Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Report urges Trump to take action against Chinese firms | Google lobbied against rule for activist employees | Former DHS leaders warn of shutdown damage | Groups call for FTC to break up Facebook

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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig).


RESEARCHERS CALL FOR TOUGHER ACTION ON HUAWEI, ZTE: A new report is urging the Trump administration to take action against a pair of Chinese telecommunication giants over the firms’ alleged misconduct, including claims they work on behalf of the Chinese government.

“Huawei and ZTE represent a serious, long-term national security threat to the U.S. that expands exponentially with the advent of 5G,” reads the report released from researchers at The National Security Institute (NSI) housed within George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

{mosads}”Both Huawei and ZTE have their origins in the Chinese state, remain integrated with the Chinese Communist Party, and are bound by Chinese law and policy to serve state security and economic interests,” it continues.

The report refers to past allegations that Huawei has offered bribes to further its agenda and that both companies have violated sanction orders issued by the U.S.

“Both companies have a history of actions ranging from troublesome to illegal — involving bribery, corruption, and sanctions evasion, as well as a record of supplying technological tools being deployed by authoritarian regimes to suppress dissent.”

The crackdown recommended by the report’s authors, Andy Keiser and Bryan Smith, would include a Department of Commerce investigation of the companies for potential trade violations and calls for the Department of Justice to require representatives from the firms to register as foreign agents.

“The National Security Council and the National Economic Council should devise a strategy to counter any Chinese retaliation,” the report states. Read more here.


KEEP THE SOLIDARITY OUT OF YOUR INBOX: Google in recent years wrote to the government suggesting a 2014 ruling that expanded employees’ rights to organize over social and workplace issues be undone, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

The news outlet obtained filings from May 2017 and November 2018 that showed attorneys for Google urged the National Labor Relations Board to undo a 2014 precedent that restricted companies from disciplining employees for using their workplace emails to organize.

Google argued that previous rules should be reinstated that allowed companies to ban their employees from circulating petitions and organizing walkouts through their workplace emails, Bloomberg reported.

A Google spokeswoman said in a statement to Bloomberg that the company is “not lobbying for changes to any rules.” Google’s argument that the 2014 rule be overturned was a “legal defense that we included as one of many possible defenses” against meritless claims, the spokeswoman said.

Google employees have been at the center of a number of protests in recent months, speaking out against workplace policies and company projects. Read more here.


THE SHUTDOWN SCARIES: A group of former Homeland Security officials on Thursday issued dire warnings on the partial government shutdown’s effect on national security, saying the lapse in funding is likely putting the U.S. at risk.

The panel, convened by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and largely comprised of Obama-era officials, warned that the 34-day shutdown may have harmful effects that could last years.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who served during the Obama administration, called the shutdown “a security crisis, and it is one of our own making.”

He said the lapse in funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies is inflicting stress, hardship and anxiety “on the very people we rely on for security,” potentially forcing federal staffers to quit their jobs.

“A breaking point may come tomorrow when they miss a paycheck for the second time this year,” Johnson said.

He asserted that even if the shutdown were to end tomorrow, “I fear the damage done to our security will be for months, if not years.” Read more here.


WORTH A SHOT?: Advocacy groups on Thursday urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to order a breakup of Facebook after the agency concludes its investigation into the company’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, wrote in a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons that modest enforcement actions would not be adequate to curb Facebook’s privacy practices.

“Given that Facebook’s violations are so numerous in scale, severe in nature, impactful for such a large portion of the American public and central to the company’s business model and given the company’s massive size and influence over American consumers, penalties and remedies that go far beyond the Commission’s recent actions are called for,” the groups wrote.

They urged the FTC to require Facebook to divest from subsidiaries like WhatsApp and Instagram and to impose a fine of at least $2 billion on the social media giant.

The agency is probing whether Facebook violated a consent agreement the two sides reached in 2011 that required the company to not misrepresent its privacy practices.

Among those signing onto the letter were the Open Markets Institute, the civil rights group Color of Change and Common Sense Media. Read more here.


THE RIPPLE EFFECT: The majority of fake news that appeared on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election was spread by a small number of users, according to a new study.

Researchers from Northeastern University, Harvard University and the University of Buffalo examined the sharing of fake news on Twitter during the election and found that 0.1 percent of individuals accounted for nearly 80 percent of the sharing of fake news sources.

Additionally, about 99 percent of users on Twitter spread essentially no fake news during election season, co-author and Northeastern University professor David Lazer told the Associated Press.

The study, published Thursday in the academic journal Science, also found that the individuals most likely to engage with fake news were conservative, older and engaged with political news. Read more here.


THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE: Apple laid off more than 200 employees this week from its driverless vehicle group, Project Titan, CNBC reported Thursday.

A spokesperson for Apple acknowledged the layoffs and told the business news network that the company still believes there is a “huge opportunity” in autonomous systems.

“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever,” the spokesperson added. Read more here.


PRIVACY INVESTMENT PAYS OFF: Businesses that are investing in privacy measures for their data are seeing some benefits when they do experience a hack, a new study finds.

An annual Cisco survey of 3,200 security professionals in 18 countries found that preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union appeared to lessen the impact of data breaches.

Out of the professionals surveyed, only 3 percent said they didn’t believe they had to follow GDPR, which requires companies to both know how and where personal user data is handled and offer ways to protect the information.

However, the survey also found that companies that had data protection plans in place experienced some benefits in the case of a data breach.

{mossecondads}The report found that fewer companies that experienced a data breach and were already in compliance with GDPR, or 74 percent, were impacted by the breach. That’s compared to the 80 percent of breached companies that were a year away from full GDPR compliance and were impacted by the event, and the 89 percent that are far from being in line with the regulations. Read more here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: The importance of independent, unbiased data.


A LIGHTER CLICK: The quiet part out loud.



US believes it doesn’t need to show ‘proof’ Huawei is a spy threat. (The Wall Street Journal)

Google and Facebook backed an event denying climate change. (Wired)

World leaders at Davos call for global rules on tech. (The New York Times)

Yes, ‘algorithms’ can be biased. Here’s why. (Ars Technica)

Tags Bennie Thompson

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