Gopal Ratnam

Google Would ‘Make the NSA Blush,’ Says Republican at Hill Grilling
Tuesday marked the first time a top Google executive appeared at the Capitol since the 2016 election

Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared for the first time before a congressional panel and batted away questions from lawmakers, who bombarded him about alleged bias against conservatives in search results and the company’s data collection practices.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte said Google was collecting so much information on its users that it would “make the NSA blush,” referring to the National Security Agency. The Virginia Republican also said the committee was interested in learning more about how Google determines what is objectionable, and allegations that biased ranking of Google’s search results could result in shifting voters’ views.

Democrats Want More Security Clearances for House Intel Aides
There are too many top-secret documents and not enough staffers, they say

A long-stalled effort to hire more staffers with security clearances to help the House Intelligence Committee will get fresh momentum in the 116th Congress, as Democrats take leadership roles.

California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who will likely be the next chairman, said he’s looking for ways to provide panel members’ personal staffs with top secret clearances so they can review classified information. Schiff said he will work with U.S. intelligence agencies to determine the best way to meet lawmakers’ needs.

Pentagon, Homeland Security Helping Private Companies Defend Against Cyber Threats
Agreement signed in the weeks before the midterms

The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security reached an agreement in the weeks before the midterm elections to jointly defend the United States against strategic cyber threats, including offering assistance to private companies, top officials from both agencies told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“This agreement clarifies roles and responsibilities between” the Department of Defense and the DHS “to enhance U.S. government readiness to respond to cyber threats and establish coordinated lines of efforts to secure, protect, and defend the homeland,” DHS Assistant Secretary Jeanette Manfra told a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and House Homeland Security committees.

Under Democratic Control, Russia, Spy Agencies, Tech to Get Greater Scrutiny, Schiff Says
If House flips majority, top Democrat on Intelligence Committee says expect more oversight

If Democrats take the House in next week’s election, the House Intelligence Committee plans to exercise greater oversight over U.S. intelligence agencies, finish the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and probe threats posed by new technologies, according to Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, who would become chairman of the panel.

If Democrats win, “we must refocus the committee on conducting serious oversight of the intelligence community and the Trump Administration’s direction to the intelligence agencies we oversee,” Schiff told CQ Roll Call in an email.

Paper Is Big Again, at Least for Elections. These States Don’t Have It
Headed into the midterms, 14 states have a paper trail problem

Just days before a pivotal midterm congressional election, dozens of jurisdictions around the country go to polls without a paper backup for electronic voting systems. The shortfall comes despite nearly two years of warnings from cybersecurity experts that in the absence of a paper backup system, voters’ intentions cannot be verified in case of a cyberattack that alters election databases.

Fourteen states will conduct the midterm elections where voters will register their choices in an electronic form but will not leave behind any paper trail that could be used to audit and verify the outcome.

Many Swing-State County Websites Lack Security, McAfee Finds
Minnesota and Texas had the largest percentage of non-.gov domain names

Counties in more than a dozen swing states across the country operate election-related websites that lack basic security measures and are not even identified as government related, computer security research firm McAfee found in a study published Wednesday.

“We found that large majorities of county websites use top level domain names such as .com, .net and .us rather than the government validated .gov in their web addresses,” the study found after examining 20 swing states. “Our findings essentially revealed that there is no official U.S. governing body validating whether the majority of county websites are legitimately owned by actual legitimate county entities.”

Russia, China, Iran Aim to Sway Elections, Officials Warn
First came the dire election warning. Minutes later, more Russian meddling charges

The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman with election interference just as top U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies warned that Russia, China, and Iran are running influence campaigns seeking to sway American voters in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential campaigns.

“We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies,” said the statement issued jointly by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. “These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections.”

China Will Close Artificial Intelligence Gap by End of 2018, Lawmakers Warn
More spending on self-driving car research, predictive technology, will help U.S. compete, new report says

Artificial intelligence technologies are capable of disrupting every aspect of society and the United States must do more to maintain leadership in the area, the leaders of a House panel said in a report released Tuesday.

Artificial intelligence “has the potential to disrupt every sector of society in both anticipated and unanticipated ways,” according to a report authored by Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Robin Kelly of Illinois, the chairman and top Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on information technology. “In light of that potential for disruption, it’s critical that the federal government address the different challenges posed by AI, including its current and future applications.”

Lawmakers Eye Cyber Bounties to Fix Bugs in Federal Networks
House panel approves Senate bill to set up pilot program at DHS

Lawmakers last week moved closer to mandating that the Department of Homeland Security start a bug bounty program that will pay computer security researchers to spot weaknesses in DHS’s computer networks. That requirement would bring the department in line with other U.S. agencies with similar cybersecurity programs.

The House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday by unanimous consent approved a Senate bill that would set up a pilot program at the department. The Senate passed the bill on April 17. The Pentagon, the IRS and the General Services Administration already operate such programs, and lawmakers have proposed legislation that would launch similar efforts at the departments of State and Treasury.

They’re Crying in the Cyber Wilderness
Attacking American institutions has become a lot simpler since 9/11

Seventeen summers ago, 19 men had to make their way physically into the country, train to fly planes while avoiding scrutiny, and then crash them into buildings in order to pull off a devastating attack on a superpower.

