Kate Tummarello

Feds go after hackers who demand ransom

The Department of Justice is cracking down on hackers in Russia and Ukraine who, officials say, are making millions of dollars by stealing bank information and holding computer files for ransom.

The agency announced efforts to disrupt two cyber crime programs -- “Cryptolocker” and “Gameover Zeus” -- allegedly developed and run by a “tightly knit gang of cyber criminals based in Russia and Ukraine” led by Russian Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev.

Cryptolocker is a “ransomware” tool that encrypts a computer’s files until the owner pays a ransom. According to the agency, the ransomware has infected more than 234,000 computers, half of which are in the US. The release cites one estimate “that more than $27 million in ransom payments were made in just the first two months since Cryptolocker emerged” and said that the FBI seized the servers being used as “control hubs” for the ransomware.

The “Gameover Zeus” botnet is a malware network used to steal millions of dollars by capturing banking credentials. The botnet also was a common distribution tool for the Cryptolocker software, according to the agency. According to the release, between 500,000 and 1 million computers world wide are infected with Gameover Zeus, and 25 percent of those infected computers are in the US.

In addition to bringing charges against Bogachev for his alleged role as administrator of Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker, the US government obtained civil and criminal court orders authorizing agencies to take steps to mitigate damage caused by these programs, including obtaining the IP addresses of affected computers.

Google wants users to call for ‘real’ NSA reform

Google is asking its users to “demand real surveillance reform” after the recent House vote on a compromise bill to curb US spying.

The company subsequently took to Twitter asking followers to “join us in asking the Senate to fix the USA Freedom Act,” which just passed the House. “It’s time for #RealSurveillanceReform,” the tweet said, directing followers to its advocacy website.

The USA Freedom Act passed unanimously through the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees -- earning the support of pro-reform lawmakers and tech companies -- but critics say that last minute changes watered the bill down too much. The Reform Government Surveillance coalition -- made up of tech industry giants including Google -- ultimately pulled its support for the bill as it headed to the House floor.

“For example, as the bill stands today it could still permit the collection of email records from everyone who uses a particular email service,” Google said. The company’s advocacy page encourages users to add their names to the list of people calling for “real surveillance reform” as the bill heads to the Senate.

Rep Yoder: Agencies seizing e-mails is ‘much worse’ than NSA spying

A decades-old law on emails is more of a threat to privacy than National Security Agency surveillance, according to Rep Kevin Yoder (R-KS). He expressed deep concern over the 1986 Electronic Privacy Communications Act (ECPA), which allows police to obtain emails without a warrant.

“It’s much worse than the debates we’re having over whether the NSA should be able to theoretically review phone call” data, Rep Yoder said. “This is much worse in that they’re actually reading the emails,” he said.

Rep Yoder’s bill, the Email Privacy Act, would update the ECPA to require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant before accessing digital communications including emails. Currently, officials can access any email that has been stored for more than six months without a warrant. The bill has wide support in the House, Rep Yoder said. He and co-sponsor Rep Jared Polis (D-CO) touted the bill’s 214 co-sponsors, just shy of half the members of the House.

“We’re very close to what we in Congress like to call a magic number,” Polis said, encouraging viewers to ask their member of Congress to support the bill. Yoder asked viewers to “differentiate this from the NSA issue” when contacting their members of Congress. While both issues deal with privacy, “it is different politically,” he said. No members have come out publicly against the bill, despite pushback from federal agencies, the lawmakers said.

House Dems fight back on measure to hamstring Internet oversight shift

A group of House Democrats are pushing back on a Republican amendment mean to limit the administration’s ability to move ahead with its plans to relinquish oversight of key technical Internet functions.

In a letter to Democratic members, Reps Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) urged members to vote against an amendment from Rep Sean Duffy (R-WI) to the Commerce Department’s appropriations bill that would limit the ways the agency can use its funding.

“We strongly urge you to oppose the Duffy Amendment and stand up for a global Internet free from government control,” the lawmakers wrote. The amendment would “greatly increase the likelihood of authoritarian control of the Internet, exactly the opposite outcome its author seeks and that we share as a nation,” they said.

