Further Reading and Other Developments (13 June)

First things first, if you would like to receive my Technology Policy Update, email me. You can find some of these Updates from 2019 and 2020 here.

Other Developments

  • The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab alleged that an Indian information technology (IT) firm has been running a hacking for hire operation possibly utilized by multinationals to target non-profits, journalists, and advocacy groups:
    • Dark Basin is a hack-for-hire group that has targeted thousands of individuals and hundreds of institutions on six continents. Targets include advocacy groups and journalists, elected and senior government officials, hedge funds, and multiple industries.
    • Dark Basin extensively targeted American nonprofits, including organisations working on a campaign called #ExxonKnew, which asserted that ExxonMobil hid information about climate change for decades.
    • We also identify Dark Basin as the group behind the phishing of organizations working on net neutrality advocacy, previously reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Michigan (UM) “released a report on the security of OmniBallot, an Internet voting and ballot delivery system produced by Democracy Live…[that] has been deployed in Delaware, West Virginia, and other jurisdictions.” MIT and UM “The full technical report contains detailed recommendations for jurisdictions, but here’s what individual voters can do to help reduce risks to their security and privacy:
    • Your safest option is to avoid using OmniBallot. Either vote in person or request a mail-in absentee ballot, if you can. Mail-in ballots are a reasonably safe option, provided you check them for accuracy and adhere to all relevant deadlines.
    • If you can’t do that, your next-safest option is to use OmniBallot to download a blank ballot and print it, mark it by hand, and mail it back or drop it off. Always double-check that you’ve marked your ballot correctly, and confirm the mailing address with your local jurisdiction. 
    • If you are unable to mark your ballot by hand, OmniBallot can let you mark it on-screen. However, this option (as used in Delaware and West Virginia) will send your identity and secret ballot selections over the Internet to Democracy Live’s servers even if you return your ballot through the mail. This increases the risk that your choices may be exposed or manipulated, so we recommend that voters only use online marking as a last resort. If you do mark your ballot online, be sure to print it, carefully check that the printout is marked the way you intended, and physically return it.
    • If at all possible, do not return your ballot through OmniBallot’s website or by email or fax. These return modes cause your vote to be transmitted over the Internet, or via networks attached to the Internet, exposing the election to a critical risk that votes will be changed, at wide scale, without detection. Recent recommendations from DHS, the bi-parisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the consensus of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine accord with our assessment that returning ballots online constitutes a severe security risk.
  • The “Justice in Policing Act of 2020” (H.R.7120/S.3912) was introduced this week in response to the protests and disparate policing practices towards African Americans primarily and would bar the use of facial recognition technology for body cameras, patrol car cameras, or other cameras authorized and regulated under the bill. The House Oversight and Reform Committee has held a series of hearings this Congress on facial recognition technology, with Members on both sides of the aisle saying they want legislation regulating the government’s use of it. As of yet, no such legislation has been introduced. Facial recognition technology language was also a major factor in privacy legislation dying last year in Washington state and was outright removed to avoid the same fate this year.
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released “ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS: Ongoing Stakeholder Involvement Needed in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Modernization Effort” a week after Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie informed the House Appropriations Committee that the electronic health record rollout has been paused due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, the GAO concluded:
    • VA met its schedule for making the needed system configuration decisions that would enable the department to implement its new EHR system at the first VA medical facility, which was planned for July 2020. In addition, VA has formulated a schedule for making the remaining EHR system configuration decisions before implementing the system at additional facilities planned for fall 2020. VA’s EHRM program was generally effective in establishing decisionmaking procedures that were consistent with applicable federal standards for internal control.
    • However, VA did not always ensure the involvement of relevant stakeholders, including medical facility clinicians and staff, in the system configuration decisions. Specifically, VA did not always clarify terminology and include adequate detail in descriptions of local workshop sessions to medical facility clinicians and staff to ensure relevant representation at local workshop meetings. Participation of such stakeholders is critical to ensuring that the EHR system is configured to meet the needs of clinicians and support the delivery of clinical care.
  • The GAO recommended
    • For implementation of the EHR system at future VA medical facilities, we recommend that the Secretary of VA direct the EHRM Executive Director to clarify terminology and include adequate detail in descriptions of local workshop sessions to facilitate the participation of all relevant stakeholders including medical facility clinicians and staff. (Recommendation 1)
  • Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office released a report to advise law enforcement agencies and policymakers “in the shape of a case book and presents case examples showing how intellectual property (IP) crime is linked to other forms of criminality, including money laundering, document fraud, cybercrime, fraud, drug production and trafficking and terrorism.”
