Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 5G rivals to Huawei | Amazon, eBay grilled over online counterfeits | Judge tosses Gabbard lawsuit against Google | GOP senator introduces bill banning TikTok on government devices

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).


WAY OUT FROM HUAWEI: Lawmakers on Wednesday heard from executives at top telecommunications companies as the Senate Commerce Committee weighed measures to prevent Chinese giant Huawei from getting a foothold in the emerging U.S. 5G network.

The hearing on “5G supply chain security” featured executives from companies including Nokia and Ericsson, who touted their technology as a viable and secure alternative and offered their support for legislation to help American telecom providers replace Huawei equipment.

Washington has grappled with the question of how to exclude Huawei, the largest provider of 5G equipment worldwide, as the U.S. begins a massive rollout of 5G. Concerns largely stem from a 2017 Chinese intelligence law that requires Chinese companies and citizens to assist in state intelligence work if requested. 


5G executives weigh in: European firms Nokia and Ericsson are often cited as the largest competitors for manufacturing 5G equipment.

Jason Boswell, the head of security for Ericsson’s Network Product Solutions, testified that Ericsson saw their products as “the best in the world.” He argued that should the U.S. decide to rely on Ericsson for 5G equipment, the company saw no “restrictions on our ability to meet manufacturing demand.”

Michael Murphy, the chief technology officer for Nokia in the Americas region, noted that while Huawei was a “formidable opponent” due to the heavy investment by Chinese banks into the company and its market share, he did “not feel we are at a technical disadvantage to being able to keep on par with Huawei.”


On Capitol Hill: Concern around Huawei on Capitol Hill has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in recent months, and the Trump administration made convincing allied nations to ban the company from their networks a key priority. But finding a replacement for Huawei’s products has been a challenge for Washington.

Both Boswell and Murphy also on Wednesday threw their weight behind the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which the House passed in December and which passed unanimously in the Senate last week.

It would ban the use of federal funds to buy telecom equipment from companies deemed a national security threat, such as Huawei or Chinese firm ZTE. The bill would also create a $1 billion program to assist small telecom providers, mostly in rural areas in the U.S., who depend heavily on Huawei equipment, giving them funding to rip out the equipment posing a threat and replace it with equipment from “trusted providers.”

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) during the hearing said he expected President Trump to soon sign the bill, putting a major dent in Huawei’s business.

“It was a statement by the House and the Senate as a whole on a bipartisan basis, and I expect the president will be signing that legislation with some fanfare in the next few days,” Wicker said. 


Huawei fires back: Huawei on Wednesday pushed back against Nokia and Ericsson’s claims. 

Huawei USA Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy told The Hill following the hearing that “there is really only one telecom equipment supplier for 5G around the world, and that is Huawei,” adding that Nokia’s and Ericsson’s claims of industry dominance “don’t have a basis in facts.”

“Why doesn’t the community organize public bake-offs, competitions between the technologies?” Purdy said. “I encourage that kind of competition.”

Purdy said Huawei was “really concerned” for its telecom customers in the U.S. if Trump signs the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act, which he said was “forcing pain” on those companies.

“It is going to take more time and cost more time and money than the elected officials recognize,” Purdy said. 

Don Morrissey, Huawei’s director of congressional affairs, told The Hill that while Huawei was not invited to testify at Wednesday’s hearing, they “would like to have been.” Morrissey noted that the company was reaching out to committee members to argue their side in a “methodical way.”

Read more here.


LAWMAKERS SAY KEEP CALM AND BAN HUAWEI: A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday “strongly urged” the British Parliament to reject Chinese telecom group Huawei and exclude it entirely from their 5G networks.

The British House of Commons is set Wednesday morning to debate the decision by the United Kingdom’s National Security Council in January to allow Huawei equipment in “periphery networks” while banning the company’s equipment from more secure networks. 

In a letter sent to members of Parliament on Tuesday night, Schumer, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and a bipartisan group of almost two dozen other senators underlined national security risks created through use of the company’s equipment, asking them to “revisit” their country’s decision on Huawei.

“Given the significant security, privacy, and economic threats posed by Huawei, we strongly urge the United Kingdom to revisit its recent decision, take steps to mitigate the risks of Huawei, and work in close partnership with the U.S. on such efforts going forward,” the senators wrote.

