Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: White House eliminates top cyber post | Trump order looks to bolster agency CIOs | Facebook sees spike in violent content | Senators push NIH on tech addiction | House to get election security briefing

Greg Nash

The Cyber and Tech overnights have joined forces to give you Hillicon Valley, The Hill’s new comprehensive newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16) and Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers), and the tech team, Ali Breland (@alibreland) and Harper Neidig (@hneidig), on Twitter. Contact us with scoops, tips, comments and Al Horford memes.


WHITE HOUSE ELIMINATES TOP CYBER POST: The White House has decided to get rid of its top cyber policy adviser role, eliminating the policy position that aimed to help streamline the government’s overall approach to cybersecurity policy across federal agencies.

“The National Security Council’s cyber office already has two very capable Senior Directors. Moving forward, these Senior Directors will coordinate cyber matters and policy. As they sit six feet apart from one another, they will be able to coordinate in real time,” said Robert Palladino, a spokesman for the National Security Council in a statement to The Hill on Tuesday.

“Today’s actions continue an effort to empower National Security Council Senior Directors. Streamlining management will improve efficiency, reduce bureaucracy and increase accountability.”

How we got here: Rob Joyce, the latest official to hold this position, left last week, joining a handful of other national security officials who have left the White House. Joyce was on detail to the White House from the NSA, where he previously led an elite hacking group known as the Tailored Access Operations Unit.

The report that the White House eliminated the cyber role triggered immediate blowback from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“With cyber threats ever-changing and growing more sophisticated by the day, there is no logical reason to eliminate this senior position and reduce the already degraded level of cyber expertise at the White House,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the top Dem on the House Homeland Security Committee, in a statement.

Read more here


INTEL OFFICIALS TO BRIEF HOUSE ON ELECTION THREATS: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is arranging for top U.S. intelligence officials to brief members of Congress later this week on the Trump administration’s efforts to guard voting systems across the country from hackers.

The briefing comes amid increased fears about threats to the 2018 midterms following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, which U.S. officials have said involved hackers targeting state voting infrastructure.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray are set to brief lawmakers on Thursday evening, according to an aide to Ryan. The briefing will be unclassified and members-only, meaning it will be closed to the public.

The briefing is expected to cover current threats to the U.S. election process and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ongoing efforts to provide voluntary aid to states to secure their systems. Officials will also discuss what state election officials are doing to secure their respective systems.

What it means: Thursday’s briefing is part of an effort by Republicans to show they are addressing the issue of election security after Democrats have accused GOP leaders and President Trump–who has raged against the special counsel investigation into Russian interference–of not having done enough to counter the threat of Russian meddling.

How Democrats are reacting: Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, blasted Ryan on Tuesday morning for what he described as an insufficient and “last minute” effort to address the issue.

Read more here.


DHS OFFICIALS IN PENNSYLVANIA FOR PRIMARIES: A top Department of Homeland Security official met Tuesday with officials in Pennsylvania to discuss election security as voters head to the polls for primaries in the state.

Christopher Krebs, the acting head of Homeland Security’s cyber and infrastructure protection unit, met with acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Robert Torres and other officials Tuesday morning. They discussed steps the state is taking to ensure its digital systems are secure on primary day and if officials are prepared to address any issues in the event something does not go as planned.

Pennsylvania was one of 21 states targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election, though Torres insisted Tuesday that hackers merely scanned for vulnerabilities and did not attempt to or successfully breach any state election systems.

The meeting underscores an ongoing effort by Homeland Security to build relationships with states and offer them assistance to secure their voting infrastructure ahead of the 2018 midterms. It took place as voters in Pennsylvania and three other states head to the polls to participate in their respective primaries.

“If I could put one message out there for the voters of Pennsylvania, I want to reinforce the fact that, at all levels of government, we take this seriously,” Krebs said at a press conference following the meeting.

“It’s not just today, or since yesterday, or since 2016. The integrity of the election has always been a priority,” Krebs said. 

Read more.


ON THE INTERNATIONAL FRONT: Officials from the U.S. and Brazil are pledging to bolster their cooperation on cybersecurity and internet policy.

At the third meeting of the U.S.-Brazil Internet and Information and Communication Technology working group in late April, officials discussed strengthening “our joint commitment to an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure cyberspace,” according to a joint statement on the meeting issued by the State Department late Monday evening.

Among the topics discussed: cybersecurity, data protection, and “the free flow of data in the digital age.” The U.S. side was headed by Robert Strayer, State’s deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy.

“The United States and Brazil agreed to explore a series of technical exchanges and conduct consultations to share best practices on data protection, cross border data flows, ICT procurement, international security in cyberspace, cybersecurity, and military and law enforcement cooperation,” the statement read.


FACEBOOK UNVEILS ENFORCEMENT STATS: Facebook published statistics on how it’s enforcing its content policies for the first time today, showing a spike in violent content in the first quarter of 2018.

The numbers: For every 10,000 posts on Facebook, users posted roughly 22 to 27 pieces of content featuring violent images. In the last three months of 2017, that number was between 16 and 19.

“It’s an attempt to open up about how Facebook is doing at removing bad content from our site, so you can be the judge,” Alex Schultz wrote in a post of the decision to release the figures. “And it’s designed to make it easy for scholars, policymakers and community groups to give us feedback so that we can do better over time.”

To read more, click here.


