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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).
“HOT AIR”: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dismissed Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s (D-Mass.) criticism of the agency’s chairman as “hot air,” after the Democratic presidential candidate accused him of advancing the interests of the telecom industry.
The pushback comes in response to an op-ed the senator published in The Washington Post on Tuesday arguing for renewed federal efforts to expand internet access to areas that lack it. She partly attributed the problem to the lack of competition among internet service providers (ISPs).
“ISPs have been able to get away with fostering pseudo-monopolies because they spend a lot of money to keep the regulatory environment and the conversation surrounding it murky,” Warren wrote. “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has been an effective agent for ISPs. He led the charge to dismantle net neutrality last year, and he has done everything in his power to stop municipalities from building their own broadband infrastructure.”
The FCC’s response: When asked by The Hill for comment, a spokesman for the FCC sent an emailed statement defending Pai’s record on expanding internet access.
“Under Chairman Pai’s leadership of the FCC, the digital divide has been closing, average Internet speeds have substantially increased, and we’ve seen fiber deployed to more homes in a single year than any previous year in American history,” the spokesman said in the statement. “Chairman Pai has also instituted innovative reforms to the Commission’s universal service programs that are expanding broadband deployment across rural America in a cost-efficient manner. Indeed, the Commission just approved $4.9 billion last week for rural broadband deployment.”
IRANIAN CYBER ATTACK UPDATE: A cyberattack carried out by U.S. Cyber Command against Iran in June severely impacted a database used by Iran to target oil tankers, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Government officials told The New York Times that the secret cyberattack temporarily hurt Iran’s ability to target shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf.
The officials discussed the consequences of the cyberattack in order to “quell doubts within the Trump administration” as to whether the attack was worth the loss of access to key intelligence sources in Iran, the Times reported.
U.S. Cyber Command targeted a network run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary forces, that U.S. intelligence reported was involved in an attack on American oil tankers earlier this year.
Iran is still working to get all its systems back online and recover data that was lost during the June cyberattack, according to the Times.
The cyberattack took place the same day President Trump called off planned military strikes on Iran in retaliation for shooting down an unarmed U.S. surveillance drone. Iran claimed the drone was in their airspace, while U.S. officials said was in international airspace.
UH OH: State officials have confirmed at least three reports of voting machines in two counties changing voters’ picks in Mississippi’s GOP gubernatorial primary runoff.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are currently in a runoff for the Republican nomination in the governor’s race to see who will take on Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in the November general election. Reeves led Waller in the Aug. 6 balloting by a 49-33 margin, though the race went to a runoff after no candidate hit 50 percent.
The issues emerged Tuesday morning, with one Facebook user posting a video showing a touch-screen voting machine changing their selection from Waller to Reeves.
“It is not letting me vote for who I want to vote for,” the voter says in the video. “How can that happen?” a woman in the background asks.
Though officials confirmed the issues with only three machines in two counties, the Waller campaign told the Clarion Ledger that it had received reports of the same problem from Leflore, Lamar, Pearl River, Lincoln, Washington, Forrest and Scott counties.
RUSHING THROUGH THE REVOLVING DOOR: Large tech companies are tapping former Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials for help as they face growing regulatory scrutiny over their privacy practices and market power.
In two landmark privacy enforcement actions the agency imposed on Facebook and Equifax last month, both companies were represented by former top FTC officials in their respective negotiations.
Facebook enlisted Sean Royall, an attorney with the firm Gibson Dunn, who was previously a deputy director in the FTC’s Bureau of Competition from 2001 to 2003, according to the law firm’s website. Current FTC Chairman Joseph Simons was the bureau’s director at the time.
And Edith Ramirez, a Democrat who was selected by then-President Obama in 2013 to chair the FTC, represented Equifax over privacy charges stemming from their massive 2017 data breach. Ramirez, who left the agency in February 2017 to join the law firm Hogan Lovells, has also defended Google-owned YouTube against a class action lawsuit over children’s privacy. A federal judge in South Carolina threw the case out in April.
