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Zoom CEO Eric Yuan Pledges to Address Security Shortcomings in ‘The Next 90 Days’

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Photo of Zoom CEO Eric Yuan

April 20, 2020— When a Zoom user had his question read out during the “Ask Eric Anything” webinar on Wednesday, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan listened intently.

“Will Zoom be adding more emojis to its social features anytime soon?” the user asked.

Yuan disappointed the user immediately. “We’re not going to allocate any new features to that,” he said. Yuan then made it clear that for “the next 90 days,” Zoom will be “incredibly focused on enhancing our privacy and security.”

The “Ask Eric Anything” webinar, a weekly series in which Zoom users tune in to ask questions about Americans’ go-to video conferencing technology during the pandemic, launched in response to widespread privacy failings by the company’s flagship communications technology.

Almost as quickly as the company name became a verb, “zoombombing” entered the national lexicon to describe the act of anonymous trolls entering a Zoom meeting a neglected URL and posting pornographic, racist, or generally inappropriate material.

In fact, Zoom announced over the webinar several updates in an effort to assuage users— and shareholders— about concerns surrounding privacy. The first thing the company announced was a new hire.

Alex Stamos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer of Facebook, announced on the webinar that he is “Zoom’s new outside advisor.”

“I want to apply my skills to the problem we are facing,” Stamos said. He called Zoom “a critical part of the lives of hundreds of millions of people” and identified education as the “most interesting area” in which Zoom can benefit society.

Defending Zoom against complaints of ‘Zoomboming’

Stamos took the time to defend Zoom from its blemishes in the press. “Every single company… will face” the problem of security failings and claimed that “there’s never been a company that’s had to scale this quickly.”

Stamos related how Zoom is taking active steps to stop the bleeding by “proactively locking” the “bad actors” before they can compromise an account.

Stamos suggested that much of the cause of Zoombombing rests on the manager of a meeting. Resultingly, he implored users to avoid making a “mistake” by using “the same password” that they use for other accounts

“Go get a password manager,” Stamos recommended.

Stamos also expressed optimism on the webinar. He said that Americans are “very versatile and when we find a problem, we find a solution.”

Zoom also announced a new feature rolling out sometime this weekend. In addition to Zoombombing, the company has also been sharply criticized for keeping one of its many data servers in China, a country with which the U.S. has privacy disagreements and with which the U.S.-based Zoom has ties.

Occasionally, Yuan admitted, Americans’ data would be sent to China when other data centers were offline, which hypothetically left them vulnerable to data harvesting by the Chinese.

In response, Oded Gal, chief product officer of Zoom, announced that by April 25, the Chinese server will be deactivated automatically for all users that have not explicitly opted to have their data routed to it.

In addition, Zoom has hired a new cybersecurity team called Luta Security to help catch bugs before users do. Luta Security is headed by Katie Moussouris, who worked on similar “bug bounty” programs for Microsoft and the Pentagon.

The CEO expressed faith in these changes. Yuan says he has “much more high confidence now.”

The question is whether this high confidence will transfer to Zoom’s users and shareholders.

Privacy

Online Protections for Children Bill Passes Committee Despite Concern over FTC Authority

Opposition to a reformed COPPA include the ability of the FTC to enact broad rule-making.

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Photo of Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass.

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2022 – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved two online privacy protection bills in a Wednesday markup, including an update to legislation that will increase the age for online protection for children.

An update to the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy and Protection Act (S.1628) – which originally passed in 1998 but had amendments proposed last May – would see the age of protections increase from 13 to 15, meaning large internet companies will be prohibited from collecting the personal information of anyone under 16 without consent and ban targeted marketing to those children. The bill passed via voice vote.

Other provisions in the bill include a mandate to create an online “eraser button” that will allow users to eliminate personal information of a child or teen; implement a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors” that limits the collection of personal information from young users; and establish a first-of-its-kind Youth Privacy and Marketing Division at the FTC,” according to a summary of the bill’s key components.

“The Senate Commerce Committee this morning took a historic step towards stopping Big Tech’s predatory behavior from harming kids every day,” Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., who introduced the amendments, said Wednesday.

The other bill, the Kids Online Safety Act (S.3663), will give parents enhanced control over their children’s online activities to “better protect their health and well-being.” The bill, introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, passed 28-0.

The bill would put in place additional safeguards and tools, such as platforms giving minors options to protect their personal information and to disable recommendations.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a piece of legislation that has had such strong support across groups across the country” “Parents want a tool kit to protect their children online,” Senator Blumenthal said during Wednesday’s hearing.

