US Supreme Court Hands Cyberstalkers A First Amendment Victory
Posted On July 2, 2023
Amid exploding AI usage, the United States Senate is mulling legislation to regulate the development of artificial intelligence, but lawmakers’ comments to WIRED this week indicate that Congress’ abysmal track record on tech regulation may be doomed to repeat itself. Meanwhile, in the European Union, challenges filed under the EU’s GDPR data law on Thursday allege that Pornhub has been collecting user data illegally.
We looked at a common air travel booking scam that can turn real—but not ticketed—flight reservations into cash grabs for cybercriminals. And tech companies have recently released an array of critical software updates that you should install on your devices right now. Some patches published in recent weeks from the company Progress Software patch flaws in the popular file transfer service MOVEit, which has been exploited by ransomware actors to spread malware and steal data from international companies, universities, and the US government.
If you want a digital hygiene project for the weekend, we have tips on how to make your chats and messaging more secure. And if you’re craving a long read, WIRED went in-depth on the 1973 US National Personnel Records Center fire that destroyed 17 million military records and prompted a massive restoration effort.
And there’s more. Each week, we round up the stories we didn’t cover in depth ourselves. Click the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.
On Tuesday, a 7-2 decision by the US Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a man who repeatedly threatened a stranger online. Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion that First Amendment free speech protections require such cases to show that online harassers or cyberstalkers were aware that their digital abuse could be construed as threatening. Threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment, but the court said prosecutors must show that a defendant “consciously disregarded a substantial risk that his communications would be viewed as threatening violence.” The offender in the case the court looked at, Billy Counterman of Colorado, had “moved to dismiss the charge on First Amendment grounds, arguing that his messages were not ‘true threats’ and therefore could not form the basis of a criminal prosecution.”
Counterman had persistently and repeatedly messaged a local singer he didn’t know on Facebook over two years, and when she would block him he made new accounts to continue messaging her. Victims of online harassment and digital rights advocates warned following the decision that it creates a dangerous precedent to empower cyberstalkers. “The Court just handed stalkers and harassers, including of politicians, journalists, climate scientists, doctors advocating for vaccines, you name it, a new weapon,” Soraya Chemaly, director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project, told the Washington Post.
A cyberattack caused a multiday outage this week of a Russian satellite communication system from Dozor-Teleport. The platform is broadly used, including by the Russian military. Ukrainian satellite communication infrastructure suffered a similar outage more than a year ago. Dozor’s parent company, Amtel Svyaz, also grappled with significant system outages this week. Multiple hackers claimed responsibility for the attacks, including some purporting to be hacktivists and others who said they were affiliated with the Russian private mercenary army Wagner Group. In addition to the outage, one of the entities claiming responsibility for the attack said it had stolen data from Dozor and published 700 files, including documents and images, to a leak site and Telegram.
The invasive phone monitoring app LetMeSpy said on June 21 that it was itself hacked. Attackers stole names, messages, call logs, and location data collected by the service, the company said. LetMeSpy is a Polish Android app that’s used around the world to monitor thousands of people. The company’s notice said that “a security incident occurred involving obtaining unauthorized access to the data of website users.”
Years after a Russian espionage campaign launched a devastating supply chain attack against software firm SolarWinds, the US Securities and Exchange Commission sent legal notices—known as “Wells notices”—to certain current and former Solarwinds employees. Such notices warn of potential securities law violations that could lead to civil enforcement action, but they rarely relate to cybersecurity incidents. Notably, one of the SolarWinds employees who received a notice is the company’s current chief information security officer, Tim Brown, who was Solarwinds’ head of security architecture at the time of the attack. Company CFO Barton Kalsu also received a notice. The situation is potentially significant as the US and other countries attempt to develop appropriate accountability mechanisms for high-ranking executives who preside over breaches and other security lapses. The fear among security professionals is often that individual penalties will simply discourage talented practitioners from taking top roles.