The revolving door between agencies and private law firms is not unique to the FTC. But the moves by Facebook and Equifax highlight how the FTC’s targets are increasingly turning toward former officials as the agency intensifies its oversight amid new political pressure from Washington.
RANSOMWARE ON THE RISE: The majority of ransomware attacks in the U.S. in 2019 have targeted state and local governments, a report published Wednesday by cybersecurity group Barracuda Networks found.
The report counted a total of 55 ransomware attacks on U.S. state and local government entities between January and July of 2019. These attacks involve a malicious actor or group encrypting a network and asking for money, often in the form of bitcoin, to allow the user access.
“The team’s recent analysis of hundreds of attacks across a broad set of targets revealed that government organizations are the intended victims of nearly two-thirds of all ransomware attacks,” Barracuda wrote in the report. “Local, county, and state governments have all been targets, including schools, libraries, courts, and other entities.”
The total amount of ransomware incidents documented by the report does not include the recent spree of 22 attacks on Texas municipalities, many of which were small local governments.
Several school districts in Louisiana were also targeted by ransomware attacks in recent weeks, while the city governments of Baltimore and Atlanta have both been crippled in the past year by ransomware incidents.
I’M NOT LISTENING: Apple on Wednesday apologized for listening to audio recordings of some users’ conversations with Siri, the company’s virtual assistant.
The tech giant said that it will stop retaining sample audio recordings of the requests users make to Siri.
“As a result of our review, we realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize,” Apple said in a blog post.
The company will now let users opt in to having requests recorded and seek to minimize the amount of human review of audio collected, Apple said. The company also said it will continue to keep a computer-generated transcript of Siri requests.
The move comes a month after The Guardian detailed how contractors listened to stored recordings as part of a quality control program to determine if Siri was successfully completing requests. Those contractors regularly heard sensitive and private details, the Guardian noted.
Apple paused the Siri grading program in the wake of the report.
DOORBELL SURVEILLANCE: Amazon-owned doorbell-camera manufacturer Ring has formed partnerships with hundreds of police departments that allow them to request access to footage within a specific time period after an incident has occurred, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Ring has arrangements with more than 400 departments, under which they can request recordings within a specific time and area, according to the Post. Ring gives homeowners the option to decline requests, according to the Post.
Police can use a map interface to select the time and geographic range, which will generate an automated email to all users within the range with a message from the department, according to the newspaper.
The program began in the spring of 2018, but its extent was previously unknown, with some civil libertarians initially believing under 300 forces were participating, according to the newspaper.
“The mission has always been making the neighborhood safer,” Eric Kuhn, the general manager of Neighbors, Ring’s crime-focused companion app, told the Post. “We’ve had a lot of success in terms of deterring crime and solving crimes that would otherwise not be solved as quickly.”
NEW POLITICAL AD RULES: Facebook announced Wednesday that it will tighten its rules regarding political ads ahead of the 2020 election.
The social media platform said it would require additional disclosures from companies looking to feature political advertisements on either Facebook or Instagram.
Facebook will roll out a “confirmed organization” label for U.S. political advertisers who must now show government-issued credentials in an effort to have more transparency on the platform, the news service noted.
In order to receive a “confirmed organization” label, advertisers must submit either a Federal Election Commission ID number, tax-registered organization ID number, or government website domain matching an official email.
The new rules come after Facebook was plagued with rampant disinformation campaigns during the 2016 election and more recent reports that advertisers were using misleading names in an effort to disguise their identities.
A LIGHTER CLICK: Parenting is hard, please don’t judge.
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: U.S. Space Command: A vision for the final frontier
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Aggressive Amazon tactic pushes you to consider its own brand before you click ‘buy.’ (The Washington Post)
A new HUD rule would effectively encourage discrimination by algorithm. (Slate)
National security concerns threaten undersea data link backed by Facebook, Google. (The Wall Street Journal)