Hillicon Valley: Federal agencies warn of hackers targeting online K-12 classes | California seeks to join DOJ antitrust case against Google | Senate approves defense bill establishing cyber czar position

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HACKING SCHOOLS: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned this week that malicious hackers are targeting the nation’s K-12 classes that have moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint alert put out with the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) on Thursday, the agencies warned that ransomware attacks in particular were hitting online classes and were expected to continue into the next year. 

“Cyber actors likely view schools as targets of opportunity, and these types of attacks are expected to continue through the 2020/2021 academic year,” the agencies wrote. “These issues will be particularly challenging for K-12 schools that face resource limitations; therefore, educational leadership, information technology personnel, and security personnel will need to balance this risk when determining their cybersecurity investments.”

The agencies highlighted a series of potential cyber threats to schools, including ransomware attacks, during which an attacker locks up a network and demands a ransom, and distributed denial of service attacks, in which an attacker overwhelms a server with traffic in an attempt to take it down. 

“Adopting tactics previously leveraged against business and industry, ransomware actors have also stolen — and threatened to leak — confidential student data to the public unless institutions pay a ransom,” the agencies wrote. 

According to data from the MS-ISAC cited within the alert, hackers have increasingly used ransomware to target K-12 institutions as compared to targeting other organizations. 

Read more here.


CALIFORNIA JOINS IN: California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraHispanic Caucus ramps up Cabinet pressure campaign Biden selects Susan Rice to lead Domestic Policy Council, McDonough for Veterans Affairs Ocasio-Cortez: Biden agenda ‘a little hazy’ MORE on Friday moved to join the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google.

Becerra is the first Democrat to seek to join the case that accuses the California-based company of illegally maintaining a monopoly on search and search advertising. 

“Google’s market dominance leaves consumers and small businesses with little choice when it comes to internet search engines. By using exclusionary agreements to dominate the market, Google has stifled competition and rigged the advertising market,” Becerra said in a statement

“This lawsuit paves the way for search engine innovation with greater regard for privacy and data protection,” Becerra added. 

The Justice Department filed its lawsuit against the tech giant in October, and was joined by 11 Republican state attorneys general at the time. 

The lawsuit alleges Google entered into exclusionary contracts with phone makers to preload Google’s search engine onto devices using Alphabet’s Android operating system. It also argues those contracts allowed Google to maintain a monopoly and stifle out competition and innovation. 

The lawsuit also accuses the tech giant of using profits from its alleged monopoly to buy preferential treatment for its search engine on web browsers. 

The company has rejected the case’s claims as “deeply flawed” and argued there is plenty of competition in the search market and that their contracts with devices and web browsers do not exclude other options. 

Read more here.


CYBER CZAR GETS SENATE APPROVAL: The Senate on Friday approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with clauses that would establish a federal cyber czar, and that would give the nation’s top federal cybersecurity agency subpoena power.

The conferenced version of the 2021 NDAA was approved by the Senate by a vote of 84-13 days after the House approved the same version of the annual defense funding bill. 

The clause establishing the position of a Senate-confirmed national cyber director within the Executive Office of the President was not included in the original 2021 NDAA approved by the Senate earlier this year, but was added during negotiations with the House. 

The position would reestablish and elevate the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator position that was eliminated by former national security advisor John BoltonJohn BoltonDefense policy bill would create new cyber czar position Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows – Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday MORE in 2018. 

A coalition of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate worked together to ensure the clause creating the position was included in the NDAA, with the new position responsible for coordinating cybersecurity policy across the federal government. 

Read more here


TWITTER’S NEW SQUAD: Twitter acquired a startup app called Squad that allowed users to connect virtually through video chats and screen sharing, the companies announced Friday. 

Squad will shut down on Saturday as part of the deal, and the app’s co-founders, CEO Esther Crawford and Chief Technology Officer Ethan Sutin, will join Twitter, Twitter’s Vice President of Product Ilya Brown said in a series of tweets. 

“Excited to share that the @squad team is joining @Twitter to help us bring new ways for people to interact, express themselves, and join in the public conversation,” Brown tweeted. 

“Squad’s talented team led by @esthercrawford and @EthanSutin bring a deep understanding of how people participate in interactive audio and video conversations – an important pillar in the spectrum of conversations we’re looking to serve on Twitter,” Brown added. 

Read more here.


ICYMI: DEMOCRATS PUSH BIDEN TO COMBAT ‘INFODEMIC’: Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden and Harris named Time’s 2020 ‘Person of the Year’ US to sanction Turkey over Russian defense system: report Federal government executes Brandon Bernard despite last-minute appeals MORE to take immediate steps after taking office to combat the “infodemic” of disinformation and misinformation surrounding COVID-19.

“Understanding and addressing misinformation – and the wider phenomena of declining public trust in institutions, political polarization, networked social movements, and online information environments that create fertile grounds for the spread of falsehoods – is a critical part of our nation’s public health response,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden.

They pointed to concerns around emerging COVID-19 vaccines leading to a further spike in online disinformation and misinformation, noting their worry that such content would lead to fewer Americans getting vaccinated.

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooDemocrats urge Biden to address ‘infodemic’ of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation How to expand rural broadband, fast and affordably Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close MORE (Calif.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health. Others Democrats who signed were Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats urge Biden to address ‘infodemic’ of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation Add 0 billion to the next stimulus package — at zero cost to taxpayers Relief talks show GOP divisions MORE (Va.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats urge Biden to address ‘infodemic’ of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation Counterterrorism — at home and abroad — will be renewed under Biden Major cybersecurity firm says it was hacked in sophisticated nation-state attack MORE (Calif.), Senate Rules Committee ranking member Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats urge Biden to address ‘infodemic’ of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation Durbin’s fate unclear after rule change vote sparks disarray 46 states and FTC file antitrust lawsuits against Facebook MORE (Minn.) and Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyDemocrats urge Biden to address ‘infodemic’ of COVID-19 disinformation, misinformation Hillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials ‘undermining democracy’ Schakowsky to introduce bill to limit reach of tech liability shield MORE, chair of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection and commerce.

“The COVID-19 infodemic is about to dangerously intersect with a misinformation-laden anti-vaccine movement that has led to tragic consequences in our country,” the lawmakers wrote.

To combat that threat, the lawmakers urged Biden to appoint Joan Donovan — research director at the Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy — to serve as a misinformation expert on his COVID-19 task force.

Read more here.

Lighter click: Simpler times

An op-ed to chew on: A step forward in reforming a global banking system that harbors criminals


After The US Election, Key People Are Leaving Facebook And Torching The Company In Departure Notes (BuzzFeed News / Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman)

The New Influencer Capital of America (New York Times / Taylor Lorenz)

U.S. Schools Are Buying Phone-Hacking Tech That the FBI Used to Investigate Terrorists (Gizmodo / Tom McKay and Dhruv Mehrotra)

Amazon warehouse workers saw injury rates double. Then COVID hit. Inside a hidden safety crisis (Toronto Star / Sara Mojtehedzadeh)

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