Hillicon Valley — Traffickers target Ukrainian refugees online

·5 min read
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The same social media groups and communication apps connecting Ukrainian refugees with shelter and information are being leveraged by bad actors to exploit and traffic women fleeing the country. Experts say companies can do more to push back.

Meanwhile, former President Trump’s media and tech company is facing more legal scrutiny threatening to further delay the completion of a merger.

This is Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Send tips to The Hill’s Rebecca KlarChris Mills Rodrigo and Ines Kagubare. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Exploitation, trafficking concerns amplified

Bad actors are leveraging social media groups and communications apps to sexually exploit and traffic Ukrainians seeking shelter and information, amplifying concerns about those dangers in an already high-risk region.

  • As the war continues and millions of Ukrainians, especially women and children, transition to border nations, potential traffickers are using the same digital spaces where refugees are looking for assistance to spread misinformation or pose as well-meaning volunteers to house those fleeing the conflict.

  • Experts say tech companies could be doing more to protect Ukrainians from those threats amid an apparent rise in demand for trafficking victims from the besieged country.

“I find it really heartbreaking that at the moment when so many people are trying to protect vulnerable women and children, one of the first measurable reactions to the crisis was that men were going online in record breaking numbers trying to figure out how to sexually access those women,” said Val Richey, special representative and coordinator for combating trafficking in human beings at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Data on upticks in human trafficking of Ukrainian women are only starting to emerge since Russia invaded four months ago. But a Thomson Reuters analysis found spikes across Europe for terms related to online demand for sex with Ukrainian women as news about the war spread across Europe.

The analysis found a 200 percent increase in Google searches for “Ukrainian escorts” in the United Kingdom between Feb. 27 and March 5 compared to the prior six months. The term “Ukrainian porn” increased 600 percent in Spain and 130 percent in Poland over the same period.

Read more here.

More legal trouble for Trump’s tech biz

The firm that merged with former President Trump’s social media company received federal grand jury subpoenas last week, the company disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing Monday.

  • A grand jury in the Southern District of New York issued subpoenas to each member of the board of directors of the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that merged with the Trump Media and Technology Group.

  • The latest subpoenas add to growing scrutiny of the deal. Federal regulators launched investigations into the merger between Trump’s company and Digital World Acquisition Corp, the SPAC, in December, just weeks after the merger was announced.

The new subpoenas seek some of the same documents as federal regulators, as well as requests for communications with or about “multiple individuals,” and information about Rocket One Capital, a Miami-based venture capital firm, according to Monday’s filing.

The investigation from the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is seeking information about events that took place before the public announcement.

SPACs, also known as blank check companies, are formed to raise capital through an initial public offering for the purpose of acquiring or merging with a company. But they are not supposed to have an acquisition target in mind as they raise money from investors.

Read more here.

LITHUANIAN WEBSITES HIT BY RUSSIAN CYBERATTACKS

Several public and private sector websites in Lithuania were temporarily down on Monday following a cyberattack reportedly carried out by a Russian-backed hacking group.

Lithuania’s acting director of the National Cyber Security Centre, Jonas Skardinskas, said the disruption was an ongoing distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that targeted the country’s Secure National Data Transfer, as well as other governmental institutions and private companies.

“It is highly probable that such or even more intense attacks will continue into the coming days, especially against the communications, energy and financial sectors,” Skardinskas said.

A Russian-backed hacking group, known as Killnet, has claimed responsibility for the hack against Lithuania, according to multiple news reports

Read more here.

BITS & PIECES

An op-ed to chew on: It’s time to forge a transatlantic clean technology alliance

Notable links from around the web:

The #1 Period Tracker on the App Store Will Hand Over Data Without a Warrant (Motherboard / Samantha Cole)

With clock ticking, battle over tech regulation intensifies (The Washington Post / Cat Zakrzewski, Will Oremus, Gerrit De Vynck and Cristiano Lima)

The Biggest Privacy Risks In Post-Roe America (The Verge / Russell Brandom, Nicole Wetsman, Corin Faife, and Mary Beth Griggs)

Lighter click: Planetary conjunction

One more thing: Back at it

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol announced a last-minute hearing for Tuesday after previously saying it would pause its series of meetings until July.

An advisory sent Monday said they would convene to “present recently obtained evidence” but provided no other details.

The committee last week said they would pause their hearings for two weeks given a wealth of new evidence.

“We’ve taken in some additional information that’s going to require additional work. So rather than present hearings that have not been the quality of the hearings in the past, we made a decision to just move into sometime in July,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters last Wednesday.

Read more here.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Technology and Cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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