Daily Digest (5/29)

NSA Warns of Continued Russian Hacking of US Systems; Legal Experts Say Executive Order Affecting Social Media Has No Standing; Ariz. AG Sues Google, Alleging Fraudulent Collection of Location Data; US Probing Israeli Private Intelligence Firm. Click “Continue reading” below.

NSA Warns of Continued Russian Hacking of US Systems

The National Security Agency warned government partners and private companies Thursday about a Russian hacking campaign that uses a special intrusion technique to target operating systems often used by industrial firms to manage computer infrastructure.

“This is a vulnerability that is being actively exploited, that’s why we’re bringing this notification out,” Doug Cress, chief of the cybersecurity collaboration center and directorate at the NSA, told Reuters. “We really want … the broader cybersecurity community to take this seriously.”

Cress declined to discuss which business sectors had been most affected, how many organizations were compromised using the Russian technique, or whether the cyber espionage operation targeted a specific geographic region.

The agency said the hacking activity was tied directly to a specific unit within Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, also known as the GRU, named the Main Center for Special Technologies.

The cybersecurity research community refers to this hacking group as “Sandworm,” and has connected it to disruptive cyberattacks against Ukrainian electric production operations.

“Being able to gain root access to a bridge point into a network gives you so much ability and capability to read email, to navigate across and maneuver through the network,” Cress told Reuters, “so it’s more about the danger we’re trying to help people understand.” 

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Legal Experts Say Executive Order Affecting Social Media Has No Standing

Legal experts said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s executive order reviewing a law that has long protected Twitter, Facebook and other internet companies would unlikely survive legal scrutiny.

First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told Reuters: “In terms of presidential efforts to limit critical commentary about themselves, I think one would have to go back to the Sedition Act of 1798 — which made it illegal to say false things about the president and certain other public officials — to find an attack supposedly rooted in law by a president on any entity which comments or prints comments about public issues and public people.”

Jack Balkin, a Yale University constitutional law professor said that “the president is trying to frighten, coerce, scare, cajole social media companies to leave him alone and not do what Twitter has just done to him.”

Trump signed the executive order Thursday, seeking to direct changes to long-established interpretations of Section 230. The directive was proposed after Trump attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

Under the order, independent rule-making agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, would study whether they can place new regulations on internet companies — though experts doubted whether much could be done without an act of Congress.

Late Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, according to The Associated Press, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News Thursday that his platform has “a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this.”

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said, AP reports.

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Ariz. AG Sues Google, Alleging Fraudulent Collection of Location Data

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued Google in a county court on Wednesday, alleging that the company fraudulently tracked users’ locations to sell more advertising and deceived people to think the location tracking was turned off when it was not.

The case, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, seeks to force Google to “disgorge” all profits it had earned by fraudulently tracking user location, make restitution and pay a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each time it violated fraud statutes, AZCentral.com reports.

“Google makes it impractical if not impossible for users to meaningfully opt-out of Google’s collection of location information, should the users seek to do so,” Brnovich’s complaint states.

“The tactics Google deploys to surveil its users’ locations — including users in Arizona — include willfully deceptive and unfair acts and practices within the meaning of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act.”

In response, Google said Wednesday that it gave users control over location data.

“The attorney general and the contingency-fee lawyers filing this lawsuit appear to have mischaracterized our services,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told AZCentral. “We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data.

“We look forward to setting the record straight.”

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. based in Mountain View, California, reported that last year Google’s advertising brought in $134.8 billion in revenue, or about 83% of the company’s total revenue stream.

Several pages of the 48-page complaint and 140 pages of exhibits were redacted from public view, AZCentral reports.

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US Probing Israeli Private Intelligence Firm

A California district attorney’s office is investigating possible charges against an Israeli businessman, Yorai Benzeevi, and his associates for hiring the Israeli intelligence company Psy Group to intervene in a 2017 local hospital board election.

Citing “multiple sources directly involved,” Forensic News reports that Psy Group itself also is under criminal investigation — and charges could be filed within weeks.

The news is the result of a seven-month investigation into Psy Group, whose operation is in Tulare, Calif.

The covert Psy Group campaign, first revealed by the New Yorker, launched a multitude of criminal investigations handled by the Tulare District Attorney’s Office and the FBI.

To date, more than 50 search warrants have been executed, Forensic News reports.

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— By DPN Staff