Read more here.


FAKEOUT: Lawmakers grilled some of the country’s top e-commerce platforms about their efforts to combat the spread of online counterfeits on Wednesday as the Trump administration and Congress push to clamp down on the hundreds of millions of fake products spreading across dominant and powerful platforms.

Executives with eBay and Amazon, two of the top U.S. e-commerce players, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce about how they’re working to sweep up fake and potentially dangerous products before they’re sold to their millions of customers. The company representatives emphasized they are willing to work with the government as they step up their various internal efforts.

But a bipartisan group of lawmakers questioned whether the platforms are benefiting from legal loopholes and skirting liability as their customers are duped and injured by fake iPhone chargers, children’s products and electronics.  


Why lawmakers are worried: “The emergence of these unregulated platforms has given criminal enterprises additional means to sell stolen and counterfeit goods to unsuspecting consumers,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the subcommittee chair. 

Over the past year, the issue of online counterfeits has jumped into the spotlight as the Trump administration battles with Beijing over the influx of fake products from China. The majority of fake and imitation products seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the past two decades arrived from China and Hong Kong, according to U.S. government data, and the latest trade agreement with China requires Beijing to take stronger action against counterfeit goods.

“The president has made this a priority,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, “which is clear in ‘Phase 1’ of the U.S.-China Trade deal.” 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) quickly took issue with McMorris-Rodgers’s suggestion, saying before his opening remarks, “You said the Trump administration’s leading on this issue — I don’t think they are.”  

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro in particular has led the administration’s efforts on the issue. He recently pressed a key group of House Judiciary Committee members to subpoena Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, claiming that Bezos has refused to sit down with the Trump administration about the issue.

Overall, Democrats and Republicans on the committee voiced concerns that tracked with recent statements from Navarro and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. Navarro and Wolf say the top platforms need to assume more responsibility over online counterfeits, which have surged as e-commerce becomes more ubiquitous. 

“The success and benefits of these platforms have given rise to those peddling counterfeit and illicit products for a quick buck,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the ranking member of the full committee.


What the execs said: Amazon’s vice president for customer trust and partner support, Dharmesh Mehta, and eBay associate general counsel Amber Leavitt testified that their companies are building up internal defenses against counterfeits, including powerful artificial intelligence systems that pull down products before they’re even reported. 

Read more on the hearing here.


YOU’RE DISMISSED: A federal judge on Wednesday tossed Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard’s lawsuit against Google, dismissing the Hawaii congresswoman’s allegations that the tech giant censored her free speech rights by briefly suspending her presidential campaign ads.

Judge Stephen Wilson, a Reagan appointee, shot down Gabbard’s key arguments, most prominently affirming that Google is not the government and therefore can’t be held liable for violating her First Amendment rights.

The Gabbard campaign’s “essential allegation is that Google violated [her campaign’s] First Amendment rights by temporarily suspending its verified political advertising account for several hours shortly after a Democratic primary debate,” Wilson wrote in a filing on Tuesday. 

He added that her claim “runs headfirst into two insurmountable barriers — the First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent,” quoting a recent decision that affirmed Google is legally allowed to censor any content on its services, including YouTube.

Gabbard, the long-shot presidential candidate known for bucking her own party, sued Google in July in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging the tech behemoth censored her presidential campaign when it suspended the advertising account for several hours after a Democratic debate. Google refuted her claims, chalking up the brief suspension to a technical malfunction. 

Gabbard’s lawsuit marked the first time a presidential contender has sued a large technology company over such claims. 

Read more here.


BAD NEWS FOR TIKTOK: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday said he will introduce legislation banning federal employees from using TikTok on government devices.

“This is a necessary step to protect the security of the United States and the data security of every American,” Hawley said during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on big tech’s connections to China.

The legislation comes as several agencies that deal with national security and intelligence issues have completely banned their employees from using TikTok, a social media platform owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance.

However, enforcement of those bans has been spotty, with many military members, for example, still posting on TikTok.

The short form video platform has exploded in popularity in the U.S., having been downloaded more than 123 million times in the country, but has been met with increasing scrutiny.

