Hillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades

Hillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades
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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).

 

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LATEST IN AMAZON VS THE PENTAGON: The Pentagon is rejecting a key part of Amazon's lawsuit over whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE improperly intervened in a $10 billion cloud-computing contract. 

A Department of Defense (DOD) spokeswoman said Amazon was "not correct" when it alleged that the Pentagon had already chosen Microsoft as the contract winner by the time Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon US military to soon resume training for Saudi students State Department cancels two classified congressional briefings on Iran, embassy security MORE publicly recused himself from the process in October. 

"The assertion is not correct," Elissa Smith told The Hill on Wednesday. She said Esper recused himself on October 7.

Ten days later, on October 17, the department chose Microsoft over Amazon as the winner of the lucrative contract to create a cloud-computing infrastructure for the entire department. 

The Amazon lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims raises new questions about Esper's decision to recuse himself. It notes that Esper's recusal did not become public until Oct. 22, when the secretary said he was formally stepping away from the JEDI process because his son worked for IBM, which had bid on the JEDI contract but was no longer in the running. At the time, the Pentagon did not indicate that Esper had already recused himself two weeks beforehand.

The dispute comes amid a high-stakes legal battle over whether Trump improperly pressured the Pentagon to choose Microsoft as the winner of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract because he wanted to spurn his rival, Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosAmazon's 0K donation to Australian fire relief draws criticism World's richest 500 people saw their wealth jump 25 percent in 2019 Top 2020 Democrats target Amazon while spending big money on it: report MORE. Amazon was widely considered to be the front-runner before Trump began interfering in the process over the summer. 

One click here for more.

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WON'T STAND DOWN: Lawmakers are dismissing China's threat to retaliate against U.S. technology companies and vowing not to back down on limiting the use of Chinese telecom products from Huawei and ZTE, which they see as a threat to national security.

Beijing has reportedly ordered government agencies in the country to remove all foreign hardware and software from their systems within three years, in what is seen as a shot at the U.S. The order comes after bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill and from federal agencies to crack down on the use of Chinese products, the latest tit-for-tat in a technology fight and broader trade war.

Congress reacts: But lawmakers on Capitol Hill who spoke to The Hill insisted they would not be rattled and would push ahead with a tough approach to Chinese technology, even at the risk of blowback for American firms.

"I think they want Huawei to infiltrate our security system, and they are probably outraged, that is their response," Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill. "But we shouldn't be worried about it, because we can't have them spying on us."

"They are clearly just finding a way to retaliate," Sen. Angus KingAngus KingCongress struggles on rules for cyber warfare with Iran Democrats brace for round two of impeachment witness fight The Hill's Morning Report - Deescalation: US-Iran conflict eases MORE (I-Maine), a co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, told The Hill. "This is not really a trade dispute, this is a national security dispute."

The context: Reports on the Chinese order to bar government use of U.S. technology come at a sensitive time in the broader ongoing trade talks between the two countries.

President Trump has touted the completion of a "phase one" trade deal to avoid another round of devastating tariffs. But Trump has also said that could be delayed until the new year. The next round of talks over "phase two," are likely to be more contentious, with negotiators taking up cyber espionage issues, such as theft of intellectual property. Huawei has been viewed as a potential sticking point that could hold up agreeing to that trade deal.

Despite these issues, some lawmakers insisted they are not worried about the Chinese order, and on Tuesday advocated for staying focused on the potential threats from Huawei to U.S. companies.

"If Huawei wants to be a worldwide telecommunications company, that would be great, but they can't also be an agent of the Chinese government, and that's the fundamental problem that we have here, and to construe it as a trade dispute isn't really accurate, I mean they can treat it that way, but that's not what it is," King said. 

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week McConnell backs measure to change Senate rules, dismiss impeachment without articles MORE (R-Mo.), a key advocate on tech privacy issues, told reporters that the Chinese order was just part of an "ongoing" confrontation with China.

Read more here.

 

#BEBEST: YouTube on Wednesday unveiled a strengthened policy to crack down on harassment after facing a wave of scrutiny over whether it has taken enough responsibility over the scourge of hateful and bigoted content available across its massively popular platform. 

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In a blog post, the Google-owned video-sharing platform announced it is taking a stricter stance against "veiled or implied threats," such as when a YouTube creator suggests he or she will commit violence against someone else but does not explicitly say it.

And the company intends to crack down on targeted harassment campaigns, in which a particular creator or group continually targets an individual with hateful comments and content over a long period of time.

"Harassment hurts our community by making people less inclined to share their opinions and engage with each other," wrote Matt Halprin, YouTube's global head of trust and safety.   

The policy updates -- which could make it easier for YouTube to punish users -- come after the platform faced a whirlwind of protest over its decision not to take action against a conservative commentator accused of engaging in targeted homophobic and racist harassment against a journalist over two years. 

Read more about the "New Rules."

 

DEFENDING AGAINST CYBER ATTACKS: Legislation to protect the nation's electric grid against cyber attacks was added to the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was passed by the House in a vote Wednesday evening.

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The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act, included in 2020 NDAA, would help eliminate vulnerabilities in the electric grid by establishing a two-year pilot program within the National Laboratories.

The program's recommendations would then require a national strategy, crafted by federal agencies and the energy industry, to secure the grid against cyber attacks.

The Senate is expected to quickly send the NDAA to the White House for President Trump's signature after Wednesday night's House vote.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that he was pleased with the defense policy bill and planned to sign it into law "immediately" once he receives it.

The electric grid bill has bipartisan support in both chambers. It was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July.

Read more here.

 

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WE NEED TO SEE MORE: The State Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) received the lowest grades as part of a biannual scorecard on federal agencies' information technology management. 

Version 9.0 of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) scorecard, released twice a year by the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations, awarded D- grades to both the State Department and the NRC for IT modernization issues. 

The scorecard gave overall IT modernization grades to two dozen federal agencies, and also gave individual scores to agencies on their cybersecurity, software licensing, modernization of government technology, and transparency and risk management.

While the State Department and the NRC did not receive high marks, the scorecard overall showed improvement from past scorecards, which have been issued since 2015. 

Three agencies -- the Department of Education, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development -- received an A or A+ on their IT management efforts. 

Read more here.

 

IRAN SUFFERS CYBER ATTACK: Iran announced Wednesday that it had blocked a "very organized and governmental" cyberattack, though it offered no specifics on the incident, The Associated Press reports.

"I cannot give details but yes, we were targeted by a very organized and governmental cyberattack," Iran's telecommunications minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, said, according to the AP, which cited Tehran's official IRNA news agency.

"We are looking into the attack's different dimensions and will release a report on it," he added. "It was a massive attack."

On Tuesday, Jahromi reportedly dismissed rumors that an attack had targeted the financial information of millions of Iranians, saying "banks were not hacked." 

No country or actor has taken credit for the attack, the AP noted, adding that this isn't the first time Iran has claimed that it was the victim of a cyberattack. 

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: Beautiful love story :)

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Let's enact a privacy law that advances economic justice 

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

The gospel of wealth, according to Marc Benioff (Wired / Chris Colin) 

Silicon Valley is listening to your most intimate moments (Bloomberg Businessweek / Austin Carr, Matt Day, Sarah Frier, and Mark Gurman) 

How hackers are breaking into Ring cameras (Vice / Joseph Cox and Samantha Cole)

Swiping is falling out of style (Verge / Ashley Carman)