with Aaron Schaffer

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging President Biden to include $3 billion in funding for technology it says would reduce American reliance on Chinese telecommunications equipment that could provide a back door for spying.

The money would go to funds established by Congress last year to encourage more American companies to switch over to Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) technology. The technology is essentially the software version of the hardware components needed to connect phones within 5G networks. 

That hardware production is dominated by China, which has heavily subsidized telecommunications company Huawei to make it a global leader in 5G technology. Some American officials argue the Chinese dominance of 5G technology creates an unacceptable risk the company will use its technology to spy on Americans, something Huawei strenuously denies.

For years, we have called on telecommunications providers in the U.S., as well as our allies and partners, to reject Huawei 5G technology, but we have not provided competitively-priced, innovative alternatives that would address their needs,” the senators, led by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote in a letter addressed to the White House, Office of Management and Budget, Commerce and State Departments.

The push for an alternative comes on the heels of Biden's infrastructure plan, which focused heavily on addressing obstacles plaguing U.S. telecommunications technology.

That proposal included $50 billion to subsidize U.S. semiconductor chip production and research. Investments in the chips industry have gained broad support from both Democrats and Republicans who worry China is quickly outpacing U.S. technology in the area.

OpenRAN technology has similar support from lawmakers and the industry. More than a dozen big telecom companies, including AT&T, are testing such technologies in their networks. But the small number of potential suppliers has prevented the market from growing more rapidly. That's the problem that Warner and others are trying to remedy.

The lawmakers' letter points to renewed tensions between the United States and Huawei.

Lawmakers in the letter specifically call out Huawei, the Chinese company whose equipment the Trump administration banned from U.S. 5G networks. The Trump administration accused Huawei of providing a back door to the Chinese government for spying on those who adopted 5G technology. Both Huawei and the Chinese government have repeatedly denied the accusations.

The Biden administration appears to be continuing the Trump administration's hard line stance. The Biden administration last month further limited licenses approved by the Trump administration for some companies to still sell to Huawei, Reuters reported. And the Federal Communications Commission last month designated five Chinese firms including Huawei as an unacceptable risk to national security.

Funding may not be the only barrier to adoption, however, of OpenRAN technology.

The FCC recently launched an inquiry into the current status of the technology, barriers to deployment and how the agency might foster the market.

“OpenRAN has emerged as one promising path to drive 5G security and innovation in the United States,"' FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. It’s great to see Congressional efforts to help advance this technology and ensure a secure, diverse, and competitive supply chain for 5G. 

Some critics suggest it would make more sense for the United States to invest in already established providers of the technology, like Nokia and Ericsson, rather than try to rapidly scale up domestic industry.

The White House declined to comment on the funding request.

The keys

Hackers targeted European government agencies last month.

The cyberattack on the European Commission and other European Union agencies was so serious that senior European officials were notified, Bloomberg News’s Alberto Nardelli and Natalia Drozdiak report. The attack came less than a month after Europe’s banking regulator said it was targeted amid cyberattacks on users of Microsoft email software.

A European Commission representative said that E.U. agencies “experienced an IT security incident in their IT infrastructure” and that “thus far, no major information breach was detected.” However, a forensic analysis of the incident is in its early stages.

Top senators are putting pressure on the Biden administration to report back on its investigation of two major cyber breaches.

They want the Biden administration’s top cybersecurity officials to tell them the full extent of the cyberattacks on SolarWinds and Microsoft software. The Monday letters — by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — give Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency acting director Brandon Wales and federal chief information security officer Chris DeRusha two weeks to hand over detailed information on the victims of the hacks. 

The SolarWinds breach alone hit nine government agencies, according to the White House, with hackers accessing former acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf’s emails. At least 30,000 public and private entities in the United States were affected by the Microsoft hack, which the company initially attributed to Chinese hackers. The Biden administration plans to release a cybersecurity executive order in the coming weeks to address government cybersecurity practices in the wake of the attacks.

European law enforcement says it seized 27 tons of cocaine after decrypting suspected criminals' text messages.

Belgian authorities attributed the drug busts to their decryption of messages sent through encrypted phone company Sky, Motherboard’s Gabriel Geiger reports. The announcement of the seizures thus far came weeks after the Justice Department, announcing an indictment of company executives last month, said that 70,000 Sky devices have been used worldwide.

Belgium's De Standaard reported last month that investigators cracked the company's code; Sky suggested that users were tricked into using a fake version of its app. Belgian police did not respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

European police, who said the platform was used to coordinate criminal activity from drug trafficking to murder, seized Sky ECC servers last month. They also raided hundreds of homes.

Global cyberspace

Industry

R Street Institute will launch a website connecting Black cybersecurity professionals with opportunities.

Craig Newmark Philanthropies is funding the launch of the new initiative, called “Cyber-Base.”

The initiative is a part of #MakingSpace, a coalition dedicated to increasing diversity in cybersecurity led by Tatyana Bolton, director of R Street’s Cybersecurity & Emerging Threats department and nonprofit #ShareTheMicInCyber.  The new “Cyber-Base” initiative builds off previously #MakingSpace efforts including a pledge signed by over 40 organizations committing to diverse speakers at events and panels.

Bolton says the plan is to get the site up and running in the next few weeks and the group is actively looking for industry and government partners.

Cyber insecurity

Chat room

Reuters's Raphael Satter picked up on the Daily Beast story's depiction of an Israeli private intelligence company:

Jodi Vittori, the U.S. research and policy manager for Transparency International’s Defense and Security Program:

Mentions

  • The CMMC Accreditation Body, which implements Defense Department cybersecurity standards, announced its industry advisory council.

Daybook

  • Tim Maurer, a senior cybersecurity aide to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; former CISA director Chris Krebs; former CISA attorney-adviser Kemba Walden; and former National Security Council cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on DHS’ cyber mission today at 11 a.m.
  • Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, speaks at an event hosted by the Cybersecurity Coalition today at 2:30 p.m.
  • Eric Goldstein, CISA’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity, discusses the Biden administration’s cybersecurity priorities at an American Transaction Processors Coalition event today at 3 p.m. 
  • Former president Donald Trump’s acting homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, discusses the SolarWinds cyberattack at a Heritage Foundation event on April 12 at 1 p.m. Russian hackers accessed Wolf’s emails as a result of the attack.
  • Cybersecurity officials and researchers speak at a three-day symposium hosted by the National Security Agency that begins on April 13 at 9 a.m.
  • The U.S. government's intelligence chiefs testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on April 14 at 10 a.m.

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