Lawmakers and intelligence officials have warned that Chinese law requiring companies to hand over data in investigations means that apps from the company pose a threat to American data security.

Read more here.


WE’RE ON IT: U.S. Cyber Command leader Gen. Paul Nakasone told a House panel Wednesday that election security is his “top priority,” emphasizing strides made in combating threats in the years since Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“We are 244 days from the 2020 presidential election,” Nakasone testified during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on U.S. Cyber Command’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget. “My top priority is a safe and secure election that is free from foreign influence.”

Nakasone emphasized that even if foreign actors try to interfere in U.S. elections, federal agencies are prepared.

“Malicious actors are trying to test our defenses and our resolve,” Nakasone warned. “We are ready for them, and any others, who try to interfere in our democratic processes.”

U.S. Cyber Command, which is a branch of the Department of Defense, was involved in monitoring for cyber interference during both the 2018 midterm elections and on Super Tuesday this week.

Nakasone said the rate of improvement made by U.S. Cyber Command and other federal agencies in communicating threats to elections made the work done on Election Day in 2018 “look like a pickup game to me as opposed to what I saw yesterday.”

Read more here.


EVERYTHING IS FINE: A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cyber agency said Tuesday night that they had not seen any “malicious cyber activity” aimed at disrupting elections during primary voting in 14 states.

“We don’t have any reports of any malicious cyber activity across the states today,” the senior official at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) told reporters. 

The official noted that while there were some “sporadic” information technology (IT) issues, all the election systems were able to get “back up and running” with no issues due to targeting by hackers.

One IT incident the official pointed to was in California, where the secretary of state’s website was briefly brought down by what the office tweeted was “higher than normal traffic” and not hacking activity.

CISA ran a national cybersecurity awareness room on Election Day to track threats to elections and coordinate information sharing officials at all levels of government. Coming out of this experience, the official said there were “more opportunities to learn and continue to improve” on election security coordination ahead of the November elections.

Read more here.


ANOTHER CORONAVIRUS CANCELLATION: Google on Wednesday announced that they would be canceling their annual I/O developer conference that was set to take place at their Mountain View, Calif., headquarters in May due to concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Google cited advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as the reason for their cancellation.

They become the latest group to cancel major conferences in light of the outbreak.

This week Facebook announced that they would be pulling out of panels they were set to participate in at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Amnesty International announced on Monday that they would also be canceling their annual meeting in San Diego. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced Tuesday their annual spring meetings in Washington, D.C., scheduled for April would be canceled as well. 

Read more here.


ICYMI: COMING SOON: A new report by a bipartisan commission will include at least 75 recommendations for Congress and the executive branch on how to defend the nation against cyberattacks, including bipartisan recommendations for defending elections. 

Members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which includes lawmakers, federal officials and industry leaders, highlighted the group’s focus on election security during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, previewing some of the recommendations that will be among those released March 11. 

Former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), a commission member, said the report — which marks a major effort to create a blueprint for federal action on cybersecurity going forward — was “biased towards action,” and was meant to spur change.

“It’s not some report that is going to be in the Library of Congress that no one is going to look at again,” Murphy said. “There is going to be some legislative action, there are going to be some executive actions.”

The report’s recommendations around election security will mark a rare bipartisan effort to address the issue following years of contention on Capitol Hill after Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

The commission includes FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, Co-Chairman and Rep. Michael Gallagher (R-Wis.), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), and former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency Chris Inglis. 

Read more here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: D.C.’s finest


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Ring gets ‘dinged’ for its video doorbell privacy



This small company is turning Utah into a surveillance panopticon (Motherboard / Jason Koebler, Emanuel Maiberg and Joseph Cox)

Coronavirus has already dealt a half-billion-dollar blow to the tech industry’s events economy (Recode / Rani Molla and Shirin Ghaffary)

Twitter is testing ephemeral tweets in Brazil and calling them ‘fleets’ (Verge / Casey Newton)

Biden vs. Bernie: Who’s tougher on tech? (Protocol / Issie Lapowsky)

Tags Ben Sasse Chad Wolf Charles Schumer Christopher Wray Donald Trump Greg Walden Jan Schakowsky Jeff Bezos Josh Hawley Patrick Murphy Roger Wicker Tulsi Gabbard

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