Tech companies are taking a more transparent approach than usual in disclosing cyberthreats against their platforms — especially when it comes to election interference. One high-profile example came this week when Microsoft announced that Russian hackers tried to use the company’s domains to launch phishing attacks on U.S. political institutions. The company also revealed recently that hackers had used similar means to target 2018 congressional candidates. And just last month, Facebook said that it had uncovered a sophisticated political disinformation campaign involving nearly two dozen fraudulent pages and profiles. The disclosures are not just limited to U.S. election threats. Late Tuesday, Facebook announced that it had identified new social media influence campaigns — one backed by the Iranian government, another linked to Russian military intelligence — and removed hundreds of fraudulent accounts that it said were designed to manipulate users in other countries around the globe.
Proactively sharing details about these kinds of threats is a change in strategy that’s politically expedient for the industry. Washington is scrambling to mount a coordinated response to Russian cyberthreats, and Congress has hammered tech giants for not doing more to curb bad actors on their platforms. Lawmakers and agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission are also mulling regulations that would require companies to notify customers about intrusions into their networks and other security lapses.
By communicating that they’re paying attention — and have a plan — companies can signal that they don’t need intensive monitoring or restrictions from the government, some experts say.
“It’s a corporate win-win,” said Andrea Matwyshyn, a Northeastern University law professor specializing in technology policy. “There’s no downside for companies in trying to defend their customers and trying to forestall legislation that might require that they adjust their structures. And it’s obviously a benefit to defend their brand if criminals are abusing their goodwill.”