Hillicon Valley: Facebook to resume some political donations | Microsoft says Russian hackers utilized email system used by USAID to target other groups | Senate confirms Biden’s top scientist

Hillicon Valley: Facebook to resume some political donations | Microsoft says Russian hackers utilized email system used by USAID to target other groups | Senate confirms Biden’s top scientist

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 don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter by clicking HERE. 

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

Facebook said it’s resuming political donations after pausing in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, but will keep the ban in place for Republicans who voted against certifying the results of the election. Meanwhile, Microsoft said Russian hackers utilized an email system used by the State Department to target other organizations, and the Senate confirmed President BidenJoe BidenPaul Ryan: Voters won’t be impressed by ‘yes-men and flatterers flocking to Mar-a-Lago’ Intelligence told White House they have unexamined evidence on coronavirus origins: report Milley says U.S. planning for potential evacuation of Afghan translators from region MORE’s top scientist after he faced pushback over some controversial comments and past meetings.


BACK ON: Facebook will resume its political donations after more than a four-month pause but will keep the ban in place for members of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the election in the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol, according to a Facebook spokesperson. 

Facebook’s public policy director, Brian Rice, told employees in an internal message Thursday that it has decided to resume most political contributions. 

“As a result of our review, the FBPAC Board has decided to resume contributions, but not to any members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election following the events at the Capitol on January 6,” Rice said in an internal note, first reported by BuzzFeed News. “While a contribution to a candidate for office does not mean that we agree with every policy or position that a candidate may espouse, we believe this decision is appropriate given the unprecedented events in January.”

The social media giant in January was among companies that paused political spending after the deadly riot at the Capitol. At the time, the company said it was pausing contributions as it reviewed its policies. 

Read more about the update


RUSSIA’S BACK, BACK AGAIN: Russian hackers seized the email system used by the State Department’s international agency and other human rights groups, Microsoft announced this week.

Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of customer security and trust, disclosed in a blog post on Thursday that the Russian group Nobelium targeted about 3,000 email accounts from 150 different organizations in at least 24 countries. The United States received the largest share of the attacks.

Burt said at least a quarter of the organizations targeted were involved in international development, humanitarian or human rights work.

The attacks were launched by gaining access to the email marketing account of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which falls under the State Department. From there, the hackers distributed phishing emails that looked real but included a link with a malicious file.

Read more about the incident here. 


CABINET CONFIRMED: The Senate confirmed President Biden’s nominee to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Police, Eric LanderEric LanderHillicon Valley: Amazon facing lawsuits alleging racial, gender bias | Senate Commerce panel advances Biden’s top science nominee | Colonial Pipeline CEO to testify on Capitol Hill in June Senate Commerce advances Biden’s top science nominee Biden offers American science a fresh chance to prove its value to society MORE, in a voice vote on Friday. 

Lander will be the first person at the position since Biden elevated it to Cabinet level, and is the last member of Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed. 

He faced pushback during his nomination hearing over allegations of downplaying contributions of two female scientists, and over two meetings he had in the past with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

Lander apologized during his nomination hearing over a question about downplaying the work of two Nobel Prize winning female scientists in a 2016 paper. 

“I made a mistake, and when I make a mistake I own it and try to do better,” Lander said at the hearing. 

He also said that the “sum total” of his interactions with Epstein was meeting briefly at two events within the span of three weeks in the spring of 2012.

Read more here


CYBER ON THE MONEY: President Biden’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $750 million to address the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds hack, even as lawmakers continue to press the administration to include more funding for a key cyber agency. 

The proposed fiscal year 2022 budget designated the funding to go towards “agencies affected by the recent, significant cyber incidents to address exigent gaps in security capability,” pointing specifically to the SolarWinds hack.

The incident, first discovered in December, involved Russian hackers exploiting a vulnerability in a software update from IT group SolarWinds to compromise at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector groups for months for espionage purposes. The $750 million was included in the budget as part of a larger proposal of $9.8 billion to go towards a variety of cybersecurity efforts.

Read more about the budget here.


NEW (OLD) BILL: Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSenate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech GOP downplays Jan. 6 violence: Like a ‘normal tourist visit’ House conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill MORE (D-Calif.) and Nancy MaceNancy MaceGOP leaders face new calls to boot Greene House Republican offers flowchart for Marjorie Taylor Greene Joe Cunningham to enter race for South Carolina governor MORE (R-S.C.) on Friday introduced legislation to strengthen the federal workforce in the wake of a year of escalating cyber threats and attacks. 

The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act aims to build up the federal government’s cybersecurity by establishing a program to allow cybersecurity professionals to rotate through multiple federal agencies and enhance their expertise. 

The bill would encourage agency leaders to identify cybersecurity positions that can be rotated through government, and give the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) jurisdiction over the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program.

The legislation was previously passed by the Senate in 2019, but failed to get a vote in the House. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary PetersGary PetersPostal Service sees chance to turn the page after tumultuous year Democrats worry Jan. 6 probe could divert their agenda Senators press Defense officials on expediting visas for Afghans who helped US troops MORE (D-Mich.) and Sens. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP sees immigration as path to regain power The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax MORE (R-N.D.) and Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader’s Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit Lawmakers introduce legislation to create civilian reserve program to fight hackers Bipartisan Senate proposal would grant million to minority businesses MORE (D-Nev.) reintroduced legislation in the Senate in April.

Read more about the bill here. 


KEEPING AN EYE ON THINGS: Tesla will be using in-car cameras to monitor drivers using Autopilot after many reports of people being able to trick the vehicle into going into Autopilot while the driver was not at the wheel.

The software update will be in Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y cars. The company said the “cabin camera above the rearview mirror can now detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged,” Tech Crunch reported.

There have been many people posting about how they tricked the Tesla vehicle to drive even while there was no driver, as the company only used sensors in the wheel to determine if a driver was there, according to Tech Crunch.

Consumer Reports tested the issue in April and showed by adding a weighted chain to the steering wheel a person could trick the car into driving on its own without a person in the driver’s seat.

Read more here


ICYMI: NEARING A DEAL: Google is reportedly close to reaching a settlement in an antitrust case with the French government after French officials alleged the company abused its power in online advertising.

Sources close to the matter told The Wall Street Journal that the settlement will likely involve a fine and require Google to make operational changes.

France’s Competition Authority accused Google’s ad server, DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP), of giving AdX — Google’s online ad auction house — a boost over other auction operators, among other forms of self-preferential advantages, the Journal reports.

The settlement will involve Google neither denying nor accepting culpability in the case and the proposed changes in the settlement would only apply in France, though they may be incorporated throughout the company.

Read more here

Lighter click: Do it for the dog

An op-ed to chew on: The case for improving America’s research and experimentation tax credit 



A Worker-Owned Cooperative Tries to Compete With Uber and Lyft (The New York Times / Kate Conger)

Silicon Valley is in a high-stakes standoff with India (CNN / Diksha Madhok) 

Nine things we learned from the Epic v. Apple trial (The Verge / Russell Brandom)

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