Hillicon Valley: Federal cyber agency kicks off effort to defend US against cyberattacks | Senators introduce bill to sanction nations tied to ransomware attacks | Amazon pushes back corporate reopening

Hillicon Valley: Federal cyber agency kicks off effort to defend US against cyberattacks | Senators introduce bill to sanction nations tied to ransomware attacks | Amazon pushes back corporate reopening
© Greg Nash

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Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage. 

A new program kicked off Thursday aimed at defending the U.S. against cyberattacks, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to help the federal government better track and analyze cyber crime.


Meanwhile, Apple unveiled plans for features aimed at increasing child safety but the plans are drawing concerns from security researchers and advocates who warn it could pose security risks beyond its intended purpose. And Google confirmed dozens of employees were fired for misusing access to the tech giant’s tools and data. 

NEW PROGRAM ON THE BLOCK: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Thursday kicked off a new effort to help defend the U.S. against cyberattacks, which have multiplied in recent months. 

The new Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC) will design and implement national cyber defense plans, share insights on cyber defense, help coordinate operations to reduce the impact of cyberattacks and support joint exercises to strengthen cyber defense measures.

Groups participating in the JCDC include both private sector and government groups, such as Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Google Cloud, Microsoft, FireEye Mandiant and Verizon, along with the FBI, the departments of Defense and Justice, the National Security Agency and several others.

“The JCDC presents an exciting and important opportunity for this agency and our partners – the creation of a unique planning capability to be proactive vice reactive in our collective approach to dealing with the most serious cyber threats to our nation,” CISA Director Jen Easterly said in a statement. 

Read more about the new effort here.



PUTIN, CALL YOUR EMBASSY: Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would sanction countries involved in state-sponsored ransomware attacks. 

The Sanction and Stop Ransomware Act would impose penalties on nations deemed by the secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence to be a “state sponsor of ransomware" through harboring or providing support for cybercriminals carrying out such attacks. The president would then be required to impose sanctions that are consistent with those levied on nations deemed sponsors of terrorism.

Ransomware attacks have been on the rise over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching the level of a national security threat with the May attacks on both the Colonial Pipeline, which provides 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel, and meat producer JBS USA. Both ransomware attacks were linked by the FBI to Russian-based cybercriminal groups. 

Read more about the bill here.


A BILL TO TACKLE CYBERCRIME: A group of bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation intended to help the federal government better track and analyze cyber crime following a sharp increase in cyberattacks over the past year. 

The Better Cybercrime Metrics Act would kick off the process of improving how the government and law enforcement agencies collect data on cyber crime, with many crimes currently going unreported or untracked and making it more difficult for the government to take action.

The bill would implement steps to change this trend, such as requiring the Department of Justice to work with the National Academy of Sciences to develop a taxonomy on cyber crime, and require the Government Accountability Office to report on differences in reporting cybersecurity issues versus other criminal activities. 

The legislation is led by Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerConservative group targets Spanberger, Luria in new ads ahead of reconciliation bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Meeks on being mistaken for a staffer: 'Glad I still blend in with the cool kids' MORE (D-Va.) in the House, with other sponsors including Reps. Blake Moore (R-Utah), Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) and Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeAngelina Jolie spotted in Capitol meeting with senators Elon Musk after Texas Gov. Abbott invokes him: 'I would prefer to stay out of politics' Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE (D-Texas).

The bill is simultaneously being introduced in the Senate by Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzHotel workers need a lifeline; It's time to pass The Save Hotel Jobs Act Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Scientists potty train cows to cut pollution Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan MORE (D-Hawaii), with Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime How to fix the semiconductor chip shortage (it's more than manufacturing) MORE (R-N.C.), John CornynJohn CornynSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill MORE (R-Texas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-sponsoring. 

Read more about the legislation here.


A CONTROVERSIAL UPDATE: Apple will roll out an update later this year that will include technology in iPhones and iPads that allows the tech giant to detect images of child sexual abuse stored in iCloud, the company announced Thursday. 

The feature is part of a series of updates Apple unveiled aimed at increasing child safety, but security researchers and advocates are warning the scanning update — along with one that aims to give parents protective tools in children’s messages — could pose data and security risks beyond the intended purpose. 

With the new scanning feature, Apple will be able to report detected child sexual abuse material to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) which acts as a comprehensive reporting center and works in collaboration with law enforcement agencies across the country. The company will also disable users accounts if the abusive content is found, Apple said in the update. 

Apple said its method to detect the abusive material is “designed with user privacy in mind.” Instead of scanning images in the cloud, the system performance “on-device matching” using a database of knowing child sexual abuse material image hashes provided by child safety organizations. 

Read more about the update


DOZENS FIRED: Google fired dozens of employees for misusing their access to the company’s tools and data between 2018 and 2020, a spokesperson confirmed to The Hill on Thursday.

“The instances referred to mostly relate to inappropriate access to, or misuse of, proprietary and sensitive Google corporate information or [intellectual property] IP,” the Google spokesperson said in a statement.

They added that employees are limited in how much user data they can access and that a review system is in place to avoid sensitive data being unlocked. 


Motherboard first reported on the firings, citing an internal document that suggested some of the dismissals may have been linked to inappropriately accessing user or employee data.

Read more here


LET’S HOLD OFF ON THAT: Amazon has pushed back its corporate return-to-office date until the beginning of 2022, the company confirmed Thursday.

The e-commerce giant had previously anticipated having its workers back in offices regularly starting the week of Sept. 7, but adjusted plans as a new surge in coronavirus cases sets back reopenings across the country.

Amazon is not yet requiring its corporate staff to be vaccinated to return to the office, unlike tech competitors Microsoft and Facebook.

Read more about the delay


An op-ed to chew on: Ransomware is a growing threat: US companies and infrastructure providers need to be ready 

Lighter click: A hopeful pup



Scammer Service Will Ban Anyone From Instagram for $60 (Motherboard / Joseph Cox) 

Facebook’s Reason for Banning Researchers Doesn’t Hold Up (Wired / Gilad Edelman)

Virtual work is making you talk like a business robot. Here’s how to ‘circle back’ to being human (The Washington Post / Tatum Hunter) 

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The four-day workweek (Protocol / Sarah Roach)