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Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Former 2020 contenders take lead on slamming Trump over disinformation

By Joseph Marks

PowerPost Analysis
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events

With Tonya Riley.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pose for a selfie. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Former contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are taking the lead on pummeling the Trump administration over disinformation. 
In the past few days, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led a letter from 18 Senate Democrats slamming the Department of Veterans Affairs for not doing enough to protect veterans from online disinformation as the 2020 election approaches. And Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) savaged Facebook for being too slow to take down a deceptive Trump campaign ad that posed as materials for the decennial census.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is also piggybacking on news about Russian online disinformation efforts in a renewed push to pass a bill to tighten rules on political advertising online. The  Honest Ads Act has been stalled largely by opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Fact: Russia interfered in our elections and invaded our democracy -- and now they’re trying to do it again.
We need to pass my Honest Ads Act and protect our democracy.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) March 8, 2020
The efforts show one substantial way the Democrats are keeping up a unified front against President Trump even after exiting the race. 
They also come as government officials and analysts are warning about a surge in disinformation campaigns connected with coronavirus and linked to Russia, and as a new study from New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering shows that Facebook’s protections may not be sufficient to prevent sophisticated new breeds of disinformation related to the 2020 election, as my colleagues Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker report.
The efforts also come as the Trump campaign itself has promoted phony information online. Both Trump and White House social media director Dan Scavino tweeted a dishonestly edited video altered to make a verbal stumble by former vice president Joe Biden look worse than it was and to make it look as if he accidentally endorsed Trump, as my colleague Cat Zakrzewski reported.
“It's not surprising that Trump's reelection campaign is resorting to more disinformation about the vice president,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates told CNN.
Klobuchar and Harris have been fierce advocates for making elections more secure against hacking and tamping down on misinformation from U.S. adversaries. The Warren campaign, meanwhile, last year released a lengthy blog post outlining an elaborate plan to fight digital disinformation as well as a $20 billion plan for election security.
Nevertheless, those issues generally took a back seat during the campaign to hotter political topics such as health care and climate change.
The letter led by Warren slammed VA for not being able to provide a single example of how it’s helping to protect veterans against disinformation operations from Russia, China and elsewhere in response to a previous inquiry from the senators. 
“With less than eight months until the next federal election, VA’s vague and wholly inadequate response… is deeply disturbing,” the letter states. It was also signed by Klobuchar and Harris as well as by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who dropped out of the presidential contest last year, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who is still running.
The letter follows a two-year investigation by the Vietnam Veterans of America that “documented persistent, pervasive, and coordinated online targeting of American service members, veterans and their families by foreign entities who seek to disrupt American democracy.”
Harris’s letter to Facebook came after other top Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had already sharply criticized the social media company for allowing the census-themed Trump ads, which urged Facebook users to “take the official 2020 Congressional District Census today.” When users clicked through the link in the ad they reached a Trump fundraising page, as my colleagues Craig Timberg and Tara Bahrampour reported.
Facebook's “failure to enforce your policies banning misinformation” are “shocking,” Harris said, and said they “cast doubts about your company’s commitment to a complete and accurate Census.”
There is simply no excuse for @Facebook approving thousands of Trump campaign ads that misled users and spread misinformation related to the Census.
I've sent a letter to Facebook demanding answers and accountability.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) March 6, 2020

Former vice president Joe Biden. (Charles Krupa/AP)
PINGED: Twitter took the unprecedented step of labeling tweets that included that phony Biden video as manipulated media yesterday, Cat reported. It's the first time the company has used the label since announcing its new policy on doctored videos and similar content last month – and it signals that even the president and his staff aren't above reproach under the new policy.
Twitter applied the label to a version of the doctored video tweeted by White House social media director Dan Scavino last night after it had already received about 5 million views and been retweeted about 21,000 times – including by Trump himself. 
“It’s rare for Twitter to take action against tweets shared by Trump, even though there have previously been complaints that the president’s tweets violate the company’s policy,” Cat writes. “Twitter has previously taken action against the president’s tweets for copyright violations.”
The label did not immediately show up when people searched for Scavino’s tweet, though Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough told Cat it was appearing in individuals’ timelines and the company was working on a fix. The White House and the Biden campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Twitter has suggested it will penalize repeat offenders of the new policy, though it's unclear how many strikes would be needed for the social media platform to take action against a user.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a campaign rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sunday. (Paul Sancya/AP)
PATCHED: The Sanders campaign has tapped email security firm Agari to help it ward off a repeat of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign hack, the Wall Street Journal's Alexa Corse reports. The added protection comes as hacking threats intensify for Sanders and Biden, who appear to be in a two-person race for the nomination.  
Sanders's campaign has repeatedly declined to discuss its cybersecurity protections, but federal campaign finance filings show it also has contracts with the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. 
The 2016 Clinton hack is still top of mind for Democrats in 2020, Armen Najarian, Agari’s chief marketing and chief identity officer, told Alexa. “I think that’s adding to the anxiety that there’s not enough being done across the board to prevent an attack like that again,” he said. 
Biden's campaign is also trying to protect against hacking including by training staff to spot email phishing attempts and mandating extra security procedures before they log into accounts, as we previously reported.

U.S. Treasury Department building. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
PWNED: President Trump ordered a Chinese company to sell off its ownership stake in a U.S. hotel-software firm, citing national security concerns, my colleague Jeanne Whalen reported. The rare order signals the Trump administration is expanding the scope of its crackdown on potential Chinese threats to Americans' data.  
The White House order cites “credible evidence” that the Chinese company “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States. It follows a review by a government committee tasked with assessing foreign acquisitions for national security concerns. The order mandates that the Chinese company Beijing Shiji Information Technology immediately stop accessing any hotel guest data from the U.S. software firm StayNTouch and divest its ownership stake within 120 days. 
Shiji said in an email that it doesn't access any hotel guest data. “We believe President Trump’s decision was incorrect, the company wrote. Shiji is not a threat to U.S. security in any way."


Cybersecurity news from the public sector:

GAO says Homeland Security agency is not well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing election infrastructure
Joe Davidson

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's former top watchdog, tasked with...

Government-backed groups are exploiting CVE-2020-0688 to take over Exchange email servers.

Revisions to Washington, D.C.’s, 2007 breach-notification add more categories of protected personal data and new powers for the city’s attorney general to investigate breaches.


Cybersecurity news from the private sector:

Secret labs. Magic cures. Government plots. Despite efforts by social media companies to stop it, false information about the coronavirus is proliferating around the world.
The New York Times

The owner had a June 2020 deadline to sell Grindr.
The Verge

Technology companies are pushing for laws that would restrict use of facial-recognition systems—and head off the outright bans some cities and states are moving toward.
Wall Street Journal

Some conferences have canceled, some have postponed the event, while others have gone virtual.


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