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Encryption Technologies Central to Debate About Online Free Speech, Say CDT-Charles Koch Event Panelists



Screenshot from the first webinar of the series, on Monday

December 13, 2020 – In the kick-off session to a weeklong series about “The Future of Speech Online,” the past, present and future of cryptography was front and center.

Can users enjoy the protections of end-to-end encryption and also be able to “get” bad actors? The problem, according to Erica Portnoy, senior staff technologist at the Electric Frontier Foundation, is that our society can’t have both.

Portney, one of the speakers in Monday’s session of the series sponsored by the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Charles Koch Institute, said that as a developer, she saw a marked difference in how the term “end-to-end encryption” was used in the field versus in the policy arena.

The use of the term in the policy arena has created conflict, she said. As a technical term, end-to-end encryption referrs to the process of turning a message into a secret message by its original sender to be decoded only by the final recipient. The “ends” here are the two devices—the sender’s device and the receiver’s device—and the encryption ensures that no can intercept or leak information in the conversation because the only people with the code to decrypt the message are the two parties conversing.

But end-to-end encryption is rendered null when people want the protections encryption can provide while also wanting to scan messages for potential threats. The latter, called client-side scanning, refers to when someone, usually the provider of the messaging platform, scans the messages before they’re encrypted to check for contraband materials.

If it is determined that the message has this illicit content, the app may refuse to send the message, notify the recipient, or forward it to a third party, perhaps without the user’s knowledge.

While the messaging system would still technically remain intact since there was no interception of an encrypted message, client-side scanning challenges user privacy and system security.

Portnoy said that she preferred the term “secure messaging” to refer to the situation where only the sender and her intended recipient could read messages or otherwise analyze their contents.

Other perspectives stressed the possibility of collaboration between encryption researchers and law enforcement

Not all agreed that the conflict between security and privacy was irreconcilable. Klon Kitchen, director of the Center for Technology Policy at the Heritage Foundation, said he liked the way Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, framed the issue. We can’t allow ourselves to think about this as a choice between security and speech.

Kitchen emphasized that America needs both encryption and security moving forward, and that there needs to be a level of good faith and prudence between the government and the security research community.

He also stressed that “in a modern world, securing nations means securing networks,” and as nations, we cannot operate independently of each other.

Nick Sullivan, head of research at Cloudflare, Inc. addressed the difficulty of creating systems and policies that work for all parties—consumers, industry groups, and the government. He cited the rapid deployment of https as an example of getting mass adoption of encrypted systems.

From a consumer perspective, with so many interfaces that seem to have nothing in common about policy implementation, it can be difficult to know how to navigate these issues, not to mention difficult to audit the platform’s policies, said Sullivan.

When asked what he felt the key points the public should know were, he said it makes the most sense to increase the incentive for groups developing secure technologies. He also suggested bringing the community together to standardize and pick one way to do a security feature, similar to how Signal is used in both WhatsApp and iMessage.

Hannah Quay-de la Vallee, senior technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, moderated this session.


Companies Should Adopt Default No Trust Position on Programs to Protect Against Cyberattacks

Panelists identified risks in employees freely accepting links without thinking about their associated risks.



Screenshot of Fred Gordy, director of cybersecurity at smart building company Intelligent Buildings

WASHINGTON, August, 24, 2022 – Companies should assume that new programs installed on company systems pose a threat to their networks to ensure a vigilant position on hacking risks, according to an expert on cybersecurity, after the country faced a number of high-profile cyberattacks recently.

The zero trust approach in which the default position is one of distrust of new programs was touted by Osman Saleem, cybersecurity and privacy director of operational technology and internet of things at professional services firm PricewaterHouseCoopers in Canada, who was speaking as a panelist on a Fierce Telecom event on Monday.

The event heard that the vast majority of security breaches at companies were a result of human error, including clicking on links containing malicious software (malware) that can wreak havoc on and suspend company systems. Data, in the case of a ransomware attack, can be locked away until the company pays a monetary sum to get it back.

Fred Gordy, director of cybersecurity at smart building company Intelligent Buildings, said companies sometimes don’t even back-up their systems in the event of an attack and only end up doing so in response to an attack.

Gordy also encouraged the zero trust approach to company security by assuming all digital programs and software have malware.

Opportunities for better cybersecurity

Saleem proposed that cybersecurity documents be reviewed and revised regularly because the cyber landscape always changes. This, he said, can protect the digital infrastructure of the companies’ systems, operations and employees.

Meanwhile, Congress has been pressing the issue, following the high-profile cyberattacks on software company SolarWinds, financial services company Robinhood, meat producer JBS, and oil transport company Colonial Pipeline. President Joe Biden earlier this year signed, as part of a larger budget bill, the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act of 2022, which requires certain critical infrastructure companies to report cyberattacks to the federal government.

A House Oversight and Reform committee investigation concluded that certain hacks on companies were perpetrated through, in one example, an employee accepting a fake browser update. In the case of Colonial Pipeline and JBS, the use of many devices connected to the internet (IoT), the investigation found mass-produced factory password settings may have been the point of vulnerability.

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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.’



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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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.’



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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