The Stroz Friedberg Cyber Brief

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The Cyber Brief
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FBI Director James Comey made an emotional public appeal on the Lawfare website on Sunday, defending the Bureau’s legal fight with Apple over encryption, saying the case involving access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone was “quite narrow” and not intended to set a precedent. Days earlier the Justice Department filed a motion to compel Apple’s cooperation with a court order requiring it to create a tool to help decrypt the iPhone 5C used by Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple’s refusal “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy” rather than a legal rationale, the document said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook had issued a message to customers last week saying that the Obama administration was creating “a dangerous precedent” by forcing the company to build a backdoor into its products. Apple is expected this week to appeal the court order and has called on Congress to help convene a commission of experts to discuss digital privacy. Some victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attack are reportedly expected to file an amicus brief in support of the government. Separately, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. says he is considering seeking court orders to unlock encrypted smartphones in several cases. (NYT, WashPost, FT, Reuters, The Hill)
Iran: The United States reportedly developed an elaborate plan for a cyberattack on Iran in case diplomacy failed to limit its nuclear program. The plan, code-named Nitro Zeus, was devised to disable Iran’s air defenses, communications systems, and crucial parts of its power grid. (NYT)

Syria: Russia is mounting a sweeping cyber espionage campaign against Syrian opposition groups and NGOs, as the Kremlin seeks to influence the flow of information on the country’s humanitarian crisis and obscure the extent of its military operations there. (FT)

LA Hospital: Cybersecurity experts voice fears that a Los Angeles hospital’s decision to pay a $17,000 ransom to hackers could lead to a proliferation of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure. (Newsweek)
Intel Hacker: Police in Scotland arrested a second teenager in connection with several high-profile hacks of senior U.S. intelligence leaders, including CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Motherboard)
Encryption Bill: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) are expected to reveal more details about a major encryption bill this Wednesday amid a renewed debate over what role Congress should play in regulating encryption standards. (The Hill)

Wassenaar Arrangement: A coalition of technology and business groups is pressing the Obama administration to re-negotiate an international agreement designed to keep hacking tools out of the hands of repressive regimes. They claim many of the accord’s definitions are too broad or too vague, and could potentially block the legitimate sharing of information on security vulnerabilities. (The Hill)
Ad Blocking: The use of ad-blocking software grew 41 percent last year, with 198 million active users worldwide, according to a recent study. Analysts say this represents an existential threat to the $50 billion online advertising industry that has ignited a bitter feud between advertisers and developers of ad-blocking apps. (NYT)

5G: Telecom companies are investing billions in research in a rush to be the first to offer customers the next-generation ultrafast wireless technology. The efforts around 5G will be on display at Mobile World Congress, a four-day tech and telecom event in Barcelona that begins today. (NYT)

Auto Industry: Technology-driven trends, including diverse mobility and autonomous driving, will revolutionize how automobile industry players respond to changing consumer behavior, develop partnerships, and drive transformational change, according to a new report. (McKinsey)
China: Leaders in Beijing issued new rules barring foreign companies or their affiliates from engaging in publishing online content there without government approval. Legal scholars say the new rules seem aimed at restricting any type of content that might be considered a threat to the Communist Party or social stability. (NYT)

Must Reads
Apple’s FBI Battle Explained: “If the FBI is successful in forcing Apple to comply with its request, it would also set a precedent for other countries to follow and ask Apple to provide their authorities with the same software tool. In the interest of clarifying the facts and correcting some misinformation, we’ve pulled together a summary of the issues at hand,” writes Kim Zetter in Wired.

Encryption Isn’t At Stake: “In practice, encryption isn't usually defeated by cryptographic attacks anyway. Instead, it's defeated by attacking something around the encryption: taking advantage of humans' preference for picking bad passwords, tricking people into entering their passwords and then stealing them, that kind of thing. Accordingly, the FBI is asking for Apple's assistance with the scheme's weak spot—not the encryption itself but Apple-coded limits to the PIN input system,” writes Peter Bright for ArsTechnica.

How the U.S. Government Is Conflicted Over Encryption: “The U.S. federal government can work at odds with itself, but not often so directly on a topic with such clear national-security implications. Some federal agencies have funded the development of nearly unbreakable encryption software, while others, especially in intelligence and law enforcement, fume over their inability to read protected messages when they have a court order,” writes Damian Paletta in the Wall Street Journal.
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Mobile World Congress: Barcelona, 2/22-25
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