Gopal Ratnam

House demands to see Trump’s cyberwarfare directive
But senators who oversee the Pentagon are not as concerned

A small but significant quarrel is emerging between a bipartisan team of lawmakers in the House and the Trump administration over how the Pentagon is going about using its newly minted authority to strike back against adversaries in cyberspace.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee and its emerging threats subcommittee — in a rare instance of bipartisan pushback against the White House — have repeatedly asked administration officials for a still-secret memo issued by President Donald Trump that lifted earlier restrictions on U.S. Cyber Command’s operations against adversaries.

Progress on federal data privacy bill slows in both chambers
Consensus is elusive, say congressional aides, industry sources and lobbyists

Lawmakers and industry groups want to pass a federal data privacy law this year, but progress on the measure has slowed. It’s now unclear whether legislation resembling California’s tough requirements on the tech industry can clear hurdles in Congress and be signed into law before the end of the year. 

Small bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both chambers are working on draft legislation that was supposed to have been unveiled in May but has been delayed and is now expected to be released sometime before the August congressional recess. 

Social media should be accountable for ‘deepfake content,’ intelligence experts say
Deepfake videos not only can be used by foreign and domestic perpetrators against political opponents, but could be used to hurt companies

Congress should amend portions of U.S. law that allow social media companies to enjoy immunity for content posted on their platforms in light of the significant dangers posed by artificial intelligence-enabled fake videos, a panel of experts told the House Intelligence Committee at a hearing Thursday.

Social media companies should be asked to exercise reasonable moderation of content, and U.S. government agencies should educate citizens on how to tell if a video is fake and invest in technologies that will aid in such determinations, the experts said.

Artificial intelligence is coming. Will Congress be ready?

It can help trace missing children, but misidentifies people of color. It can help detect cancer, but may recommend the wrong cure. It can help track criminals, but could aid foreign enemies in targeting voters. It can improve efficiency, but perpetuate long-standing biases.

The “it” is artificial intelligence, a technology that teaches machines to recognize complex patterns and make decisions based on them, much like humans do. While the promised benefits of the technology are profound, the downsides could be damaging, even dangerous.

Government and health care sectors had most breaches in 2018

Government computer systems — federal, state and local — suffered the most data breaches last year, driven most likely by foreign adversaries conducting espionage operations, according to Verizon’s latest annual report on cyberattacks.

In the private sector, health care, financial services and small-to-midsized accounting, tax and law firms suffered the largest number of breaches, according to the 12th edition of Verizon’s annual Data Breach Investigations Report, released last month.

Mueller departs with warning: Don’t forget Russia’s election meddling
Congress has been divided over how to address weaknesses in U.S. election system

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who stepped down from his position Wednesday, had a stark warning for Americans: pay attention to what Russia did to interfere in U.S. elections.

Most of the political wrangling and fallout over Mueller’s report has focused on whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice — the report, and Mueller on Wednesday, specifically said he did not exonerate the president on that score — and whether Congress should begin impeachment proceedings. Mueller himself pointed to an aspect of his office’s findings that hasn’t been challenged by either political party.

Iranians set up fake social media accounts to influence 2018 midterms, new report says
‘They promoted material in line with Iranian political interests,’ new report says

Iranians posing as Americans set up fake accounts on social media platforms between April 2018 and March 2019 and espoused policy views on both sides of the U.S. political spectrum, in a replay of the Russian playbook from 2016, according a report by the threat intelligence firm FireEye released Tuesday.

Some of those who were impersonated included Republican political candidates who contested House races, the firm said.

Altered Pelosi videos puts social media in congressional crosshairs
Facebook is once again under scrutiny as it continued hosting an altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Facebook last week said it had removed 2 billion fake accounts from its social media platform during the first quarter of this year, an effort it touted in its latest transparency report. But the company is once again in the crosshairs of scrutiny as it continued hosting a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been altered to make it look like she was slurring her speech.

The altered video posted by a group called Politics WatchDog, takes a Pelosi speech from Wednesday and appears to slow it down to make it sound as though she is intoxicated and slurring her words, and pausing longer than usual between thoughts. In thousands of comments left on Facebook, commenters assume Pelosi is drunk and chastise her for it. One commenter said, “How can you have a meaningful meeting with a drunken Speaker of the House?”

Americans may vote in 2020 using old, unsecured machines

The first primary in the 2020 presidential race is a little more than 250 days away, but lawmakers and experts worry that elections will be held on voting machines that are woefully outdated and that any tampering by adversaries could lead to disputed results.

Although states want to upgrade their voting systems, they don’t have the money to do so, election officials told lawmakers last week.

Election assistance agency pleads for more money ahead of 2020
“What we are working on is the infrastructure of our democracy”

Officials from the Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency responsible for overseeing voting machines used in thousands of jurisdictions across the country and helping states adopt good election administration practices, pleaded with lawmakers for more money to do their jobs ahead of the 2020 elections.

The federal agency is working with a staff and budget that are about half what they were 10 years ago, officials said Wednesday as lawmakers grappled with how to beef up the agency.

