Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: FBI, DHS to accuse China of hacking virus researchers | Warren warns of COVID-19 threats to elections | Musk reopening California Tesla factory against state orders

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter here.

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

ALERT INCOMING: The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are planning to accuse China of trying to hack U.S. research on the coronavirus, according to multiple reports.

The public warning is likely to be issued in coming days, officials told The New York Times, which first reported on the warning Sunday. 

A draft claims China is seeking “valuable intellectual property and public health data through illicit means related to vaccines, treatments and testing,” according to the Times.

The warning was not finalized and plans around its release could change, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.  

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday that Beijing opposes all forms of cyberattacks, the Journal noted. 

“China is leading in the research of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment. It is immoral for anyone to engage in rumor-mongering without presenting any evidence,” he said in a briefing. 

The Trump administration has accused Beijing of stealing intellectual property in the past, and the expected accusation regarding attempted hacks of coronavirus research could lead to increased tensions between the U.S. and China. 

Trump administration officials have already criticized China for its handling of the outbreak, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan.

Read more about the upcoming DHS and FBI warning here.


ELECTIONS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday warned that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to “free and fair elections,” as experts caution that states are running out of time to prepare to hold elections during the crisis. 

“Coronavirus poses a threat to free and fair elections. But we can fix that,” Warren tweeted. “We need vote by mail. We need online and same-day registration. We need early voting and extended voting hours. We need real money for governments to administer elections safely.”

Warren voiced her concerns in response to a New York Times Magazine report that explored the question of whether Americans could be disenfranchised by the pandemic. The article highlighted the recent Wisconsin primaries, when residents were forced to vote in-person over Democratic objections. Dozens of coronavirus cases tied to the vote have been reported in the weeks since. 

Warren released a plan on the day of the Wisconsin primary on how to secure voting during COVID-19, advocating for states to send an absentee ballot to every eligible American voter, and for Congress to give $4 billion to states for elections. 

“The task of protecting our democracy has never been more vital,” Warren wrote in the plan. “Congress must act to protect our upcoming elections, keep voters and poll workers safe, and safeguard our electoral institutions for the long haul.”

The question of how to safely and securely hold elections during the COVID-19 crisis has become heated in recent weeks, as Democrats and voting rights groups have pushed hard for Congress to allocate funding for mail-in voting in future stimulus packages. 

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Chris Coons (Del.) have led the fight for funding in the Senate, with other supporters including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former first lady Michelle Obama

Congress already appropriated $400 million in election funds as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March. The funds came with a clause that required a 20 percent state match, an issue states on the verge of bankruptcy have objected to. A bill introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) on Monday would waive the matching funds requirement. 

Read more about election concerns here.


TESLA VS. CALIFORNIA: Elon Musk on Monday announced his intentions to reopen a Tesla plant in California in defiance of state orders, inviting authorities to arrest him for doing so.

“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” the electric vehicle company’s CEO tweeted.

“I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Monday’s announcement is a marked escalation from Musk, who has criticized stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory has been shut down since March 23, shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

The car manufacturer has since been pushing for an exception allowing the plant to reopen.

Alameda County officials have said they were negotiating with Tesla for a reopening plan.

Read more about the new plans here.


TWITTER TAKES ACTION: Twitter will begin placing labels on posts containing misleading information about the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced Monday.

Labels, like the ones the company began applying to manipulated media earlier this year, will appear on tweets with “potentially harmful, misleading information” related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The label will include a link to a page curated by Twitter or a vetted outside source with information about the claims made in the initial post.

Posts may be removed if they contain information that could be particularly harmful, the company said.

Read more about the changes here.


HACKERS HIT THE LONE STAR STATE: The information technology office supporting the Texas judicial system has been hit by a ransomware attack that took down websites and interrupted legal proceedings. 

The Office of Court Administration (OCA), which provides IT support to the appellate courts and state judicial agencies within the Texas Judicial Branch, announced Monday that it had tracked and stopped a ransomware attack from spreading that locked up websites for key Texas judicial organizations. 

