Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down Russian troll farm | Apple, Google offer exposure notification help | Officials deny attacks on voting infrastructure



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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

RUSSIANS ARE AT IT AGAIN: Facebook said Tuesday it has taken down a network of accounts associated with a Russian troll farm that hired U.S. journalists to write articles targeting left-leaning readers.

The social media platform announced it took down 13 accounts that it attributed to “individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency” after receiving a tip from the FBI.

The accounts were directing people to a news site called Peace Data, a “global news organization” that’s focused largely on the environment and corporate and political corruption. Though the company, which launched this year, recruited some real journalists, several accounts that posed as “editors” were not real.

One account shared a story about the boogaloo movement with the headline “USA Far Right is Growing Thanks to President Trump.”

Graphika, a network analysis firm based in New York that received the Facebook data in advance, published a report Tuesday that found that the Russian effort was small but mirrored previous attempts to undermine support for Democratic Party candidates by appealing to left-wing U.S. voters.

“The English-language content on Biden and Harris was noteworthy for its hostile tone,” Graphika reported. “One article by a guest writer accused the pair of ‘submission to right-wing populism … as much about preserving careers as it is winning votes.'”

ZUCKERBERG GIVES ELECTIONS A HAND: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, on Tuesday announced that they donated $300 million to two elections-focused groups to promote safe and secure elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The couple donated $250 million to the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help recruit and train poll workers, and ensure polling sites have the voting equipment needed to hold elections.

Zuckerberg and Chan also donated $50 million to the Center for Election Innovation and Research that will be sent to the offices of secretaries of states across the country to boost election security and voter information efforts.

“I’m concerned that our country’s election infrastructure faces many new challenges this year because of the Covid pandemic,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “There will be historic levels of voting by mail, and increased need for poll workers and equipment to support contact-free voting.”

“Election officials across the country are working hard to ensure that everyone can vote and every vote can be counted – and we want to help make sure they have the resources they need to do this,” he added.

Facebook has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to curb the spread of misinformation around voting, and in particular has faced allegations that it has not been strict enough on posts from world leaders, including those from President Trump.

The platform has taken steps to address these concerns, including announcing a policy in June to label but leave up “newsworthy” posts, including those from politicians.

EXPOSURE NOTIFICATIONS COMING SOON: Apple and Google can now offer public health authorities a prebuilt app for coronavirus exposure notifications, they announced Tuesday.

The capability, Exposure Notifications Express, will bypass the need for state officials to contract a developer to make an app for them, streamlining the process to get a digital contact tracing aid up and running.

In the time since Apple and Google first launched their exposure notification system in April, adoption has lagged.

Six states have taken up the systems, while 25 others have explored them, according to company representatives.

The representatives told reporters Tuesday that after meeting with public health authorities across the country, Apple and Google noticed many expressing concern about challenges in finding a developer and maintaining an app.

With the new Exposure Notification Express, authorities will just have to provide Apple and Google with information about how to reach them and recommendations in case of exposure to COVID-19 and then the companies will build out the Android apps. On Apple devices, the system will be built into the phone and just need to be activated.

“As the next step in our work with public health authorities on Exposure Notifications, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the Exposure Notifications System without the need for them to build and maintain an app,” Apple and Google said in a statement. “Exposure Notifications Express provides another option for public health authorities to supplement their existing contact tracing operations with technology without compromising on the project’s core tenets of user privacy and security.”.

HACKERS EYE THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Hackers have been increasingly targeting websites of the reelection campaign of President Trump ahead of the November election, Reuters reported Tuesday.

According to July emails between senior company managers at security group Cloudflare obtained by Reuters, the attacks successfully disrupted two websites targeted by hackers on March 15 and June 6. Cloudflare was hired by the Trump campaign to defend websites against cyberattacks.

“As we get closer to the election, attacks are increasing in both numbers [and] sophistication,” the emails read, according to Reuters, with the emails noting that the attacks were becoming increasingly sophisticated and were recorded at high levels in June.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the report.

A spokesperson for Cloudflare declined to comment on the reported increased targeting of Trump campaign websites but pointed to the company’s work to protect campaigns and other organizations from attacks.

“Cloudflare blocks an average of 72 billion cyber threats each day for the more than 25 million Internet properties that rely on us,” the spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “As a policy, we do not discuss specific users of our service without their permission – that includes the majority of presidential campaigns from both parties this cycle.”

NOTHING TO SEE HERE: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Tuesday denied seeing any reports of attacks on voting infrastructure, following the publication of a report on potential Russian election interference.

“CISA and the FBI have not seen any cyber attacks this year on voter registration databases or on any systems involving voting,” the agencies wrote in a joint statement. “We closely coordinate with our federal, state, and local election partners to safeguard the voting process.”

“We and our partners continually monitor the risks related to all methods of voting during our elections,” the agencies added. “We regularly provide this information to the state and local election officials responsible for our voting systems.”

