#nationalcybersecuritymonth | Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official’s virus disinformation doesn’t violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls

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


IT’S FINE: Misinformation about the coronavirus spread by Chinese government officials does not violate Twitter’s policies, a spokesperson for the company told The Hill Monday.

In particular, tweets from Lijian Zhao, an official spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insinuating that the U.S. military may have spread the coronavirus to Wuhan, China, will remain up.

Twitter’s spokesperson pointed to the company’s position of giving public figures broad exemptions to many of its policies.

“Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” the site reads.

Twitter’s decision not to take down the tweets implying that the disease, which originated in Wuhan, was brought by the U.S. has already drawn criticism.

“When Twitter goes so full Chinese propaganda that they’ve even lost The Daily Beast…” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, wrote, quote-tweeting the outlet that first reported on the exemptions.

Read more here.


ICYMI… DON’T FORGET ABOUT RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfDHS chief: False reports of national shutdown may be part of Russian disinformation campaign Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response US announces travel restrictions with Mexico, citing coronavirus MORE said Sunday that false reports that the U.S. is imposing a national quarantine because of the novel coronavirus are part of a “disinformation campaign” possibly stemming from Russia. 

Speaking on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” Wolf acknowledged that he’s been contacted several times about text messages circulating that say “we’re going to have a national lockdown or a national quarantine.”

“I would just say, that’s absolutely false. It’s not true,” he said. “And it is part of a disinformation campaign.”

“What we know, whether it’s Russia, or whether it’s other cyber actors … [is] they like to sow discord on any controversial issue,” he added. “So, it doesn’t just have to be elections. It can be any issue. And we’re seeing that now with the coronavirus.” 

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from The Hill. 

Dozens of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, its origins and ways to treat it have proliferated in recent months, causing what the World Health Organization has described as an “infodemic.” 

Read more here.


UNDER ATTACK: The World Health Organization (WHO) was unsuccessfully targeted by elite hackers earlier this month in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported Monday.

WHO Chief Information Security Officer Flavio Aggio told Reuters that while the hacking effort was unsuccessful, the WHO has seen a spike in attempted cyberattacks since the coronavirus crisis began. 

“There has been a big increase in targeting of the WHO and other cybersecurity incidents,” Aggio told Reuters. “There are no hard numbers, but such compromise attempts against us and the use of [WHO] impersonations to target others have more than doubled.”

Reuters was tipped off to the attempted hack by Alexander Urbelis, a cybersecurity expert and attorney with Blackstone Law Group, who picked up on a live effort to hack the health agency on March 13. 

The identity of the hackers involved is not known, though according to experts contacted by Reuters, a cyber crime group known as “DarkHotel” is suspected of carrying out the attack. This hacking group has previously targeted officials and business in the U.S., China, Japan and North Korea.  

The WHO did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the story. 

The attempted cyberattack comes after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was targeted in a separate cyberattack earlier this month. HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that the hackers involved were not able to penetrate any networks, and that there was no data breach. 

Read more here.


CORONAVIRUS CALLS: Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats fume over GOP coronavirus bill: ‘Totally inadequate’ Lawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers Overnight Energy: Trump prepares to buy 30M barrels of oil amid industry slump | Coronavirus offers reprieve from air pollution | Energy regulators split on delaying actions amid outbreak MORE (D-Mass.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Coronavirus stimulus package to include expanded unemployment insurance MORE (R-S.D.) sent letters to key federal agencies Monday urging them to do more to combat coronavirus-related robocalls.

The lawmakers referenced a Washington Post report detailing how scammers have taken advantage of the epidemic to pitch fake COVID-19 testing kits or sell nonexistent medical equipment.

“We are particularly concerned by the threat these calls pose to elderly Americans. They are especially vulnerable to robocall scams, and they are among those at the greatest risk from coronavirus,” Markey and Thune wrote in letters to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHave no fear, the general election will move forward House Democrats press Barr to protect inmates from coronavirus Harris pushes for release of low-risk federal prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak MORE

“Robocalls that spread misinformation about cures, peddle ineffective equipment, and offer bogus medical advice have the potential to inflict significant harm on individuals and communities across the country.”

Coronavirus scams are an illustrative example of how robocallers can use crises to target vulnerable populations.

