Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller impanels grand jury in Russia probe | Researcher who helped stop WannaCry attack detained | Audit finds OPM systems still at risk

Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller impanels grand jury in Russia probe | Researcher who helped stop WannaCry attack detained | Audit finds OPM systems still at risk
© Greg Nash

Welcome to OVERNIGHT CYBERSECURITY, your daily rundown of the biggest news in the world of hacking and data privacy. We're here to connect the dots as leaders in government, policy and industry try to counter the rise in cyber threats. What lies ahead for Congress, the administration and the latest company under siege? Whether you're a consumer, a techie or a D.C. lifer, we're here to give you...

 

THE BIG STORY:

--MUELLER IMPANELS GRAND JURY ON RUSSIA: Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly impaneled a grand jury in Washington as part of the ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Such a move would signal that the investigation is growing and entering a new phase. The special counsel is looking into Russia's efforts to influence the election and any ties between President Trump's campaign and Moscow. Mueller's spokesman declined to comment to the newspaper, while White House special counsel Ty Cobb said he was unaware of the new development. "Grand jury matters are typically secret. The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly," Cobb told the Journal. "The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller." The grand jury, located in Washington, D.C., follows a separate grand jury previously convened in Alexandria, Va., by federal prosecutors investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

--...BEFORE THAT ANNOUNCEMENT, SENATORS LOOK TO PROTECT MUELLER FROM TRUMP (TAKE ONE): Republican Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Immigration drama grips Washington Senate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration MORE (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill All the times Horowitz contradicted Wray — but nobody seemed to notice Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE (Del.) introduced the Special Counsel Integrity Act on Thursday, which would let Mueller or any special counsel challenge their firing in court. The challenge would be heard by a three-judge panel within 14 days. If they aren't able to find "good cause" for the firing, the special counsel would be reinstated. "A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation's system of check and balances," Tillis said in a statement.

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

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--...SENATORS LOOK TO PROTECT MUELLER FROM TRUMP (TAKE TWO): Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's move to halt family separations leaves questions unanswered Flake: Trump has 'unfortunately' redefined Republican Party Flake: Trump's attacks on Democrats 'bothersome,' unhelpful in immigration debate MORE (R-Ariz.) on Thursday floated the idea that Congress could hire Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor if he is fired by President Trump from his current role. "I think that if he were to be removed, however it's done by the assistant attorney general or a new one, Congress would assert its prerogatives," Flake said on MSNBC. "That would mean hiring a special prosecutor, and that might even be Bob Mueller."

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

--...PROTECTING MUELLER (TAKE THREE): GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate panel advances three spending bills Trump says he will sign executive order to end family separations Trump backs narrow bill halting family separations: official MORE (S.C.) and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) are moving to limit the Trump administration's ability to fire Robert Mueller as the latter investigates any potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Their legislation would require a judge to approve a Justice Department request to fire Mueller or any other special counsel. Any appeal of that decision would go to the Supreme Court, according to the bill. "Our bill allows judicial review of any decision to terminate a special counsel to make sure it's done for the reasons cited in the regulation rather than political motivation. I think this will serve the country well," Graham said in a statement.

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

--...TRUMP ATTORNEY JAY SEKULO DENIES FIRING MUELLER IS ON THE TABLE: He told Fox's Neil Cavuto this afternoon: "[T]he president is not thinking about firing Robert Mueller so the speculation that's out there is just incorrect."

To read more on that, click here.

--...EX-TRUMP ADVISER MIGHT HAVE BEEN UNDER SURVEILLANCE LONGER THAN WE THOUGHT: CNN reported Thursday that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had been the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant since 2014, much earlier than previously believed. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that the FBI had obtained a warrant targeting Page in the summer of 2016.

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

 

A LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:

BIG THREATS, SMALL BUSINESSES: A Senate committee with oversight of the Small Business Administration has advanced legislation that would mandate cybersecurity training for counselors helping businesses prepare for cybersecurity threats.

The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee approved the legislation Wednesday. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Lawmakers push for role in North Korea talks as Iran scars linger Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-Idaho), would require that employees at small-business development centers that receive grants from the Small Business Administration be trained in how to defend against cybersecurity threats and attacks.