Sinclair Proposes Surrendering Three Licenses to Gain Allbritton Deal Approval

Broadcasting giant Sinclair is taking some of its local stations in Alabama and South Carolina off the air after the Federal Communications Commission actions in 2014 to keep broadcasters from sharing resources.

In a recent filing with the FCC, Sinclair told the agency that it couldn’t find buyers for two stations in Birmingham (AL) and one station in Charleston (NC). Sinclair was supposed to sell those local broadcast stations as part of its nearly $1-billion deal to purchase stations from competitor Allbritton Communications.

Sinclair outlined its plans for various moves so that no joint sales agreements or sharing agreements or financial ties would be involved in its purchase of the Allbritton stations, which has a closing deadline of July or either party can terminate the deal.

Tech industry pushes lawmakers to fund Internet oversight shift

Two groups representing tech industry giants are asking lawmakers to give the administration funding to carry out its controversial plan to relinquish oversight of key technical Internet functions.

That administration move is a “critical transition” that needs full funding to be carried out successfully, the Internet Association and the Information Technology Industry Council said. The Internet Association includes Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Amazon. The Information Technology Industry Council includes Google, Apple, Microsoft and IBM.

The groups ask House members to oppose a provision in the Commerce Department’s authorization bill that would reduce funding for the agency. That bill is being considered on the House floor soon.

Lawmakers to unveil bill for pre-1972 recordings

Reps George Holding (R-NC) and John Conyers (D-MI) are set to introduce a bill that would require Internet radio services like Pandora and Sirius XM to pay to play songs that were recorded before 1972.

The bill from Reps Holding and Conyers -- the Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures, or RESPECT, Act -- would require Internet radio services to pay federal performance royalty fees for the older recordings.

The call for performance royalty fees for pre-1972 recordings is supported by industry groups and musicians, some of whom -- including Martha Reeves, Dickey Betts and Al Jardine -- are set to appear at the bill’s unveiling.

Senate panel to examine ‘stalking apps’

Sen Al Franken (D-MN) will hold a hearing on “stalking apps,” which can secretly track people through their smartphones.

“I believe that Americans have the right to control who can collect that information, and whether or not it can be given to third parties,” said Sen Franken, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy. “But right now, companies -- some legitimate, some not -- are collecting your location and giving it to whomever they want.”

The bill also has a provision to end specific “stalking” apps that can be used by one person to secretly track another person. “My commonsense bill helps a whole range of people, and would finally put an end to GPS stalking apps that allow abusers to secretly track their victims,” Sen Franken said.

That bill will be the subject of the subcommittee’s June 4 hearing, which will include testimony from representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, the Government Accountability Office and local law enforcement, as well as the National Consumers League and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Chamber of Commerce defends US Internet oversight shift

The Chamber of Commerce is encouraging lawmakers to let the Commerce Department go forward with its controversial plans to relinquish its oversight role of technical Internet functions.

In a letter to lawmakers, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Bruce Josten asked that the House not use the Commerce Department’s funding to constrain the administration’s Internet governance plans. The agency “should be allowed to take any needed steps to achieve the cautiousness and transparency that we agree is essential for a safe and smooth transition,” Josten wrote.

House votes to delay NTIA's Internet shift

The House voted to delay the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s plans to relinquish the United States' oversight of fundamental Internet functions.

In a 245-177 vote -- including 17 Democrats -- the House approved a Republican amendment that would halt the Administration’s plans to end its contract with the company that coordinates Internet addresses. The measure was introduced by Rep John Shimkus (R-IL) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which just passed. Rep Shimkus’s amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study before the Commerce Department can proceed with its plans to hand off its oversight role of the system.

The administration has defended its plans, pledging to ensure that the new oversight mechanism will be structured to keep governments and multi-government groups from controlling the Internet. In a floor speech touting his amendment, Rep Shimkus pushed back on those assurances from the Commerce Department.

“While the administration says it won’t accept a proposal that puts the Internet in the hands of another government or government-led entity, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen after the initial transfer takes place,” he said. “But one thing is for sure: Once our authority is gone, it’s gone for good.”