Congress took action on the threat late last year, passing the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, named after Thune and the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

The bill, signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBlame game heats up as Senate motion fails Trump approves disaster declaration for coronavirus in California Why studying persistent post-traumatic headaches in soldiers matter MORE on New Year’s Eve, requires phone companies to block robocalls without charging customers any extra money.

Read more here.


SUPERCOMPUTING TO THE RESCUE: The White House is launching a public-private consortium tasked with harnessing supercomputing resources to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The group will be led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Energy and IBM.

The COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium counts Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google Cloud, MIT and NASA among its members.

Researchers will be able to submit coronavirus research proposals to the consortium, which will then use the 16 systems at its disposal to quickly process calculations and run experiments that otherwise could take years.

“By pooling the supercomputing capacity under a consortium of partners,” IBM Research Director Dario Gil said in a statement, “we can offer extraordinary supercomputing power to scientists, medical researchers and government agencies as they respond to and mitigate this global emergency.

White House Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said in a statement that the consortium fits into the administration’s “whole-of-America” response.

“America is coming together to fight COVID-19, and that means unleashing the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine,” he said.

Read more here.


AT THE SUPREME COURT: The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled against an African American-owned media company that alleged Comcast had racially discriminated against the network when it refused to enter into a contract for its programming. 

Writing for the 9-0 majority, Justice Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchProgressives urge Democrats to hear from federal judge deeply critical of Roberts, conservatives George Conway: Schumer was ‘channeling Trump’ in comments about Supreme Court justices The Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by the APTA — Now it’s Biden vs. Bernie: no endorsement from Warren MORE ruled that federal civil rights lawsuits concerning contracting decisions must show that race was the determining factor behind an injury, not simply part of a company’s motivation not to move forward with a deal.

“Under this standard, a plaintiff must demonstrate that, but for the defendant’s unlawful conduct, it’s alleged injury would not have occurred,” Gorsuch wrote. 

The decision returns the case to a lower federal appeals court to reconsider in light of the stricter standard the justices set on Monday for lawsuits alleging race-based contract discrimination.

Comcast applauded the ruling, saying its decision not to contract with the company, Entertainment Studios Network, was based on legitimate business reasons. But civil rights groups said the opinion would make it harder for racial discrimination suits to survive beyond the initial stage of litigation.

Read more here.


AMAZON OFFERS PAID TIME OFF: Amazon is offering paid time off to delivery employees starting Monday after workers pushed for the benefits for the past few months.

The Chicago-based Amazon employee group DCH1 Amazonians United posted an internal “manager update” that said paid time leave would be offered to “all of our regular part-time and seasonal employees in the United States.” The update was dated Friday.

The manager update indicates that these workers can accrue paid time off retroactively to March 1. 

“We look forward to sharing additional details in the coming week,” the update reads. 

The announcement comes after the company experienced months of pressure after workers realized they didn’t receive the same benefits laid out in the employee handbook. 

The realization launched a campaign for paid time off, starting with a group called Amazonians United Sacramento. More than 4,300 people signed a petition requesting the paid time off.

Amazon had said the employees did not receive the paid time off because they were part-time employees but reversed the policy as the company deals with increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic. The company said its choice was not in response to employee activist groups.

Read more here.


TAKE THEM ALL: Apple’s two-device limit for iPhone purchases online has been dropped, Reuters reported Monday. 

Online store drop-down menus in territories across the globe, including the U.S., Hong Kong and mainland China, now allow customers to buy more than 10 devices, according to Reuters. 

The limit had been imposed amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to Reuters. The spread of the virus has hit supply chains around the world.

Limits are still in place for some iPad and MacBook models, according to the news wire. 

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Protect him at all costs


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: How to triage US industries in the economic emergency room



Big Tech Could Emerge From Coronavirus Crisis Stronger Than Ever (New York Times / Daisuke Wakabayashi, Jack Nicas, Steve Lohr and Mike Isaac)

Congress faces the prospect of tele-legislating (FCW / Derek Johnson) 

There’s no better time for cities to take space away from cars (Verge / Andrew J. Hawkins) 

Can Amazon handle the coronavirus pressure? (Protocol / JP Mangalindan)

The Move to Online College is Hitting Adjunct Professors the Hardest (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley and Aaron Gordon)

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