‘NO PLANS’ FOR ZUCKERBERG TO TESTIFY IN UK: Facebook said in a letter to top British lawmakers that Mark Zuckerberg is not planning to testify before a House of Commons panel that has been scrutinizing the social network’s data practices.

“While Mr Zuckerberg has no plans to meet with the committee or travel to the UK at the present time we continue to fully recognize the seriousness of these issues and remain committed to working with you to provide any additional relevant information you require for your inquiry into fake news,” Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s U.K. public policy chief, wrote in a letter to Parliament.

Flashback: Recall that Damian Collins, who chairs a parliamentary committee on internet companies, had threatened to formally summon Zuckerberg if the CEO failed to show up. No word yet on whether he’s prepared to follow through.

In the U.S.: House Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), is issuing an open invitation for major tech CEOs to testify before his panel, which already grilled Zuckerberg in an hours-long session last month.

Read more here.


WE CAN QUIT ANYTIME: Two senators are asking the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for information on whether people are becoming addicted to technology.

“To address the open question of whether we are addicted to technological devices and platforms, Congress must understand the current scientific consensus, potential gaps in research, and the best way to build a body of evidence that can inform effective policymaking,” wrote Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in a letter sent Tuesday to the NIH.

The senators are asking for a briefing from the NIH and written responses to questions, including “is there consensus in the scientific community on whether our society is becoming addicted to technology?”

To read more, click here.


TRUMP ORDER: President Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday that gives chief information officers (CIOs) in the federal government more power, a move the White House says will make them more efficient and reduce wasteful spending.

“The true answer to modernizing government technology is to build the capacity to conduct change on an ongoing basis. By ensuring that agency CIOs are empowered, today’s action by President Trump is a critical step forward in building that change management capacity,” said senior adviser Jared Kushner, one of the White House officials involved in the project, along with tech-focused advisers such as Chris Liddell and Matt Lira.

The new changes will require CIOs to report directly to the heads of federal agencies that they work with. Currently, only half directly work with their agency head, according to a White House fact sheet.

Keep note: Outside of DARPA, the federal government has never been that great with technology. It spends $90 billion on IT alone, so any attempts to streamline things in the space are worth keeping an eye on.

Read more here.


HOMELAND SECURITY DROPS CYBER STRATEGY, FOCUSING ON ‘SYSTEMIC RISK’: The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday released its new cybersecurity strategy to counter evolving and growing threats from nation-state hackers and cyber criminals.

The department, which is responsible for securing federal networks and critical infrastructure from cyber sabotage, unveiled the strategy as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified before Congress on the fiscal year 2019 budget request.

“The strategy is built on the concepts of mitigating systemic risk and strengthening collective defense,” Nielsen said Tuesday. “Both will inform our approach to defending U.S. networks and supporting governments at all levels and the private sector in increasing the security and resilience of critical infrastructure.”

So what’s in it? The 35-page strategy unveiled Tuesday hinges on five “pillars” to limit and address threats to digital systems in the United States. These involve gaining a better understanding of threats and vulnerabilities to critical U.S. assets in cyberspace; reducing “systemic vulnerabilities” in U.S. networks; disrupting cyber crime; limiting the impact of potentially massive cyber incidents; and supporting policy to broadly bolster security of digital systems.

It recognizes the evolving and growing threats posed by nation-state hackers and cyber criminals, as well as risks posed by the rapidly expanding ecosystem of internet-connected devices–commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Check out more here.



KASPERKSKY LAB TO MOVE KEY INFRASTRUCTURE OUT OF RUSSIA: Kaspersky Lab is moving core parts of its infrastructure from Russia to Switzerland as part of its latest efforts to improve transparency about its cybersecurity work, the firm announced on Tuesday. The move comes after the U.S. government began wiping the firm’s products from its computer servers amid fear that Kaspersky Lab’s operations are tied to the Kremlin. Other countries have also followed suit.

“We are relocating a good part of our infrastructure to Zurich, Switzerland, including the ‘software assembly line’ and servers that store and process Kaspersky Security Network data, and creating our very first Transparency Center,” the company announced in a blog post.

The firm said it will move its assembly line — the process it uses to compile “products and threat detection rule updates” — and its servers to Zurich so that they can have “the supervision of a third-party organization before being distributed to customers.”

To read more of our piece, click here.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Lyft co-founder John Zimmer would rather die than take an Uber. (NYT Magazine)



The big vote… The Senate is expected to vote on a bill that would stop the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on telecommunications, competitiveness and national security. We expect President Trump’s calls to help Chinese phonemaker ZTE to dominate the conversation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its hearing on Cambridge Analytica, where whistleblower Christopher Wylie is expected to testify.

Former U.S. intelligence officials brief members of the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on the U.S. assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election.



Internal fights at NSC prevented a White House cyber strategy from being released last week. (CyberScoop)

China gave Trump a list of crazy demands, and he caved to one of them.” (Washington Post)

Pentagon wants to store sensitive secrets on nuclear weapons in the cloud. (NextGov)

What you need to know about newly revealed flaws in email encryption tools. (USA Today)

Ecuador spent millions on a spy operation to protect Julian Assange. (Guardian)

Twitter publishes a heatmap of net neutrality tweets. (Twitter)

The United States has been unable to bring charges against a suspect in the leak of CIA hacking tools. (Washington Post)

Tags Bennie Thompson Brian Schatz Dan Coats Donald Trump Greg Walden Jared Kushner Kirstjen Nielsen Mark Zuckerberg Michael Bennet Paul Ryan
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