  • The New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights released its latest report on social media titled “Who Moderates the Social Media Giants? A Call to End Outsourcing” that calls for major reforms in how these companies moderate content so as to improve the online ecosystem and the conditions, pay, and efficiacy of those actually doing the work. The report claimed “[d]espite the centrality of content moderation, however, major social media companies have marginalized the people who do this work, outsourcing the vast majority of it to third-party vendors…[and] [a] close look at this situation reveals three main problems:
    • In some parts of the world distant from Silicon Valley, the marginalization of content moderation has led to social media companies paying inadequate attention to how their platforms have been misused to stoke ethnic and religious violence. This has occurred in places ranging from Myanmar to Ethiopia. Facebook, for example, has expanded into far-flung markets, seeking to boost its user-growth numbers, without having sufficient moderators in place who understand local languages and cultures.
    • The peripheral status of moderators undercuts their receiving adequate counseling and medical care for the psychological side effects of repeated exposure to toxic online content. Watching the worst social media has to offer leaves many moderators emotionally debilitated. Too often, they don’t get the support or benefits they need and deserve.
    • The frequently chaotic outsourced environments in which moderators work impinge on their decisionmaking. Disputes with quality-control reviewers consume time and attention and contribute to a rancorous atmosphere.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) “requests review and comments on the four-volume set of documents: Special Publication (SP) 800-63-3 Digital Identity Guidelines, SP 800-63A Enrollment and Identity Proofing, SP 800-63B Authentication and Lifecycle Management, and SP 800-63C Federation and Assertions…[that] presents the controls and technical requirements to meet the digital identity management assurance levels specified in each volume.” NIST “is requesting comments on the document in response to agency and industry implementations, industry and market innovation and the current threat environment.” Comments are due by 10 August.
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) updated its Cyber Risks to Next Generation 911 White Paper and released Cyber Risks to 911: Telephony Denial of Service and PSAP Ransomware Poster. CISA explained:
    • Potential cyber risks to Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) systems do not undermine the benefits of NG9-1-1. Nevertheless, cyber risks present a new level of exposure that PSAP administrators must understand and actively manage as a part of a comprehensive risk management program. Systems are already under attack. As cyber threats grow in complexity and sophistication, attacks could be more severe against NG9-1-1 systems as attackers can launch multiple distributed attacks with greater automation from a broader geography and against more targets.  This document provides an overview of the cyber risk landscape, offers an approach for assessing and managing risk, and provides additional cybersecurity resources. 
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a number of technology reports:
    • The GAO recommended that the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) “should incorporate additional management controls to better oversee and coordinate NNSA’s microelectronics activities. Such management controls could include investing the microelectronics coordinator with increased responsibility and authority, developing an overarching management plan, and developing a mission need statement and a microelectronics requirements document.”
  • The GAO found that
    • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken steps to implement selected leading practices in its transition from waterfall, an approach that historically delivered useable software years after program initiation, to Agile software development, which is focused on incremental and rapid delivery of working software in small segments. As shown below, this quick, iterative approach is to deliver results faster and collect user feedback continuously.
    • DHS has fully addressed one of three leading practice areas for organization change management and partially addressed the other two. Collectively, these practices advise an organization to plan for, implement, and measure the impact when undertaking a significant change. The department has fully defined plans for transitioning to Agile development. DHS has partially addressed implementation—the department completed 134 activities but deferred roughly 34 percent of planned activities to a later date. These deferred activities are in progress or have not been started. With respect to the third practice, DHS clarified expected outcomes for the transition, such as reduced risk of large, expensive IT failures. However, these outcomes are not tied to target measures. Without these, DHS will not know if the transition is achieving its desired results.
    • DHS has also addressed four of the nine leading practices for adopting Agile software development. For example, the department has modified its acquisition policies to support Agile development methods. However, it needs to take additional steps to, among other things, ensure all staff are appropriately trained and establish expectations for tracking software code quality. By fully addressing leading practices, DHS can reduce the risk of continued problems in developing and acquiring current, as well as, future IT systems.
  • The GAO rated “[t]he Department of Defense’s (DOD) current initiative to transition to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), which began in April 2017, follows at least two prior attempts to implement IPv6 that were halted by DOD.”
    • In February 2019, DOD released its own IPv6 planning and implementation guidance that listed 35 required transition activities, 18 of which were due to be completed before March 2020. DOD completed six of the 18 activities as of March 2020. DOD officials acknowledged that the department’s transition time frames were optimistic; they added that they had thought that the activities’ deadlines were reasonable until they started performing the work. Without an inventory, a cost estimate, or a risk analysis, DOD significantly reduced the probability that it could have developed a realistic transition schedule. Addressing these basic planning requirements would supply DOD with needed information that would enable the department to develop realistic, detailed, and informed transition plans and time frames.

