Gopal Ratnam

Fearing New Government Rules, Tech Titans Promise Security Vigilance
Lawmakers also may be likely to push for new legislation

SAN FRANCISCO — New European privacy rules, the spotlight on Facebook’s role in the 2016 elections, and the potential that cyberattacks targeting devices could harm consumers in their homes are propelling the tech industry to question its security practices and prompting top executives to promise to make amends.

During five days at the annual RSA Conference last week in San Francisco, top executives from the world’s largest technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, IBM, CISCO, McAfee and Symantec, said they took the scrutiny seriously and would not only step up to make their own devices and software safer but also work with thousands of vendors worldwide urging them to do the same.

Three Cybersecurity Bills to Hit Trump’s Desk This Year, Staffers Say
Movement on ‘Internet of things,’ intelligence and homeland security measures

SAN FRANCISCO — Dozens of bills are filed in Congress relating to cybersecurity and data breaches but many if not most may never see a committee markup let alone a floor vote. But key congressional staffers speaking at the RSA Conference here predicted at least three bills are likely to get to the president’s desk this year. 

A House-passed measure that would reorganize the Department of Homeland Security and create a new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has also cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and is awaiting Senate floor passage. 

Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Silos
Administration looks for ways to strengthen cyberattack defenses

SAN FRANCISCO — The Homeland Security Department is working on a cybersecurity strategy that aims to strengthen the overall digital economy’s defenses against cyberattacks, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a cybersecurity conference here on Tuesday.

The strategy “will bolster our digital defenses by prioritizing enhancements in risk identification, vulnerability reduction, threat reduction, and consequence mitigation,” Nielsen said without identifying when the strategy is likely to be made public. “We must be more aware of vulnerabilities built into the fabric of the internet, and other widespread weaknesses.”

A Deeper Look at 2016 Facebook Ads Targeting Pennsylvania, Wisconsin
Large volume of ads came from suspicious groups, many of them Russian in origin

A forthcoming peer-reviewed study of paid political ads that appeared on Facebook in the weeks just prior to the 2016 presidential election shows that of 228 groups purchasing ads on hot-button issues, 122 — more than half — were submitted by “suspicious” groups whose identities may never be known.

The University of Wisconsin researchers, led by Professor Young Mie Kim, defined “suspicious” as meaning there was no publicly available information on who was behind the groups.

Zuckerberg Vows to Step Up Security at Expense of Facebook’s Profits
Social media CEO plans to say ‘I’m sorry’ during House testimony

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg will tell lawmakers this week that the social media company plans to significantly increase spending on security even at the cost of its bottom line to prevent the kinds of data leaks and manipulation by fake accounts that have dogged the company in the past two years.

“I’ve directed our teams to invest so much in security — on top of the other investments we’re making — that it will significantly impact our profitability,” Zuckerberg plans to tell Congress, according to his prepared remarks made public by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. “But I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”

Facebook Case Highlights Possibility of New Privacy Laws
Data experts say U.S. privacy regulations could move toward European model

Facing mounting criticism after news broke that his company shared users’ data with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said in recent days he would accept some federal regulation.

The question is what sort of rules or legislation would even begin to address the authorized data sharing that appears to be at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica case.

DARPA Chief Touts Artificial Intelligence Efforts
Assertions push back on private sector worries about lagging behind

The United States is no laggard on investment and advances in artificial intelligence technologies, Steven Walker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told reporters on Thursday, disputing assertions by top U.S. technology executives that China was racing ahead.

“I think I’d put our AI, our country’s efforts, up against anybody,” Walker said at an event hosted by the Defense Writers Group. DARPA “helped create the field in the early 1960s” and since then has consistently invested in the three waves of artificial intelligence technologies, Walker said.

No White House Order to Combat Russia, Cybercom Chief Says
Third administration official says Trump has given no guidance on countering interference

Russia hasn’t been sufficiently penalized for its meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, and that has emboldened Moscow to continue interfering in American elections, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“They haven’t paid a price sufficient to change their behavior,” Rogers said under questioning by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Report: Cybercrime May Have Cost 0.8 Percent of 2016 Global GDP
Russia, North Korea and Iran named as top perpetrators of cybercrime

Theft of personal data, loss of intellectual property and opportunity costs stemming from these and other cybercrimes in 2016 may have cost the global economy 0.8 percent — or as much as $600 billion — according to a report released Wednesday.

The growing spread of computer connectivity, easy availability of malware and the ability to monetize stolen information is leading to an explosion in cybercrime, according to the report, titled Economic Impact of Cybercrime. It was prepared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, and McAfee, a computer security firm.