The Small Business Cyber Training Act of 2017 would also direct the Small Business Administration to establish a cyber counseling program to certify small-business development center counselors to offer cybersecurity planning help to small businesses that request it.

The bill passed the committee easily in a unanimous vote, along with five additional pieces of legislation.

"This diverse package of commonsense legislation will give small businesses a boost in areas where they need it," Risch said in a statement.  "I am pleased to see these bills move forward with the committee's unanimous approval, and am particularly glad to see my cybersecurity bill advance, as it will address the vulnerability that so many small businesses face head on."

The bill has a slate of bipartisan co-sponsors, including the committee's ranking member, Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDem senator: If Nielsen doesn't reunite families, 'she should resign' America will not forget about Pastor Andrew Brunson Shaheen sidelined after skin surgery MORE (D-N.H.), as well as Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who are both members of the committee.

To read the rest of our story, click here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: 

OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS WILL BE CAPITALISTS: Chinese chatbots were taken offline after refusing to praise communism.

 

A REPORT IN FOCUS:

OPM IS MAKING PROGRESS: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has improved its information security controls since a breach of its systems affected nearly 22 million Americans, but it needs to take further action to guard against cybersecurity threats, according to government auditors.

In a report released on Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the OPM has worked to implement several information security recommendations but that, until all the measures are completed, "its systems are at greater risk than they need be."

The OPM revealed in 2015 that two breaches of its databases resulted in the exposure of sensitive information of 21.5 million people, most of them federal workers. The agency later blamed the breaches, which have been linked to Chinese hackers, on its legacy systems in testimony before Congress. The incident eventually led to the resignation of then-Director Katherine Archuleta.

Legislation enacted in 2016 required the GAO to review information security at the OPM, including the actions the agency has taken since 2015 to guard its systems and respond to breaches.

The OPM has implemented 11 recommendations made by the computer emergency readiness team at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the wake of the breaches and worked toward implementing the remaining eight recommendations, though the agency has fallen short of four of them, according to the GAO.

It is unclear precisely what the recommendations involve -- the report does not offer details on them due to their sensitive nature, but notes that they "pertained to strengthening activities and controls related to passwords, access permissions, patches, audit and monitoring, among other things."

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

 

WHO'S IN THE SPOTLIGHT?

THE GUY WHO STOPPED WANNACRY: Marcus Hutchins, the researcher who dramatically reduced the damage caused by WannaCry ransomware by discovering a "kill switch," was detained in Nevada after a cybersecurity conference.

Hutchins was indicted for creating and distributing different malware, the Kronos banking trojan. A sealed indictment, issued July 12 in Wisconsin claims he advertised and sold Kronos.

A press release from the Department of Justice ties the arrest to their recent takedown of the AlphaBay criminal marketplace, a one-stop online shop for drugs, weapons and hacking tools.

"Publically available information for the Kronos banking Trojan indicates that it was first made available through certain internet forums in early 2014, and marketed and distributed through AlphaBay," reads the press release.

In May, WannaCry disrupted networks ranging from a Spanish telecom to a Russian government agency and a U.S. shipping giant. Hospitals in the United Kingdom were so badly hit that some turned away patients.

Hutchins discovered an elaborate mechanism in WannaCry designed to disable the ransomware if there was a chance a researcher was investigating it, which involved trying to contact an non-existent website and receiving a "page not found" message.

He then registered the site, meaning that the page would always be found, and the ransomware would disable itself in all further infections.

To read the rest of our piece, click here.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Links from our blog, The Hill, and around the Web.

The group behind WannaCry cashed out its ill-gotten ransom money. (The Hill)

A Russian was sentenced in the U.S. for his role in a 'global botnet conspiracy.' (The Hill)

A top Dem argued to keep the Election Assistance Commission, one of the agencies aiding states in election cybersecurity. (The Hill)

An early documentary shows our astronauts first attempts to eat in zero gravity. (Boing Boing)

DHS's chief information officer is reportedly out after three months of service. (FedScoop)

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