NYC Terror Attack Sidetracks Senate Social Media Hearing

Hey there, here are your top news stories from eWEEK. Today’s topics include news of Tuesday’s New York City terror attack changing the focus of a Senate social media hearing; Google finding “limited” misuse of its platforms during the 2016 presidential election; Microsoft’s December release of the Surface Pro with LTE Advanced; and DigiCert’s acquisition of Symantec’s Website SSL Security Unit.

During a Senate subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing on Oct. 31 to discuss terrorist and hate groups’ use of social media, reports came in about the attack in New York City in which at least eight people died when they were mowed down by a suspected terrorist driving a delivery truck.

International terrorism expert Clint Watts reported the news during the hearing, noting that there was a sudden increase in the level of chatter on social networks that coincided with the attack. He went on to describe how terrorist groups have been using social media for years to recruit members and to spread their violent creeds.

A few years ago, Watts said, “I watched from my laptop and cell phone as thousands of young men and women used Facebook, Twitter and later Telegram to join ISIS, helping pave their way to becoming the Islamic State and executing never before seen terrorist attacks on many continents.” He added that he’s also encountered Russian influence efforts on social media.

Prior to Watts' testimony, lawyers for Facebook, Twitter and Google testified before the Senate subcommittee about what their respective companies were doing to prevent Russian interference with U.S. political activities using their respective platforms.

The day prior to the hearing, Google said that although an internal investigation has found evidence of its online platforms being misused by actors linked to a Russian propaganda firm during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the misuse was limited in nature and something that the company is working on stopping altogether in future.

According to Google, 18 YouTube channels were likely associated with the Russian misinformation campaign, which included a total of 1,108 videos with about 43 content hours. Starting 2018, Google will release data about who is purchasing election-related ads on its platforms and how much money is being spent on these ads.

With its latest Surface Pro, Microsoft is claiming that lack of a WiFi connection is no longer a problem. Due in December, Microsoft’s new Surface Pro with LTE Advanced will allow users to connect to compatible 4G cellular networks.

Not only is the company claiming that the system is “the fastest LTE-enabled laptop in its class,” but “it delivers global connectivity with support of 20 cellular bands so you can work, study, create or relax uninterrupted."

Microsoft is basing its claims on LTE Advanced download speeds of up to 450 megabits per second, compared to the 300M-bps speeds typically attained by rival LTE laptops and two-in-one devices with 12- or 13-inch screen sizes.

DigiCert announced on Oct. 31 that is has completed its $950 million acquisition of Symantec's website security and Public Key Infrastructure business assets, which include the company's SSL/TLS certificates. The deal was first announced on Aug. 3, with the goal to help improve the PKI infrastructure for Symantec's certificates, which had been under scrutiny by Google and other web browser vendors.

"The whole point in putting [DigiCert and Symantec] together is about consolidating the technical side of the business," John Merrill, DigiCert CEO, told eWEEK. "Some of the platforms on the Symantec side were a bit older and had been called into question by Google, while our platforms are generally more modern," he said.

SSL/TLS certificates are a foundational element of internet security, helping to enable both encryption and authenticity for websites.