All Texas courts’ websites were taken offline by the attack, including the website of the Texas Supreme Court, which was forced to issue opinions through Dropbox on Friday. The attack did not impact emails for the court system. 

The OCA said in a statement that, as of Monday, there was no evidence that any sensitive information was compromised by the hack and that online networks used by trial courts during the COVID-19 pandemic were unaffected. 

The agency said it was working with law enforcement, including the Texas Department of Information Resources, to investigate the attack and vowed not to pay the ransom demanded by the attackers. The OCA’s website was knocked offline, and the agency has established a separate temporary site. 

“Work continues to bring all judicial branch resources and entities back online,” the OCA wrote in its statement. 

Read more about the attack here.


PRISON RELIEF FUNDS: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is giving $10 million to the Reform Alliance that will be used to deliver protective equipment and coronavirus relief aid to prisons and jails across the U.S.

The Reform Alliance, which was founded by rappers Meek Mill and Jay-Z and is currently run by Van Jones, has been pushing lawmakers to reduce incarcerations during the pandemic, warning that jails and prisons have become hot spots for the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m grateful REFORM exists,” Dorsey said. “The criminal justice system needs to change. COVID-19 adds to the injustices, and REFORM is best suited to help.” 

Dorsey has pledged $1 billion of his fortune to funding a global coronavirus relief effort using the hashtag #startsmall.

The Reform Alliance said it will use the money to purchase and deliver more than 10 million masks and other personal protective equipment to prisons in all 50 states for use by incarcerated individuals, correctional officers and other personnel working in the criminal justice system.

The group says that of the top 10 COVID-19 hot spots in the U.S., eight are linked to prisons and jails, including one at the Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio, where more than 80 percent of the population — about 2,200 inmates — have been infected. 

Read more about the funding here.


GRADUATION HACKED: An Oklahoma City University (OCU) virtual graduation was hacked Saturday, with a racial slur and swastika appearing onscreen during the event held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The interruption came as images of students were being displayed and student Jay Williams was giving a blessing, an Oklahoma City CNN affiliate reported.

“We are heartbroken and outraged at the hate-filled attack that occurred at the end of our virtual graduation celebration today. During a time that should have been focused on recognizing our graduating students, an unknown source was able to bypass the system and display racist and offensive language. I want to be clear, OCU stands against racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism,” school President Martha Burger said in a statement.

“I cannot remove this pain and hurt, but I want you to know, that at OCU, we will continue to pursue the values that define us — values of integrity, respect, diversity and inclusion, and collaboration. We will work together to ensure that love, not hate, prevails,” Burger added, reproducing the blessing Williams had been given when he was interrupted: “Where there is injustice, may we not be silent. Where there is harm, may we be makers of peace. Where there is hate, may we be agents of love.”

Read more about the incident here.


IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE: Former Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt said workplaces will have to make accommodations for social distancing practices as they reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Schmidt said “a lot” of jobs will continue to exist, but will “operate in different ways.”  

“We’re going to have to reimagine how the workplace works. We’re going to have to figure out how to get people into buildings that they’re fearful of,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” 

Schmidt expects there will be a higher demand for office space, as people will want more space for social distancing. 

Workplaces will also have to think about “hub and spoke systems” that would allow local people to limit traveling far to avoid public transit systems, he said. 

Read more about Schmidt’s comments here.


Lighter click: The more you know

An op-ed to chew on: The internet isn’t broken but inequalities need to be fixed


Microsoft’s secret ally against Amazon in cloud deal: Oracle (The Information / Christopher Stern)

Virus conspiracists elevate a new champion (New York Times / Davey Alba)

Some of the world’s best cloud talent is assembling in an unlikely place: Apple (Protocol / Tom Krazit)

Opportunists are preying on Instacart shoppers as bots ramp up on the Platform (Motherboard / Joseph Cox)

Tags Amazon Amy Klobuchar Apple Chris Coons Coronavirus Elizabeth Warren Elon Musk Gavin Newsom Google Instacart Joe Neguse Michelle Obama Microsoft Nancy Pelosi Oracle Ron Wyden Tesla The New York Times Twitter

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