Grand Jury Indicts Russian Nationals for Election Interference
Operatives targeted Clinton, Rubio and Cruz, while largely supporting Trump and Sanders

Updated 3:25 p.m. | The Justice Department charged Russian operatives Friday with a sweeping effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, spending millions of dollars to wage social media campaigns, buy political advertisements and pose as grass-roots organizers to spark political rallies on American soil.

The grand jury criminal indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies landed like a bombshell in Washington, where the debate has raged over the extent of Russia’s influence in the election while President Donald Trump has waged a campaign to quell special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

Schiff Says He Fears Mueller’s Findings Won’t Become Public
Top Intelligence Committee Democrat concerned about politicized decision-making

The complete findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections may not become public when the probe is completed, California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

“One of the issues I have raised with the deputy attorney general” Rod Rosenstein is “how are we going to deal with this when the investigations come to an end?” Schiff said, referring to findings of the Mueller probe. “Will there be a report to Congress and what will Bob Mueller be able to disclose publicly?”

Nunes Memo Could Weaken FISA, Congressional Panels
Officials worry about compromising sources, chilling intelligence officials

Releasing a four-page memo authored by aides to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., alleging abuse of surveillance power by the FBI could ultimately weaken the process by which U.S. intelligence agencies seek secret court orders to conduct surveillance on foreigners, lawmakers and former intelligence professionals say.

Moreover, releasing the memo could erode the trust between the intelligence community and the congressional intelligence panels, these officials say.

With House Passage of FISA Measure, Action Moves to Senate
GOP leaders in chamber move to restrict amendments to reauthorization

The House on Thursday approved 256-164 a bill to reauthorize provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another six years, putting the measure in the Senate’s hands.

The bill, backed by the Trump administration and all the U.S. intelligence agencies, would preserve the FBI and the intelligence agencies’ ability to search a surveillance database for information on Americans with minimal warrant requirements.

FISA Vote in the House Pivots on Privacy
Bipartisan group is demanding tougher protections

The House is set to vote Thursday on a bill to extend the electronic surveillance powers of the National Security Agency. 

How the House votes could determine whether the bill wins Senate passage for a long-term extension of provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or if lawmakers hit another roadblock and decide to punt again. Facing an impasse before Christmas, Congress passed a short-term extension until Jan. 19. The provisions were due to expire Dec. 31. 

Tech Companies Get an Earful From Intelligence Committee
Senators accuse executives of just not getting extent of Russian meddling

Big technology companies faced a second day of public lashing on Capitol Hill, with the Senate Intelligence Committee accusing companies of a lackluster response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

On Tuesday, executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter told the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee that ads and automated non-advertising content generated by Moscow-backed companies reached hundreds of millions of Americans during the 2016 election — a number that is far higher than previous estimates offered by the companies.

Podcast: Congress Aims to Rein In Government Snoops
The Week Ahead, Episode 76

A bipartisan cast of lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden, plan to curtail the government's surveillance powers that must be renewed by the end of the year, says CQ intelligence reporter Gopal Ratnam.   

Show Notes:

White House Aide Nielsen Picked for Homeland Secretary
Nominee previously served as John F. Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he has chosen Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Nielsen, 45, previously served as Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS when he led the department before taking the White House job in July. Nielsen would be leaving her role at the White House after having served as a top aide to Kelly for just a little over a month.

New Foreign Surveillance Bill Would Boost Privacy Protections
Top House Judiciary leaders reached decision last week

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and the panel’s top Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr. reached agreement last week on a new bill that would tighten privacy protections in a surveillance law considered vital by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The bill’s attempt to shore up civil liberties runs contrary to what the White House and intelligence agencies have sought, and is likely to face opposition from a group of national security hawks in the Senate who back the Trump administration position.

House Eyes Overhaul of Defense Intelligence Agency
Handful of offices and missions targeted for elimination

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency is in the cross hairs of the House Intelligence Committee, which is aiming for a radical overhaul of the military’s spy arm.

The committee sees it as bloated and ineffective. But how far such an effort would go remains to be seen as several other congressional oversight panels that would have a say are waiting for a fuller assessment to emerge before they sign off on major changes.

Congress Braces for Tense Debate on Surveillance Law
Spy agencies argue for permanent reauthorization of FISA amendments

Lawmakers are facing a potentially bruising fight over a surveillance law that expires Dec. 31 and must be extended in time to preserve what U.S. spy agencies consider a vital piece of their arsenal.

Congress has to extend the 2012 FISA Amendments Act, which will pit the Trump administration and national security hawks in Congress who favor a permanent reauthorization with no changes, against lawmakers of both parties, libertarians, privacy advocates and communications companies seeking to tighten protections for U.S. persons whose communications may get caught up in the wide electronic net cast by spy agencies.