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Hillicon Valley: Microsoft warns Russian, North Korean hackers targeting groups researching COVID-19 vaccines | Parler’s post-election popularity sparks misinformation concerns | Administration grants 15-day extension on TikTok divestiture deadline

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

RUSSIANS AND NORTH KOREANS AT IT AGAIN: Microsoft warned Friday that it has witnessed efforts by Russian and North Korean hacking groups to target pharmaceutical companies and coronavirus vaccine researchers.

The announcement is part of a wider effort by the company to take action against these attacks. 

“In recent months, we’ve detected cyberattacks from three nation-state actors targeting seven prominent companies directly involved in researching vaccines and treatments for Covid-19,” Tom Burt, the corporate vice president of customer security and trust at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post.

“The targets include leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States.”

Burt wrote that the three advanced persistent threat groups involved were a Russian group known as “Strontium” and two North Korean groups known as “Zinc” and “Cerium.”

Strontium, also known as “Fancy Bear,” is the same group that hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s networks ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

Microsoft warned in September that Russia, China and Iran were targeting the 2020 U.S. elections, and noted that the Strontium hacking group had targeted more than 200 organizations, political campaigns and parties over the past year as part of this effort.

Burt noted that most of the groups targeted by the hacking groups were “vaccine makers that have Covid-19 vaccines in various stages of clinical trials.”

“One is a clinical research organization involved in trials, and one has developed a Covid-19 test,” Burt wrote. “Multiple organizations targeted have contracts with or investments from government agencies from various democratic countries for Covid-19 related work.”

Read more here.

 

PARLER PROBLEM: The rising popularity of alternative social media app Parler is raising concerns over the spread of misinformation and potential for radicalizing users on a platform that’s taken a hands-off approach to regulating content.

The app has been boosted by conservatives, surging since Election Day, as Republicans amp up allegations of anti-conservative bias from social media giants Twitter and Facebook, which have clamped down on pro-Trump election misinformation.

Experts warn that a total lack of content moderation could prove harmful beyond creating political echo chambers and further spreading conspiracy theories.

“Anytime you take a laissez faire approach to moderation — you say, ‘anything goes’ right up until actual threats of real world violence — that creates a huge space for some really problematic things to happen,” said Bret Schafer, a fellow focusing on disinformation at the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Founded in 2018, Parler describes itself as “committed to free speech” and boasts that it “does not censor content based on politics or ideology.” 

The company has criticized Facebook and Twitter over their approaches to moderating content, with Parler’s rhetoric largely echoing that of Republican lawmakers who have accused social media giants of silencing conservative voices and points of view.

While Facebook and Twitter said in the lead-up to the election that they would label content that prematurely declares victory, Parler released a memo detailing plans to “host unfiltered content during the 2020 election season.”

“Can we now move everybody from Twitter to Parler?” Fox News host Sean Hannity said on air earlier this week. “Can we just make the shift together? Just say, ‘goodbye, Twitter. See ya at Jack [Dorsey]. Nice try.’ ”

Read more here.

 

TIKTOK GETS (ANOTHER) REPRIEVE: The Trump administration has granted a 15-day extension to its order calling for Beijing-owned ByteDance to divest the popular video-sharing app TikTok. 

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) granted the extension on Friday, pushing the new deadline to Nov. 27, lawyers representing TikTok said in a court filing. The divestment order was set to take effect Thursday at midnight before the extension. 

The development comes days after TikTok filed a petition asking the court to extend the deadline by 30 days, arguing it was necessary since the company had yet to hear a final decision about a proposed deal President Trump tentatively approved in September. 

The proposal would establish a U.S.-headquartered TikTok Global with partial U.S.-based owners, Oracle and Walmart. 

Trump signed an executive order in August calling for ByteDance to sell the app to an American company or have the app banned in the U.S. 

The executive order targeting TikTok alleged the company posed a threat to national security. TikTok has denied such allegations. 

Read more here.

 

ZUCKERBERG PUNCHES BACK: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended his decision not to remove Steve Bannon from the platform following his suspension from Twitter.

At an all-staff meeting, Zuckerberg said that Bannon was not removed after calling for the beheading of two U.S. officials because he had not violated enough of the company’s policies, according to a recording of the meeting heard by Reuters.

“We have specific rules around how many times you need to violate certain policies before we will deactivate your account completely,” Zuckerberg said, according to the news outlet. “While the offenses here, I think, came close to crossing that line, they clearly did not cross the line.”

In a video posted to his social media, Bannon called for FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci‘s heads to be on pikes.

After the video, Twitter suspended Bannon’s account over violating the platform’s policy on the “glorification of violence.” The video was removed from Facebook, but his page is still active. 

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told Reuters that the company would take additional action against Bannon “if there are additional violations.” 

Read more here.

 

Lighter click: We can’t all be overachievers

An op-ed to chew on: Women in national security have chance to shine under Joe Biden

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

TikTok is luring Facebook moderators to fill new trust and safety hubs (CNBC / Sam Shead)

Biden Has a Plan to Tackle Online Harassment. What Does It Actually Say? (Motherboard / Samantha Cole)

Biden considers Angus King for top intelligence post (Politico / Natasha Bertrand and Lara Seligman) 

How Biden’s FCC could fix America’s internet (Recode / Sara Morrison)

DoorDash Faces Its Latest Challenge: Wooing Wall Street (New York Times / Erin Griffith)

Tags Angus King Anthony Fauci Christopher Wray Donald Trump Hillicon Valley Joe Biden Mark Zuckerberg Sean Hannity Steve Bannon

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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