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Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats

Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats
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U.S. citizens could be put at “serious risk” if the federal government is not able to come together and create a unified strategy to combat Chinese threats to critical technologies, a congressionally-created bipartisan commission concluded Monday.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) – a group established by Congress in 2018 and composed of lawmakers, federal officials and industry leaders – in a white paper published Monday highlighted the “China problem” faced by the security of the information and communications technologies (ICT) supply chain

The CSC detailed concerns around U.S. reliance on critical technologies manufactured by a potential adversary, along with concerns that the U.S. is falling behind on the international stage due to the lack of a cohesive strategy to challenge Chinese dominance in fields such as telecommunications and the development of fifth generation (5G) wireless technologies. 

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“The imperative is clear. Chinese government interventions in its own domestic industry, in global trade, and in standard-setting bodies has created an uneven playing field on which companies in the United States and partner countries struggle to compete,” the CSC wrote in the white paper. “Now is the time for strategic cohesion. Without an ICT industrial base strategy, America risks falling behind competitively and leaving its citizens at serious risk.”

Federal oversight around the use of Chinese technologies in the U.S. has grown over the past two years due to concerns over data security and privacy, with companies including telecom group Huawei and social media platform TikTok, owned by Chinese group ByteDance, coming under close scrutiny by the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill. 

To help the U.S. keep up in the race against China, the CSC recommended a number of steps for Congress to undertake, including directing the executive branch to develop and implement an ICT industrial base strategy, requiring the president to designate a lead federal agency to ensure the security of the ICT supply chain, and to promote the creation of “National Supply Chain Intelligence Center," among several other recommendations. 

The recommendations are based around a five-pillar strategy to build trusted ICT supply chains, including promoting a domestic market for critical technologies, zeroing in on promoting U.S. competitiveness on the world stage, and boosting intelligence around supply chain security to protect against compromise by an adversary. 

The Trump administration took a step towards addressing risks to the ICT supply chain last week, when the White House unveiled a national strategy for the development and security of critical and emerging technologies. 

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With tensions remaining high between the U.S. and China during the global COVID-19 pandemic, CSC co-chairs Sen. Angus KingAngus KingLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Top cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherReestablishing American prosperity by investing in the 'Badger Belt' Actors union blasts Democrat for criticizing GOP lawmaker's wife Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (R-Wis.) wrote in the report’s executive summary that “many of the recommendations contained in this paper therefore lay a firm foundation for technologies beyond ICT and will support efforts in those other areas.”

Gallagher said in a separate statement Monday that COVID-19 had only underlined the potential dangers of relying on non-U.S. technologies. 

“The pandemic showed us the dangers of relying on foreign adversaries for critical technologies and products. We need to learn the right lessons and ensure we don’t make the same mistakes again,” Gallagher said. “This paper provides the blueprint for a whole-of-nation approach to both shore up vulnerabilities within our information and communications technology supply chains and ensure these networks remain stable and secure. As the Commission makes clear, there’s no time to waste in doing so.”

The CSC was established to come up with recommendations to defend the U.S. in cyberspace, with the commission rolling out a larger report in March to establish a plan to prevent a nationwide cyber catastrophe. 

The most recent white paper was unveiled weeks after a House Intelligence Committee subcommittee came to similar conclusions in another report, urging the U.S. intelligence community to take steps to boost its science and technology work or risk falling behind China. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump tells GSA that Biden transition can begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract Democrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win MORE (D-Calif.) on Monday pointed to the report’s findings in also arguing the need for a whole-of-government approach to tackling threats posed by China. 

“The United States government, and its national security and foreign policy apparatus, is expansive and complex,” Schiff said during a speech at the Brookings Institution. “Any coherent, whole-of-government approach to the challenge that China poses will similarly require those who work on defense, diplomacy, and development to take hard looks at their resource posture and strategic focus.”

“This reorientation of our national security bureaucracy cannot and should not be a cost for our intelligence professionals alone to bear,” he added.