Overnight Cybersecurity: Critics fear indictments won't deter Iran's hackers

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...


--NAME AND SHAME: The Obama administration is reportedly poised to indict the Iranian hackers responsible for infiltrating a New York dam in 2013. The anticipated move is widely seen as an attempt to deter Tehran's rapidly developing cyber program, and head off concerns that the country will use a new influx of resources from its recently struck nuclear deal to fund cyber warfare efforts. "It's a pretty big deal," said Adam Segal, a cyber policy specialist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations. But conservatives worry it will do little to deter Iran. If the White House publicly blames Iran for a 2013 cyberattack on a small dam about 20 miles north of New York City, the charges would be the first public step the government has taken to curb Iran's hacking program. The administration had previously only gone after Iran clandestinely in cyberspace, reportedly launching a 2010 computer worm that crippled Iran's nuclear infrastructure. The indictments would also be the first major action against Iran since the nuclear deal was signed to lift sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. To read our full piece, check back in the morning.

--NOW WHAT?: The Justice Department is discussing how to proceed with a criminal investigation in which investigators have been stymied by the encryption of the popular instant messaging service WhatsApp, The New York Times reports. The case is unfolding against the backdrop of the Justice Department's public feud with Apple over the locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. Details of the WhatsApp case are unclear, but officials told the Times that it was not a terrorism case. They said that a federal judge approved a wiretap, but that investigators have been unable to move forward. No decisions have been made about how to proceed. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, allows users to send messages and make phone calls over the Internet. The company has been adding encryption to its product over the last year, making it impossible for the Justice Department to eavesdrop on communications -- even with a valid court order. The case differs slightly from the ongoing dispute over San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone, in which the Justice Department is trying to force Apple to help it unlock the physical device to access the data contained therein. In the WhatsApp case, officials want to be able to read users' communications that they intercept. Some investigators believe that the WhatsApp case could set an even more impactful precedent than the Apple case, according to the Times, because it could determine the future of wiretapping -- a centuries' old tool of law enforcement. To read our full piece, click here.

--TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW: Senate Republicans are threatening legal recourse against a State Department IT official who has refused to answer their questions about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFox News poll: Biden ahead of Trump in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio Trump, Biden court Black business owners in final election sprint The power of incumbency: How Trump is using the Oval Office to win reelection MORE's private email server. The leaders of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees earlier this month told the official, John Bentel, that he was "an integral figure" in the State Department and should be able to answer questions about the unusual setup that Clinton used while serving as secretary of State. Yet more than three months after lawmakers reached out, he has refused to talk. "In order to properly exercise our constitutional oversight functions, we need to speak to you," Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose Top GOP senators say Hunter Biden's work 'cast a shadow' over Obama Ukraine policy MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose CHC leaders urge Senate to oppose Chad Wolf nomination  MORE (R-Wis.) wrote to Bentel's lawyer. The letter was sent on March 4 but released on Monday. The lawmakers said that they would prefer a "voluntary and informal" meeting, but "we will consider other options if faced with a continuing lack of cooperation," potentially referring to a subpoena. Bentel was the director of information resource management in the State Department's Office of Executive Secretariat, and as such "may have specific knowledge relating to Secretary Clinton's private server and email arrangement," the lawmakers wrote. They suggested he also could talk about IT issues connected to the BlackBerry that Clinton used while in office. To read our full piece, click here.



--ENCRYPTION -- WHAT A JOKE! John Oliver tackled the encryption debate in a cogent explainer that largely comes down on the side of Apple.

Even if you're sufficiently up-to-date on the story, you should watch the last three minutes. There's an "honest commercial" for Apple, the tagline for which is: "Apple. Join us as we dance madly on the lip of the volcano."

Watch, here.



--MORE HARM THAN GOOD? Restricting encryption won't stop terrorists from using it -- but it will hamper national security and make the U.S. less competitive in the global marketplace, according to a report out today from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

"We can't possibly know how much terrorism we might prevent by weakening encryption, but we can be sure that the economic and social costs of less secure information technology would be enormous," said Daniel Castro, ITIF vice president and the report's lead author. "U.S. efforts to limit encryption will undermine significant progress made in information security and give foreign competitors an advantage in global markets."

Read the report, here.




--The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the 2017 budget for U.S. Cyber Command at 2 p.m.

--The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on Department of Veterans Affairs cybersecurity tools, also at 2 p.m.



--TIM COOK. The Apple CEO better watch out. There's a sheriff in Texas threatening to arrest him if he should ever oppose a court order in his county.

"I can tell you, the first time we do have trouble getting into a cell phone, we're going to seek a court order from Apple.  And when they deny us, I'm going to go lock the CEO of Apple up," pledged Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.  "I'll lock the rascal up."

"You cannot create a business model to go, 'We're not paying attention to the federal judge or the state judge. You see, we're above the law,'" he said. "The CEO of Apple needs to know he's not above the law, and neither is anybody else in the United States."

Read on, at Fox 13, here.



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

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Sunday rebuked President Obama's recent comments condemning an "absolutist" position on encryption, calling the remarks "tone deaf." (The Hill)

North Korea is denying any connection to a recent series of cyberattacks targeting South Korean officials' smartphones. (The Hill)

Spurred on by Apple's battles against the FBI, some of tech's biggest names -- like Facebook and Google -- are planning to expand encryption of user data in their services. (The Guardian)

Former senior counterterrorism official Richard Clarke said the FBI is "not as interested in solving the problem as it is in getting a legal precedent" in its case against Apple. (NPR)

A controversy over a secretly installed data monitoring system is simmering at university campuses across California. (NPR)

Microsoft says it has never helped police investigators unlock its customers' encrypted computers--despite the fact that the company often holds the key to get their data. (Motherboard)

An op-ed from presidential candidate John McAfee describes what it means to be a "cybersecurity expert."

Cybersecurity-training programs modeled on military tactics are making their way to the private sector. (The Wall Street Journal)

The second season of "Mr. Robot" will tackle privacy and data encryption, creator Sam Esmail revealed at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.


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