threat Report, which detailed takedowns of networks in multiple countries linked to inauthentic coordinated behavior on Facebook and other social media platforms, the effort began in July with a single Facebook account purporting to be a Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards.

Government involvement: The fake account linked to Edwards, who Swiss authorities later confirmed to Meta does not exist, claimed that U.S. authorities were pressuring WHO scientists to pin the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic on China. Within two days, the post had been reported on by Chinese state media and spread by hundreds of social media accounts. 

Ben Nimmo, the Global IO Threat Intelligence Lead and the IO Threat at Meta, wrote in the report that researchers had found evidence that Chinese government officials had interacted with the post within an hour of it going online, and that Chinese government employees had helped amplify the post. 

"In effect, it worked like an online Hall of Mirrors, endlessly reflecting the original fake persona and its anti-U.S. information," Nimmo told reporters on a call Wednesday. 

There's more: The Adversarial Threat Report released by Meta also chronicled several other malicious efforts that Meta has caught over the past year.

These included removing hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to Hamas and the Gaza Strip that targeted individuals in Palestine, Egypt and Israel that pretended to be news outlets.

Read more here. 

Roadblocks ahead for Biden's FCC nominee 

Republicans pushed back on President Biden's nominee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Gigi Sohn at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday over past comments she made regarding conservative media - resistance that could put her nomination in danger. 

GOP concerns: "All who know her would agree she is knowledgeable and a determined advocate," Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said in his opening statement about Sohn. "I am concerned about her record of expressing hyper partisan views on many critical matters that have come before the commission and which may come before the commision again in the future." 

In the past, Biden's nominees to other critical roles overseeing aspects of the tech industry, including Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan and Justice Department antitrust division head Jonathan katner, have been confirmed without significant backlash from the GOP. 

Some agreement: The Senate Commerce Committee advanced acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel's nomination by a voice vote with just a handful of Republicans recording themselves as a "no" toward her nomination. The committee also voted 14-14 Wednesday to advance Biden's nominee to fill an open FTC seat, Alvaro Bedoya, to a full Senate vote. 

The GOP resistance to Sohn could throw a monkey wrench into her nomination and Democrats' ability to secure a majority on the board. It would also hinder Rosenworcel's ability to get Democrat's agenda through, including reviving Obama-era net neutrality laws.  

Read more about the hearing

Crypto at the Capitol

 

The House Financial Services Committee announced on Wednesday that the top executives of eight major cryptocurrency firms will testify before the committee

The Dec. 8 hearing will focus on understanding the challenges and benefits of financial innovation in the U.S. 

The hearing marks a first for major players in the cryptocurrency world. Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, Bitfury CEO Brian Brooks, Paxos CEO Chad Cascarilla,  Stellar Development Foundation CEO Denelle Dixon, and the CFO of Coinbase Global Inc. Alesia Haas will be a witnesses at the hearing. 

Read more here.

 

HOUSE APPROVES CYBER BILLS

The House on Wednesday passed three bipartisan bills intended to shore up network security and increase cyber literacy across the nation, following a difficult year fraught with several significant cybersecurity attacks. 

The Understanding Cybersecurity of Mobile Networks Act, sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), was approved by a vote of 404-19. The bill would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to examine and report back on cybersecurity vulnerabilities in mobile networks.

The second bill passed Wednesday, the American Cybersecurity Literacy Act, was approved by a 408-17 vote, and would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop and roll out a cybersecurity literacy program to educate Americans about cyber risks. 

The FUTURE Networks Act was also approved by the House Wednesday, by a vote of 394-27, which would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a sixth generation (6G) wireless technology taskforce to examine potential vulnerabilities and advantages in the future use of 6G technology. 

Read more here. 

HACKERS TARGET IRANIANS

Financially motivated hackers likely based in Iran are successfully targeting and stealing billions in currency from Iranian civilians through a texting campaign, new research released Wednesday found.

