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Hillicon Valley — Iranians indicted in hacking scheme

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U.S. agencies announced on Wednesday a number of enforcement actions taken against Iran, including a DOJ indictment of three Iranian nationals accused of hacking hundreds of organizations in the U.S.

Meanwhile, California made moves in the tech world with Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signing a social media transparency law and the state attorney general filing an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon.

This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca Klar and Ines Kagubare. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

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DOJ charges Iranian hackers

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday unsealed an indictment of three Iranian nationals alleged to have hacked hundreds of computer systems of organizations in the U.S. and around the world.

U.S. officials accused the defendants of exfiltrating data from the organizations’ computer systems and attempting to extort money from them by either threatening to release the stolen data or keeping the data encrypted unless the hackers were paid.

The hackers allegedly demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom payments, which some victims paid to regain access to their data, a senior DOJ official said during a background call on Wednesday.

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  • State Department’s reward: The DOJ indictment coincided with the State Department’s announcement that it will offer a reward of up to $10 million for information on the three defendants charged in this case. 

  • Treasury’s sanctions: In a related enforcement action, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Wednesday on two entities and
    10 individuals, including the three defendants the DOJ charged, for participating in malicious cyber activities.

Read more here.

California sues Amazon over competition

California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) sued Amazon Wednesday, alleging the e-commerce giant has stifled competition in a way that’s increased prices for California consumers.

The lawsuit alleges that Amazon requires merchants to enter into agreements that penalize them if their products are offered for a lower price for sale off Amazon, leading to higher prices for consumers.

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“Amazon makes consumers think they are getting the lowest prices possible, when in fact, they cannot get the low prices that would prevail in a freely competitive market because Amazon has coerced and induced its third-party sellers and wholesale suppliers to enter into anticompetitive agreements on price,” California alleges in the complaint.

Amazon’s response: An Amazon spokesperson denied the allegations of anticompetitive behavior, referencing the same argument the company made in a case brought by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine (D) that was dismissed earlier this year.

“The California Attorney General has it exactly backwards. Sellers set their own prices for the products they offer in our store. Amazon takes pride in the fact that we offer low prices across the broadest selection, and like any store we reserve the right not to highlight offers to customers that are not priced competitively,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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Read more here.

CALIFORNIA’S NEW TRANSPARENCY LAW

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law a social media transparency measure that he says protects residents from hate and disinformation posts spread through social media platforms.

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A.B. 587 will require social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment and extremism on their platforms and report data on their enforcement of the policies.

The newly signed legislation will also require platforms to file semiannual reports to the state’s attorney general’s office that will disclose their policies on hate speech, extremism and disinformation.

The state’s attorney general’s office is also required “to make all terms of service reports submitted pursuant to those provisions available to the public in a searchable repository on its official internet website.”

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Read more here.

GOOGLE MUST FACE (MOST OF) TEXAS-LED CASE

Google will have to face most of the Texas-led antitrust case over the tech giant’s ad dominance, a judge ruled Tuesday.

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U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel ruled against Google’s motion to dismiss the case filed by 16 states and Puerto Rico, though he did toss one count alleging Google and Facebook colluded on an advertising agreement.

“Here, the court is absolutely right to reject Google’s attempt to throw out our case. We look forward to a jury hearing how this Big Tech giant abused its monopoly power by harming consumers to reap billions in monopoly profits. This is a major step in the right direction to make our free market truly free,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said in a statement.

  • Google touted the judge’s decision to strike down the portion of the case aimed at the advertising deal with Meta, Facebook’s parent company.  

  • “Today’s decision underscores how AG Paxton’s case is deeply flawed,” Google said in a blog post. “As we’ve long said, advertising technology is a fiercely competitive industry — and our products increase choice for publishers, advertisers and consumers while enabling small businesses to affordably find new customers. We look forward to setting the record straight about the remaining claims.”

Read more here.

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BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: Albania’s example to the United States — and the world

Notable links from around the web:

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New California law likely to set off fight over social media moderation (The Washington Post / Cat Zakrzewski)

Twitter, Mudge and survival of the quittest (CyberScoop / Gavin Wilde)

Text Messaging Is Cool. But Where Are Its Boundaries? (The New York Times / Brian Chen)

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📍 Lighter click: Don’t ask me for directions

One more thing: Google pushed on anti-abortion ads

A coalition of more than 100 medical providers and advocacy groups asked Google to stop accepting ads from anti-abortion clinics and crisis pregnancy centers in a letter sent to the tech giant Wednesday.

The letter, led by women’s rights group UltraViolet, urges Google to ban ads from anti-abortion centers in order to help mitigate efforts to “mislead, harm, and misdirect people away from reproductive health and abortion care,” according to a copy of the letter shared with The Hill.

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“Allowing anti-abortion centers to place ads on your platforms that steers unsuspecting people into the hands of those who will deny them care is unethical. The best way to prevent this is to remove and ban intentionally misleading advertisements sponsored by anti-abortion clinics and centers, especially crisis pregnancy centers,” they wrote.

Read more here.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Technology and Cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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