Overnight Cybersecurity

Hillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft’s surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals

Nominee for National Cyber Director Chris Inglis is sworn in on June 10
Greg Nash

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 by clicking HERE. 

Welcome and Happy Thursday! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar), for more coverage. 

***NOTE:*** Hillicon Valley will not publish Friday, June 18 due to the Juneteenth holiday. We will return Monday, June 21. 

The Senate on Thursday quietly approved the nomination of Chris Inglis as the nation’s first White House national cyber director, with the approval coming hot on the heels of months of escalating cyberattacks. One of the key champions of the cyber czar position, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), celebrated Inglis’s confirmation into a role that will see many roles and responsibilities placed on him.

In other news, Microsoft is coming under pressure from investors over development of surveillance technologies to law enforcement officials, and a bipartisan group of senators rolled out legislation to crack down on cyber criminals. 

CYBER CZAR CONFIRMED: The Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed former National Security Agency (NSA) Deputy Director Chris Inglis as the first White House national cyber director.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) brought up Inglis’s nomination for a vote through unanimous consent Thursday afternoon, with no senators objecting.

Inglis will be the first to serve as the White House cyber czar after the position was created as part of the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It is an expansion of the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator role that was eliminated in 2018 under the Trump administration, drawing bipartisan backlash at the time. 

The confirmation came the day after the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved Inglis’s nomination for the position, which came days after he sailed through his confirmation hearing with near uniform bipartisan support.

Read more about the confirmation here.

INVESTORS ANXIOUS: Microsoft is facing new pressure from investors over its development and sale of surveillance technologies to law enforcement and its efforts to shape the policies regulating their deployment.

Three separate shareholder proposals filed this week reviewed by The Hill are demanding Microsoft evaluate whether its business model aligns with the tech giant’s stated commitments to racial justice and human rights.

Taken together, the three proposals mark a significant escalation of investor scrutiny on Microsoft’s business practices.

Activist investors have increasingly been using shareholder proposals to put pressure on companies.

While these types of proposals have relatively low success rates — and are often nonbinding — their proponents say they offer an effective avenue to show companies the business risks of controversial contracts.

Read more about the proposals here.

NEW (OLD) CYBERCRIME BILL: A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday unveiled legislation intended to crack down on cyber criminals, who have increasingly posed a threat to critical U.S. organizations. 

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the International Cybercrime Prevention Act, which would enhance criminal violations for hackers targeting critical infrastructure such as dams, power plants, hospitals and election equipment.

It would also expand the Justice Department’s ability to go after botnet groups by allowing injunctions against botnets involved in certain destructive cyberattacks, destruction of data or other issues that pose a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. 

The bill was previously introduced by the same sponsors in 2018, but did not get a vote in the Senate. Graham told reporters that he would “insist” on attempting to add the bill to any potential Senate agreement on an infrastructure package. 

Read more about the bill here. 

PROTECT THE KIDS: A group of bipartisan House members led by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation intended to protect K-12 institutions from cyberattacks, which spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would appropriate $10 million yearly for the next two years to fund a K-12 Cybersecurity Technology Improvement Program to protect school networks from security risks. The program would be established by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and run by an information sharing organization.

The bill would also direct CISA to establish a cybersecurity incident registry within the agency to track cyberattacks on K-12 institutions and requires CISA to establish a cybersecurity incident exchange program to help schools share best practices and increase security of critical systems.

Read more about the legislation here. 

BLAME HOT POTATO: Amazon on Wednesday asked social media companies to help it tackle fake product reviews.

In a blog post that did not specify any platforms, the e-commerce giant said that “bad actors” have been using social media to solicit fake reviews to artificially boost or bury products.

“Some use social media services on their own; in other cases, they hire a third-party service provider to perpetrate this activity on their behalf,” the post reads. “However, bad actors regularly try to take this transaction outside Amazon to obscure our ability to detect their activity and the relationship between the multiple accounts committing or benefiting from this abuse.”

Amazon said that social media companies have been slow to respond to their requests to take down fake review activity, although it did note that response times have sped up recently.

Read more.

GOP GOES CRYPTO: The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) will begin soliciting cryptocurrency donations, it announced on Thursday, making it the first national party committee to do so.

“The NRCC is proud to lead the charge in accepting cryptocurrency campaign contributions,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the group’s chair, said in a statement. 

“We are focused on pursuing every avenue possible to further our mission of stopping [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s socialist agenda and retaking the House majority, and this innovative technology will help provide Republicans the resources we need to succeed.” 

The NRCC said it will process cryptocurrency contributions using the payment service BitPay. Those donations will then be converted into U.S. dollars before actually being transferred into the group’s bank account. 

Read more about the announcement

ADVANCING: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously Thursday to explore a proposal that would ban U.S. companies from buying telecommunications equipment that poses national security risks. 

The proposal, which won initial approval among all commissioners, could also revoke prior authorizations for any equipment deemed a national security threat on the FCC’s “covered list,” including Huawei and ZTE. 

The FCC’s vote was cheered by a bipartisan group of senators who previously introduced legislation that mirrors the FCC’s action Thursday. 

Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.) introduced their bill earlier this week, and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced similar legislation last month. 

Read more here

SNAP SCRAPS SPEED FILTER: Snapchat will be removing the “speed filter” that has been linked to several car crashes, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed to The Hill.

The spokesperson said that “nothing is more important than the safety of our Snapchat community,” adding that it had previously disabled the feature at certain driving speeds.

“Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether,” the spokeswoman said.

News of the filter’s removal was first reported by NPR, which noted that the company began removing the feature this week. However, it may take a couple weeks before it’s unavailable to everyone who uses the app.

Read more about the update

ICYMI: CYBER DOMINATES DISCUSSION: President Biden used a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to confront Moscow over its aggressive behavior in cyberspace and communicate that there would be future consequences if Russian state-backed cyberattacks continue. 

Read more about the summit here. 

On tap next week:

– A Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee will hold a hearing June 22 on building resilient and secure telecommunications networks. 

– Senior officials from the Department of Defense will testify about the recent string of ransomware attacks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on June 23. 

– FBI Director Christopher Wray will testify June 23 to the Senate Appropriations Committee on the FBI’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, which could involve discussion of cyber and tech priorities. 

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Uber and Lyft Donated to Community Groups Who Then Pushed the Companies’ Agenda (The Markup / Dara Kerr and Maddy Varner) 

Teens don’t always get sex ed at school. TikTokers are stepping in. (The Lily / Julia Moore)

When the Pentagon Visits Silicon Valley (The American Prospect / Jonathan Guyer)

50,000 security disasters waiting to happen: The problem of America’s water supplies (NBC News / Kevin Collier)

Tags Anna Eshoo Charles Schumer Christopher Wray Doris Matsui Ed Markey Hillicon Valley Jim Langevin Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Nancy Pelosi Sheldon Whitehouse Steve Scalise Tom Emmer Vladimir Putin
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