In the years since then, attacking the United States and its institutions has become a lot simpler: a few strokes on a keyboard can now disrupt elections or shut off a power grid.

The Pentagon Saw a Prized Jet. John McCain Saw a ‘Hangar Queen’
Armed Services chairman was no dove, but he couldn’t stand Defense waste

Few lawmakers have ridiculed wasteful Pentagon spending or scolded military officials from the Senate floor, hearing rooms, campaign events and in reports as often as Sen. John McCain.

The Arizona Republican died Saturday after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

Senate Panel Abruptly Cancels Markup of Election Security Bill
Anti-hacking measure would require paper ballots, post-election audits

A Senate committee on Wednesday abruptly postponed the planned markup of a key election security bill that had bipartisan support and would have imposed new audit requirements on states.

The markup of the Secure Elections Act, authored by Oklahoma Republican James Lankford and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, is “postponed until further notice,” the Senate Rules and Administration Committee said on its website. 

Cost Isn’t Everything. Pentagon Should Judge Contractors on Cybersecurity, Report Says
Security would be ‘fourth pillar’ in weapons purchase decisions

The Pentagon should take into account the cybersecurity capabilities of defense contractors in addition to cost and performance measures when awarding contracts, a U.S. government-funded think tank recommended in a report published Monday.

Through its buying process, the Pentagon “can influence and shape the conduct of its suppliers,” the Mitre Corp. said in a report titled “Deliver Uncompromised: A Strategy for Supply Chain Security and Resilience in Response to the Changing Character of War.”

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Say They Don't Censor Conservatives

Executives from the world’s top social media companies tried to reassure Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that their platforms do not censor or control conservative content and commentary, contrary to assertions by some lawmakers about the companies’ practices.

While social media companies such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have been removing false accounts, fake ads, and banning foreign government-owned propaganda outlets, lawmakers said some of them also have been restricting conservative content.

DHS: Russia Not Targeting Election Systems Like 2016
No evidence of a robust campaign aimed at tampering with midterms

U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security are not seeing evidence so far of a concerted effort by Russia to hack or penetrate American election systems during the 2018 midterms, top Homeland Security officials told lawmakers Wednesday.

Although the 2018 “midterms remain a potential target for Russian actors,” the intelligence community has yet to see evidence of a robust campaign aimed at tampering with our election infrastructure along the lines of 2016 or influencing the makeup of the House or Senate races, Christopher Krebs, the top DHS official overseeing cybersecurity and elections security, told the House Homeland Security Committee.

War Over FBI and Justice Reaches Crescendo on Hill
Divided House passes resolution demanding surveillance documents by July 6

Partisan clashes over the Justice Department and the FBI intensified Thursday as the House passed a resolution 226-183 demanding that Justice leaders turn over thousands of pages of investigative documents pertaining to the investigation of Carter Page and other former aides to President Donald Trump’s campaign. 

The House resolution insists that the Justice Department by July 6 comply with document requests and subpoenas issued by the Intelligence and Judiciary committees regarding potential violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by department personnel during the FBI’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign.

CIA Nominees Often Feel Like a ‘Dancing Bear’ in Capitol Circus

One of President Bill Clinton’s nominees for CIA director, after months of repeated hearings and delays by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, dropped out, saying that he felt like a “dancing bear in a political circus.”

Another one of Clinton’s CIA nominees, a retired Air Force general, Michael P. C. Carnes, withdrew because of a scandal involving a Filipino servant he had brought to the United States.

Fearing New Government Rules, Tech Titans Promise Security Vigilance
Lawmakers also may be likely to push for new legislation

SAN FRANCISCO — New European privacy rules, the spotlight on Facebook’s role in the 2016 elections, and the potential that cyberattacks targeting devices could harm consumers in their homes are propelling the tech industry to question its security practices and prompting top executives to promise to make amends.

During five days at the annual RSA Conference last week in San Francisco, top executives from the world’s largest technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, IBM, CISCO, McAfee and Symantec, said they took the scrutiny seriously and would not only step up to make their own devices and software safer but also work with thousands of vendors worldwide urging them to do the same.

Three Cybersecurity Bills to Hit Trump’s Desk This Year, Staffers Say
Movement on ‘Internet of things,’ intelligence and homeland security measures

SAN FRANCISCO — Dozens of bills are filed in Congress relating to cybersecurity and data breaches but many if not most may never see a committee markup let alone a floor vote. But key congressional staffers speaking at the RSA Conference here predicted at least three bills are likely to get to the president’s desk this year. 

A House-passed measure that would reorganize the Department of Homeland Security and create a new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has also cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and is awaiting Senate floor passage. 

Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Silos
Administration looks for ways to strengthen cyberattack defenses

SAN FRANCISCO — The Homeland Security Department is working on a cybersecurity strategy that aims to strengthen the overall digital economy’s defenses against cyberattacks, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a cybersecurity conference here on Tuesday.

The strategy “will bolster our digital defenses by prioritizing enhancements in risk identification, vulnerability reduction, threat reduction, and consequence mitigation,” Nielsen said without identifying when the strategy is likely to be made public. “We must be more aware of vulnerabilities built into the fabric of the internet, and other widespread weaknesses.”