The Stroz Friedberg Cyber Brief

  FEATURED STORY            



On Friday, President Donald Trump signed legislation reauthorizing a controversial surveillance program used by the National Security Agency. Imposing only minor changes to the program, the law extends for six years the NSA’s ability to eavesdrop on digital communications from foreigners living outside the United States and to, without a warrant, incidentally collect communications belonging to Americans.

U.S. intelligence agencies have long said the program is indispensable to national security, while privacy advocates say it violates constitutional protections. The measure easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives, despite mixed signals posted on Twitter by Trump, and narrowly avoided a filibuster in the Senate. (Politico, Reuters, AP)


Weak Deterrence: Citing the lacking response to the “Wannacry” ransomware attack, which was likely perpetrated by North Korea, security analysts say that major world powers have been unable to come up with a viable means of deterring the most damaging cyberattacks. (NYT)


Cell Phones: Cybersecurity researchers say that Lebanon’s intelligence service may have turned thousands of smartphones into surveillance devices, in one of the first known examples of large-scale state hacking of phones. Fake apps reportedly allow the hackers to take photos, retrieve location information, capture audio, and more. (EFF)


Spectre & Meltdown: Intel said that computers with its newer chips might reboot more often than normal because of problems with the patches issued to fix the two security flaws known as Spectre and Meltdown. The company has issued patches for 90 percent of its chips released in the past five years. (Reuters)

Factory Systems: Newly discovered malware dubbed Triton reportedly allows hackers to control what a safety shut-off system will do in the event of an emergency. These systems act as one of the last lines of defense when plant floors face dangerous situations that could lead to explosions or spills. (WSJ)


NSA: The intelligence agency accidentally destroyed data it pledged to save in connection with pending lawsuits, and apparently never took some steps it told a federal court it had taken to preserve the information. (Politico)


Ex-IBM Worker: A former software engineer for IBM in China, Jiaqiang Xu, was sentenced to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to stealing proprietary source code from the company. (Reuters)

Virtual Currencies: The Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed charges in New York federal court against three virtual currency operators alleging the defendants had defrauded customers and broken other commodity trading rules. (Reuters)

  ON THE HILL                                    

Venezuela: The U.S. Treasury Department warned that Venezuela’s proposed “petro” cryptocurrency could violate sanctions. President Nicolas Maduro this month said his government will soon issue 100 million petros, backed by an equivalent number of barrels of oil, partly to get around the U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)

  PRIVATE SECTOR                             

Amazon: The online retailer is opening today in Seattle its first Amazon Go location, an experimental concept store that has no checkout lines and where shoppers are tracked by hundreds of cameras on the ceiling. (FT)


Facebook: The company said it was reopening and broadening an internal investigation into the possibility that Russia used the social media site to influence the British vote to leave the European Union. (NYT)

Twitter: The social media firm said it identified another 1,000 accounts tied to a Russian government-backed propaganda outfit. Meanwhile, Twitter has identified another 13,500 bot accounts with Kremlin ties, bringing the total number of automated accounts related to Russian interference in the election to more than 50,000. (WSJ)

  THE WORLD                                     

China: Analysts say Beijing is attempting to plug the last holes in its “Great Firewall” internet censorship regime. Five international companies and organizations operating in China told the Financial Times that they have had difficulty using their custom-built VPNs to access the internet in recent months. (FT)

Global: The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day. (NYT)


Containing Russia, Again: “Without a more vigorous and comprehensive response, the Kremlin’s meddling will continue—and even get worse—while other adversaries might also conclude they can attack the United States with relative impunity. Washington needs to impose real costs on Moscow, while also enhancing defenses against future attacks and bolstering its military commitment to European allies most threatened by Moscow’s aggressive posture. The minimal sanctions applied thus far have failed to send a sufficiently strong message,” write Robert D. Blackwill and Philip H. Gordon in Foreign Affairs.


Big Bets on AI Open Frontier for Start-Ups: “Today, at least 45 start-ups are working on chips that can power tasks like speech and self-driving cars, and at least five of them have raised more than $100 million from investors. Venture capitalists invested more than $1.5 billion in chip start-ups last year, nearly doubling the investments made two years ago, according to the research firm CB Insights. The explosion is akin to the sudden proliferation of PC and hard-drive makers in the 1980s. While these are small companies, and not all will survive, they have the power to fuel a period of rapid technological change,” writes Cade Metz in the New York Times.

Meet Antifa’s Secret Weapon: “Though [Megan] Squire may be peaceful herself, among her strongest allies are ‘antifa’ activists, the far-left antifascists. She doesn’t consider herself to be antifa and pushes digital activism instead of the group’s black-bloc tactics, in which bandanna-masked activists physically attack white supremacists. But she is sympathetic to antifa’s goal of silencing racist extremists and is unwilling to condemn their use of violence, describing it as the last resort of a “diversity of tactics.” She’s an intelligence operative of sorts in the battle against far-right extremism, passing along information to those who might put it to real-world use. Who might weaponize it,” writes Doug Bock Clark in Wired.


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