The statement was put out after a report from Russia’s Kommersant newspaper was published Tuesday detailing the discovery of data from 7.6 million Michigan residents and data from millions of other U.S. voters on a Russian hacker site.

Michigan’s Department of State pushed back strongly against concerns the voter data had been accessed through a hacking incident, noting in a statement that “public voter information in Michigan and elsewhere is accessible to anyone through a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. Our system has not been hacked.”

INTERESTING JOB LISTINGS: Amazon took down job listings Tuesday for two positions that listed tracking internal “labor organizing threats” as responsibilities.

The “Intelligence Analyst” and “Sr Intelligence Analyst” positions were with Amazon’s Global Security Operations’ (GSO) Global Intelligence Program (GIP), which handles the ecommerce giant’s corporate and physical security.

The postings described several kinds of threats that the analysts would focus on in addition to “organized labor,” including “protests, geopolitical crises, conflicts impacting operations.”

They were removed for not being “an accurate description of the role,” an Amazon spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday.

“It was made in error and has since been corrected,” the spokesperson added.

According to Amazon’s portal, the Intelligence Analyst position was posted Jan. 6, raising questions about why it took nine months to realize the mistake.

Twitter user Joe Slowik first noticed the posting Tuesday morning, triggering an outcry of criticism.

Dania Rajendra, director of the anti-Amazon coalition Athena, called the posting “disturbing.”

ROUGH DAY FOR NORWAY: The Norwegian parliament, or the Storting, on Tuesday announced that it was targeted over the past week by a major cyberattack that compromised multiple members of the government.

In a translated statement, the Storting said hackers had targeted the email accounts of a “small number” of members of parliament and staff members, with data from these accounts successfully downloaded by the attackers. Impacted individuals were contacted prior to the announcement being made.

It was not immediately clear what type of cyberattack the incident was, or who was behind it.

“We take the matter very seriously, and we have full attention to analyzing the situation to get an overall picture of the incident and the potential extent of damage,” Marianne Andreassen, the Storting’s nonelected chief administrator, said in a statement.

Andreassen noted that “risk-reducing immediate measures” put in place had been successful in stopping the attack, and that the Storting had contacted law enforcement in relation to the cyberattack.

“We must constantly work with IT security against a demanding threat picture,” Andreassen noted. “New measures are being considered on an ongoing basis to strengthen security in the Storting.”

Reuters reported that Norway’s National Security Authority (NSA) was involved in responding to the cyber incident, with NSA spokesperson Trond Oevstedal telling Reuters that the agency had been “involved for a few days” and was focused on “assisting parliament with analysis and technical assistance.”

MASK UP: Uber announced Tuesday that it will require some users of its ride-sharing app to take selfies of themselves wearing masks before taking more trips with the company.

Uber said in a press release that starting later this month, riders who had been flagged by drivers as not wearing masks on past trips will be required to take a selfie with their face covered before they can go on another ride. The new mask verification feature will be rolled out in the United States and Canada by the end of September and across “Latin America and other countries” later on.

The company reminded readers that both drivers and riders have the option of canceling rides without any financial penalty if the other person isn’t wearing a mask.

The San Francisco-based company touted science showing that wearing masks is one of the most effective measures to preventing the spread of the coronavirus and said that so far 3.5 million drivers and delivery people have already completed over 100 million “mask verifications.”

ANIMAL CROSSING UPDATE: Animal Crossing: New Horizons users will now be able to add Joe Biden campaign yard signs to their villages.

Biden’s presidential campaign released four styles of signs: the official Biden-Harris logo, the “Team Joe” logo, the “Joe” Pride logo and an image of aviator sunglasses shaded in red, white and blue. Players can access them by scanning QR codes through the Nintendo Switch Online app.

“Animal Crossing is a dynamic, diverse, and powerful platform that brings communities together from across the world,” Christian Tom, director of digital partnerships for the Biden campaign, said in a statement to The Hill. “It is an exciting new opportunity for our campaign to engage and connect Biden-Harris supporters as they build and decorate their islands.”

The outreach strategy comes as Democrats have struggled to engage younger voters in support of Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

The Biden campaign has also boasted a digital-heavy strategy while avoiding in-person events amid the coronavirus pandemic. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest installment in the long-running series, was released on March 20 and has seen an increase in usage since the start of the pandemic, partially driving Nintendo’s 428 percent profit boost. 

Lighter click: Sage game seven analysis from a legend of the game


Twitter hack may have had another mastermind: A 16-year-old (The New York Times / Nathaniel Popper)

The election security hole everyone ignores (Politico / Kim Zetter)

What can Zuckerberg’s $300 million donation really buy? (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky)

FBI cybersecurity guide gives police advice on avoiding surveillance, harassment online (CyberScoop / Jeff Stone)

Courtesy/Source: The Hill