Daily Digest (11/2)

Russian Hackers Target Democratic Groups in Calif., Ind.; Calif. Officials Blame Google Over Biased Excerpts of Ballot Initiatives; Facebook Halts Political Group Recommendations Before Election; Instagram to Crack Down on Misinformation Ahead of Election; Hacker Releases Ga. Election Data After Officials Refuse to Make Ransom Payment.

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Russian Hackers Target Democratic Groups in Calif., Ind.

The Russian hackers who were accused of disrupting the 2016 U.S. presidential election have gone after Democratic groups in California and Indiana by targeting email accounts, Reuters reports.

Hackers have also been accused of targeting think tanks in Washington and New York, according to people familiar with the matter who talked to Reuters.

Many of the intrusion attempts were flagged by Microsoft over the summer, which provided insight on how Russian intelligence would be targeting the U.S. in the run-up to Tuesday.

Targets for the hacking campaigns included the Center for American Progress, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, according to the report.

Microsoft declined to comment on the subject, but the organizations told Reuters no evidence existed to suggest the hackers had successfully accessed any information.

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Calif. Officials Blame Google Over Biased Excerpts of Ballot Initiatives

California officials bashed Google’s algorithm last week, accusing it of giving voters a skewed look at ballot initiatives because of biased excerpts that appeared in the state’s official election guide.

Two of the 12 California ballot proposals contained campaign arguments, rather than neutral “snippets,” former cybersecurity expert Tom Kemp told Politico.

He added that the ballots could sway voters in Tuesday’s election, saying that the tech giant’s algorithms can turn neutral sources into biased ones.

The California Secretary of State’s Office confirmed Friday that the issue was resolved after they were informed of the biased excerpts, according to Politico.

But critics charged that the changes came just days before the election — after 40% of Californian voters returned their mail-in ballots.

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Facebook Halts Political Group Recommendations Before Election

Facebook said Friday that it would temporarily suspend recommendations for all political groups as the U.S. presidential election neared.

Several watchdogs and advocacy organizations pushed the company to limit algorithmic group recommendations, arguing that some groups spread political misinformation, Reuters reports.

“We have taken the steps to stop recommendations in groups for all political content or social issue groups as a precaution,” Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.

During the run-up to Tuesday’s election, many social media platforms have been restricting political advertisements and posts by conspiracy theorist groups, according to Reuters.

“We will assess when to lift them afterwards, but they are temporary,” a Facebook spokeswoman told Reuters.

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Instagram to Crack Down on Misinformation Ahead of Election

Instagram said it would temporarily eliminate user’s ability to view certain hashtags before Tuesday’s election.

The Facebook-owned company said Thursday that it would remove the “recent” tab from its hashtags page, The New York Times reports. 

Users now can only see specific hashtags that have been checked for harmful election-related content, according to the Times.

Nina Jankowicz, an analyst for the Wilson Center in Washington, said Instagram’s change was “rather late” in the fight against harmful political content.

“I hope in the future the social media platforms recognize that elections are an inflection point in disinformation campaigns, not an end point,” she told the Times.

“A decision like this earlier in the cycle might have lessened the spread of voting misinformation.” 

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Hacker Releases Ga. Election Data After Officials Refuse to Make Ransom Payment

A hacker who breached data systems in Hall County, Ga., released election-related files after the county declined to pay in a ransomware attack.

The hacker posted “time to pay is over” on its website, heightening concerns about the security of voting from cyberattacks, The Wall Street Journal reports.

While election data was released, officials said the hacker’s disruption would not harm other Georgia election voting systems, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“There is no connective tissue between those things, so I want to put everyone’s mind at ease on that,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting-system manager, told the newspaper.

Hackers hindered the county’s ability to verify voter signatures on ballots, but Sterling assured residents that their votes casted through ballot machines would not be affected.

“They were just targeting anywhere where they could get in,” he said. “It never touched the state system.”

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— By DPN Staff