It’s not too late to keep Huawei’s 5G tech out of the U.K., Sen. Warner says
U.S. allies are struggling to balance the need for secure telecom equipment and affording the heavy investment of switching to 5G

The U.K. may still be persuaded to bar China’s Huawei Technologies from building the country’s 5G network, Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee told reporters Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” Warner said. But the U.K.'s decision may be complicated because the country’s existing telecom network already has an “enormous amount of Huawei equipment embedded” in it.

FDA grapples with AI medical devices
New approach to artificial intelligence extends the agency’s controversial fast-track process

Imagine a not-too-distant future when medical devices powered by artificial intelligence continuously adapt to new symptoms presented by patients and learn how to make accurate diagnoses much like a well-trained physician would.

The Food and Drug Administration is preparing for such a future and weighing how to assess and certify such medical devices, seeing them more like living things that can’t be regulated in the same manner as old-fashioned equipment.

Trump creates new cybersecurity competition with a $25,000 award
The competition is part of an executive order aimed at addressing a shortage of cybersecurity workers across the government

The Trump administration announced steps to address a shortage of cybersecurity workers across the federal government, including sponsorship of a national competition and allowing cyber experts to rotate from one agency to another.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Thursday that directed the Department of Homeland Security to work with the Office of Management and Budget to create a rotational program that will “serve as a mechanism for knowledge transfer” across agencies.

Despite U.S. spying warnings, Huawei 5G reportedly gets U.K. approval
The U.K. gave the Chinese company approval despite concerns over poor software quality and potential spying backdoors

British Prime Minister Theresa May last week reportedly approved China’s Huawei Technologies to build some parts of the country’s 5G telecom network despite concerns about the company’s poor software quality and dangers of potential spying backdoors that could funnel information to Beijing.

At a meeting last week of the U.K.’s National Security Council, led by May, the decision to allow Huawei to proceed with supplying parts of the 5G network, including antenna and other non-core elements, was taken despite opposition from key cabinet ministers, The Telegraph reported, citing unnamed sources.

Mueller report: Russia hacked state databases and voting machine companies
Russian intelligence officers injected malicious SQL code and then ran commands to extract information

The Russian military intelligence unit known by its initials GRU targeted U.S. state election offices as well as U.S. makers of voting machines, according to Mueller’s report.

Victims of the Russian hacking operation “included U.S. state and local entities, such as state boards of elections (SBOEs), secretaries of state, and county governments, as well as individuals who worked for those entities,” the report said. “The GRU also targeted private technology firms responsible for manufacturing and administering election-related software and hardware, such as voter registration software and electronic polling stations.”

Mueller says messaging apps likely destroyed Trump-Russia evidence
Tech challenges prevented special counsel from establishing full picture of what happened

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against individuals connected with President Donald Trump’s campaign for their ties to Russia, but he said the investigation faced numerous challenges, including technological ones, in establishing a full picture of what transpired in 2015 and 2016.

“While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges,” Mueller wrote in his report made public Thursday by the Justice Department.

Your car is watching you. Who owns the data?
Computers on wheels raise thorny questions about data privacy

If you’re driving a late model car or truck, chances are that the vehicle is mostly computers on wheels, collecting and wirelessly transmitting vast quantities of data to the car manufacturer not just on vehicle performance but personal information, too, such as your weight, the restaurants you visit, your music tastes and places you go.

A car can generate about 25 gigabytes of data every hour and as much as 4,000 gigabytes a day, according to some estimates. The data trove in the hands of car makers could be worth as much as $750 billion by 2030, the consulting firm McKinsey has estimated. But consumer groups, aftermarket repair shops and privacy advocates say the data belongs to the car’s owners and the information should be subject to data privacy laws.

GPS has its own 19-year cicada problem
On April 6, satellites will reset their onboard counters to zero. What happens next?

Most people of a certain age remember the Y2K problem that worried digitalists worldwide when we transitioned from 1999 to 2000 on the night of Dec. 31, 1999. What would happen to computers and systems when the last two digits on the date went from 99 to 00?

In the end, not much. The transition went smoothly for digital networks worldwide.

U.K. spy agency criticizes vulnerabilities in Huawei devices
Huawei can’t be counted on to make equipment without bugs and security gaps, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center said

Huawei Technologies, one of the world’s largest telecom companies, cannot be counted on to make equipment without bugs and security gaps, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center said last week. The assessment comes as several countries are considering whether to buy the company’s gear to build 5G networks.

“There remains no end-to-end integrity of the products as delivered by Huawei,” the assessment said. The company didn’t often understand what was inside its equipment and software, nor was it very good at doing analysis to find the root cause of problems, it said. Over the long term the systems could be vulnerable, according to the British agency.

Cybersecurity budget up 5 percent in 2020, White House says
The total request of $17.4 billion for fiscal 2020 compares with $16.6 billion the administration sought in 2019

The White House is seeking a 4.7 percent boost in cybersecurity spending across all federal agencies for fiscal year 2020 with the Pentagon and the State Department getting the largest increases, according to details of the request released this week.

The total request of $17.4 billion for fiscal 2020 compares with $16.6 billion the administration sought in 2019. The Pentagon is seeking $9.6 billion or a 10.4 percent increase, and State is seeking $400 million or a 10.2 percent increase. The Justice Department is asking for a 7 percent increase in fiscal year 2020 for a total of $881 million.