The bills now move to the Senate floor.

Concern about FTC authority under new COPPA

Under COPPA 2.0, the FTC authority includes determining what are “unfair or deceptive acts” in marketing practices and enforcing violations. In May, the agency put out a policy statement specifying its focus on enforcing the existing version of the bill.

Some senators voted against passing COPPA 2.0 over concern that it would give the Federal Trade Commission too much rule-making authority.

Senator Blackburn said there should be more restrictions on the ability of the FTC to make rules so there wouldn’t be overreach.

Similarly, Senator Mike Lee, R-UT, said he was not able to support the bill during markup because he is concerned about “giving a blanket ruling power to the FTC.

“We are at our best when we carefully consider legislation and don’t rush through it,” Lee said.

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Cybersecurity

Rep. Swalwell Says App Preference Bill Will Harm National Security

‘I just want to limit the ability for any bad actor to get into your device.’

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Photo of Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

July 27, 2022 – Antitrust legislation that would restrict the preferential treatment of certain apps on platforms would harm national security by making more visible apps from hostile nations, claimed Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, at a Punchbowl News event Wednesday.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is currently under review by the Senate and, if passed, would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.

The legislation would ban Apple and Google from preferencing their own first-party apps on their app stores, which would make it easier for apps disseminated from hostile nations to be seen on the online stores, Swalwell said.

“[Russia and China] could flood the app store with apps that can vacuum up consumer data and send it back to China,” said Swalwell, adding that disinformation regarding American elections would spread. “Until these security concerns are addressed, we should really pump the breaks on this.”

Swalwell asked for a hearing conducted by Judiciary Committee of the House with the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security officials to lay out what the bill would mean for national security.

“I just want to limit the ability for any bad actor to get into your device, whether you’re an individual or small business,” said Swalwell.

Lawmakers have become increasingly concerned about China’s access to American data through popular video-sharing apps, such as TikTok. Last month, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove the app on the grounds that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, is “beholden” to the Communist government in China and required to comply with “surveillance demands.”

The comments follow debate surrounding the bill, which was introduced to the Senate on May 2 by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on how it would affect small businesses and American competitiveness globally.

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Cybersecurity

Government Should Incentivize Information Sharing for Ransomware Attacks, Experts Say

‘Information sharing between the government and the private sector, while integral to tackling ransomware, is inconsistent.’

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Screenshot of Trent Teyema of GeoTech Center

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2022 – The federal government should incentivize the reporting of cyberattacks through safe harbor and shield laws, said experts at an Atlantic Council event Tuesday, as a recent law requiring companies in critical infrastructure sectors to report such attacks to the federal government is limited and currently unclear on who exactly it impacts.

The Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act passed in March does not cover private companies who do not operate in the critical infrastructure sectors and does not include safe harbor and shield laws that would encourage private companies to engage in the process.

Oftentimes, companies will avoid interacting with law enforcement to avoid the stigma associated with being a victim of a cyberattack and out of fear of being held liable by regulators and investors, said Trent Teyema, senior fellow at technology policy university collaborative GeoTech Center.

Teyema called for a safe harbor framework, a law that provides protection against legal liability when other conditions are met. Such a provision would decrease the risk of companies being held liable for cyberattacks from regulators, investors, and the public.

He also called for shield laws that would protect against revealing certain information to the government as a requirement for receiving law enforcement assistance.

The government needs to make it easy for the private sector to share information with law enforcement, said Teyema.

“Information sharing between the government and the private sector, while integral to tackling ransomware, is inconsistent,” read a report written by Teyema and David Bray, fellow at GeoTech Center. Information sharing across sectors allows cybersecurity experts in both sectors to learn about new vulnerabilities in software and new attack vectors. It strengthens collective resiliency and can influence the processes used to anticipate and respond to threats, continued the report.

Ransomware on the rise

Ransomware attacks in which bad actors demand money to release encrypted data are increasing dramatically, reported the White House last year. Ransomware incidents often disrupt critical services, such as banks, hospitals and schools that require constant access to data. In 2021, there was approximately $20 billion in damages from ransomware attacks in the United States, with $11 billion in 2020 and $5 billion the year before, said Bray.

This follows on the heels of the 2021 Colonial Pipeline hack that targeted the billing system and led to the shutdown of the largest fuel pipeline in the United States. The Russian-speaking cybercrime group responsible, DarkSide, received $4.4 million in ransom from Colonial, part of which was later recovered by the United States law enforcement.

Research firm Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be a ransomware attack every two seconds by the year 2031 with global costs exceeding $265 billion.

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