Israeli-American cybersecurity company Check Point Research found evidence that tens of thousands of Iranians had been targeted in the scheme, which involved the hackers sending texts to Android users that impersonated branches of the Iranian government. 

The texts prompted victims to download malicious applications that then steal credit card information and two-factor authentication codes, with the infected devices then used as bots by the hackers to spread the campaign further. The average victim lost between $1,000 and $2,000, and the Check Point researchers found that the stolen data was easily accessible online to third parties. 

Read more here.

HOLOCAUST DENIAL REMAINS ON FACEBOOK: REPORT

Holocaust denial content remains on Facebook despite a ban the platform put in place last year, according to a report published Wednesday morning by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). 

The ADL's Center on Extremism identified posts published before and after the ban Facebook announced in October 2020, and urged the company to take greater action to remove such content. 

Although searches for the term "Holohoax" on Facebook lead to a link with information abut the Holocaust, other terms including "Holocaust Hoax," "Holocaust fraud," "so called Holocaust" and "Holocaust didn't happen," are searchable and return results, according to a copy of the report shared with The Hill.

Read more here

 

PLANNED PARENTHOOD BREACHED

Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA) announced Wednesday that it had been the target of a "cybersecurity incident" that compromised patient information.

In a notice posted online, PPLA reported that an "unauthorized individual" had gained access to its networks for a week in October, and had used ransomware and malware to steal files that contained patient names, dates of birth, addresses, insurance numbers, and clinical data that included diagnosis and prescription information. 

The Washington Post cited information from a Planned Parenthood spokesperson Wednesday in reporting that information on 400,000 patients had been exposed in the breach. Planned Parenthood did not immediately confirm The Hill's request for comment on the number of individuals impacted. 

Read more here.

POLITICAL ADS BANNED IN THE PHILIPPINES

Google is banning political ads from running on its platform in the weeks leading up to the Philippines's presidential elections in May.

Between Feb. 8 and May 9, individuals in the Philippines will not be permitted to run election advertisements, Google in an update to its political content policy posted Wednesday. The time span coincides with the country's 2022 national and local elections, as the company noted.

The Philippine election is set for May 9.

"From February 2022, Google will not allow election advertisements to run in the Philippines during an election campaign period or a silence period. Election advertisements are ads that promote or oppose any political party or the candidacy of any person or party for public office," Google wrote in the update.

Read more here

BITS AND PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: As Congress dithers, private organizations step up to bridge the digital divide

Lighter click: Protect our Rivers

Notable links from around the web:

"This Is Blackface": Inside The Virtual Reality Company Trying To Scale Diversity Training (BuzzFeed News / Emily Baker-White)

Amazon's strategy to squeeze marketplace sellers and maximize its own profits is evolving (Recorde / Sara Morrison)

FBI seized $2.3 million in cryptocurrency from REvil ransomware affiliate (CyberScoop / Tonya Riley)

 

One last thing: New committee in town 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Wednesday announced the establishment of its Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, and almost two dozen members who will provide input on efforts to enhance cybersecurity defense priorities. 

The committee will include 23 individuals from government, key industry groups across multiple sectors, leaders in nonprofit groups and journalism. These include Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D), cybersecurity group Mandiant CEO Kevin Mandia, former Facebook Chief Technology Officer Alex Stamos and Jeff Moss, founder of the DEF CON hacking conference.

Representatives from Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Walmart, Mastercard, JPMorgan Chase and Johnson & Johnson, as well as those from the field of academia, are also on the committee. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis will join CISA Director Jen Easterly in establishing the committee. 

The committee will be tasked with making recommendations for how to better defend the nation against cyberattacks and strengthen CISA, with the spotlight on topics including strengthening the cyber workforce, reducing risk to critical infrastructure, and addressing disinformation and misinformation around the security of critical systems.

Easterly discussed the group during remarks at Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference on Wednesday, noting that the members "are going to really help me build and transform CISA into the cyber defense agency that the nation needs and that the nation deserves."

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.

Outbrain