Further Reading

  • Amid Pandemic and Upheaval, New Cyberthreats to the Presidential Election” – The New York Times. Beyond disinformation and misinformation campaigns, United States’ federal and state officials are grappling with a range of cyber-related threats including some states’ insistence on using online voting, which the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) deemed “high risk” in an unreleased assessment the agency softened before distribution to state lection officials. There are also worries that Russian or other nation-state hackers could assess voting databases in ways that would call election day results into question, or other hackers could break in, lock, and then ransom such data bases. CISA and other stakeholders have articulated concerns about the security of voting machines, apps, and systems currently used by states. 
  • Microsoft won’t sell police its facial-recognition technology, following similar moves by Amazon and IBM” – The Washington Post. The three tech giants responded to pressure from protestors to stop selling facial recognition technology to police departments with Microsoft being the latest to make this pledge. The companies have said they will not sell this technology until there is a federal law regulating it. The American Civil Liberties Union said in its press release “Congress and legislatures nationwide must swiftly stop law enforcement use of face recognition, and companies like Microsoft should work with the civil rights community  — not against it — to make that happen…[and] [t]his includes Microsoft halting its current efforts to advance legislation that would legitimize and expand the police use of facial recognition in multiple states nationwide.” The above mentioned “Justice in Policing Act of 2020” (H.R.7120/S.3912) would not regulate the technology per se but would ban its use from body and car cameras. However, the companies said nothing about selling this technology to federal agencies such as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And, IBM, unlike Amazon and Microsoft, announced it was leaving the facial recognition field altogether. However, AI Clearview, the controversial facial recognition firm, has not joined this pledge.
  • ICE Outlines How Investigators Rely on Third-Party Facial Recognition Services” – Nextgov. In a recently released privacy impact assessment, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) explained its use of US and state government and commercial recognition databases and technologies. The agency claimed this is to be used only after agents have exhausted more traditional means of identifying suspects and others and only if relevant to the investigation. The agency claimed “ICE HSI primarily uses this law enforcement tool to identify victims of child exploitation and human trafficking, subjects engaged in the online and sexual exploitation of children, subjects engaged in financial fraud schemes, identity and benefit fraud, and those identified as members of transnational criminal organizations.” Given what some call abuses and others call mistakes in US surveillance programs, it is probable ICE will exceed the limits it is setting on the use of this technology absent meaningful, independent oversight.
  • Zoom confirms Beijing asked it to suspend activists over Tiananmen Square meetings” – Axios. In a statement, Zoom admitted it responded to pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to shut down 4 June meetings to commemorate Tiananmen Square inside and outside the PRC, including in the United States if enough PRC nationals were participating. It is not hard to imagine the company being called to task in Washington and in western Europe for conforming to Beijing’s wishes. The company seems to be vowing to develop technology to block participants by country as opposed to shutting down meetings and a process to consider requests by nations to block certain content illegal within their borders.
  • Coronavirus conspiracy theorists threaten 5G cell towers, DHS memo warns” – CyberScoop. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has warned telecommunications companies they should establish or better still already have in place security protocols to protect equipment, especially 5G gear, from sabotage arising from the conspiracy theory that 5G transmission either compromises immune systems making one more susceptible to COVID-19 or actually spreads the virus. There have been a spate of attacks in the United Kingdom, and a number of Americans are advocating for this theory, including actor Woody Harrelson.  
  • Police Officers’ Personal Info Leaked Online” – Associated Press. At the same time police are facing protestors in the streets of many American cities and towns, the sensitive personal information of some officers have been posted online, possibly putting them and their families at risk.
  • Facebook Helped the FBI Hack a Child Predator” – Vice’s Motherboard. In a story apparently leaked by Facebook, it is revealed that the company hired a third-party hacker to help reveal a nefarious, technologically adept person who was terrorizing and extorting female minors through the development of a zero-day exploit. This is supposedly the first time Facebook engaged in conduct such as this to help law enforcement authorities. The company revealed it routinely tracks problematic users, including those exploiting children. This article would seem tailor-made to push back on the narrative being propagated by the Department of Justice and other nations’ law enforcement agencies that tech companies opposing backdoors in encrypted systems helps sexual predators. There are also the usual concerns that any exploit of a platform or technology people use to remain private will ultimately be used broadly by law enforcement agencies often to the detriment of human rights activists, dissidents, and journalists.
  • Amazon, Facebook and Google turn to deep network of political allies to battle back antitrust probes” – The Washington Post. These tech companies are utilizing means beyond traditional lobbying and public relations to wage the battle against US and state governments investigating them for possible antitrust and anticompetitive practices.
  • One America News, the Network That Spreads Conspiracies to the West Wing” – The New York Times. The upstart media outlet has received a boost in recent days by being promoted by President Donald Trump who quoted its as of yet unproven allegations that a Buffalo man knocked down by police was an antifa agitator. The outlet has received preferential treatment from the White House and is likely another means by which the White House will seek to get its message out.
  • EU says China behind ‘huge wave’ of Covid-19 disinformation” – The Guardian. European Commission Vice President Vĕra Jourová called out the People’s Republic of China (PRC) along with the Russian Federation for spreading prodigious amounts of disinformation in what is likely a shift for Brussels towards a more adversarial stance versus the PRC. As recently as March, an European Union body toned down a report on PRC activities, but this development seems to be a change of course.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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