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The Cybersecurity 202

A newsletter briefing on cybersecurity news and policy.

It’s a big day at the State Department for U.S. cyberdiplomacy

The Cybersecurity 202

A newsletter briefing on cybersecurity news and policy.

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Below: Inside Trump allies' push for hand-counted ballots, and Huawei's CFO gets a promotion.

Nearly 100 people will staff a new cyber bureau at the State Department

Today, the State Department is launching its long-awaited cyberspace and digital policy bureau.

The bureau, which will be led by a Senate-confirmed ambassador, will “address the national security challenges, economic opportunities and implications for U.S. values associated with cyberspace, digital technologies and digital policy,” according to an announcement seen by The Cybersecurity 202. 

It has more than 60 staffers — who mostly come from its cyber coordination and international communications offices — and the State Department plans to add 30 new positions in the bureau this year, a State Department spokesperson said. It also “requested funding to support additional positions” in its budget request for next year, the spokesperson said. 

The big picture

The bureau is a signal that the Biden administration is focused on elevating cyberdiplomacy amid the war in Ukraine and a year of devastating ransomware hacks. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to cite attacks on critical organizations like Colonial Pipeline, the war in Ukraine and competing visions for the future of the Internet in a speech today. 

“Democracies must answer together the question of whether universal rights and democratic values will be at the center of our digital lives — and whether digital technologies deliver real benefits in people’s lives,” he is expected to say according to prepared remarks. “To do that, we need America’s diplomats leading the way. That’s why the work of the CDP Bureau will be so important.”

The backstory

It has been a long time coming. 

The Obama administration first set up a cyber coordination office in 2011. It was restructured in the Trump administration, and relegated deeper into the State Department bureaucracy until a cybersecurity bureau was approved in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

  • Lawmakers and a government watchdog criticized the Trump administration’s bureau, arguing that the office failed “to address fundamental aspects of cyber diplomacy and will not solve the problems a new bureau would need to address.”

The new State Department bureau comes at a particularly important time. 

“Now more than ever, I think we need to have State Department leadership in dealing with all of the many different issues and threats we’re facing in cyberspace; particularly, what we’re seeing with ransomware, but also what we’ve seen with Ukraine, or the potential of what might happen with Ukraine,” Chris Painter, the Obama administration’s top cyber diplomat, told me. 

  • Painter added that the new structure, resources and prioritization for the cyber bureau “sends a strong message to both our friends and even our adversaries that this is something we care about deeply.” (The Biden administration has requested $37 million for the bureau.)

Lawmakers also want Congress to pass legislation called the Cyber Diplomacy Act. The bill, which passed the House last year, would put similar changes into law. The Cyberspace Solarium Commission also recommended a similar bureau be created.

Cyber workforce

The new bureau also means that the list of federal cyber officials is getting longer. 

Jennifer Bachus, a career diplomat who was most recently a top official at the U.S. Embassy in the Czech Republic, will lead the bureau until the Senate confirms an ambassador at large.

Looking ahead

The bureau will have to hit the ground running.

It’ll play a key role in testy international talks about rules in cyberspace, diplomacy about 5G telecommunications equipment made by Chinese tech giant Huawei, talks about the spread of ransomware and Internet governance issues.

It also comes as the U.S. government jockeys for an American candidate, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, to lead the U.N. telecommunications agency. 

It’s “the most important agency you’ve never heard of, setting rules for global tech like 5G,” U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power wrote last year.

The bureau has support among lawmakers and experts.

“The State Department has taken a huge step toward making cybersecurity a core priority of U.S. foreign policy,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. “As the threat of cyber incidents escalates in severity and frequency, we need a strong diplomatic presence on the world stage to develop and implement norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.” 

  • Langevin added that he would “redouble” my efforts to pass the Cyber Diplomacy Act and would “fight to ensure that the new bureau has the congressional funding it needs to fulfill its critical mission.”

Correction: A cybersecurity bureau was approved in the final days of Trump's presidency, not formed, as a previous version misstated.

The keys

Trump allies push for elections to be counted by hand

Trump allies have discussed the idea in public meetings in four states, and bills to require hand-counting have been proposed in six states, Rosalind S. Helderman, Amy Gardner and Emma Brown report. None of the statewide bills have passed, but the proposals appeal to some Trump supporters who believe his loss can be blamed on “complicated computers controlled by shadowy forces,” they write.

“Experts say hand-counting ballots is so impractical that, if adopted, election results would be thrown into unimaginable chaos, inviting mass human error and delaying results — and potentially giving bad actors more time to slow or even block certification,” they write. “Time and again, post-election audits have confirmed that machine counts are extremely accurate, and experts have said that there is no proof machines were hacked in 2020.”

U.K. authorities charge two teens with hacking for the Lapsus$ gang

The 16- and 17-year-old boys were charged with computer hacking and fraud offenses, the BBC reports. Both were released on bail.

Their appearance at a London youth court comes after the Lapsus$ gang posted internal files apparently stolen from Microsoft, Nvidia, Samsung and other major technology companies. The FBI last week asked the public for information identifying the hackers behind the gang.

The group has continued to post stolen information, even after British authorities announced in late March that they had arrested seven teenagers in connection with their investigation into Lapsus$.

Huawei’s CFO gets a promotion months after the end of her U.S. extradition fight

Meng Wanzhou has become one of three rotating chairs who helms the Chinese tech giant for six-month intervals, Eva Dou reports. The promotion sets up a potential family succession at the company, which was founded by Meng's father, Ren Zhengfei.

Critics say that Huawei is closer to China’s government than it has claimed. Western governments have blocked Huawei equipment from being used in their 5G networks over concerns that the company may help Beijing with spying operations, which the company denies.

“Ren had long said his children would not succeed him at Huawei. Meng, who spent most of her Huawei career in the finance department, was widely seen as lacking the engineering expertise that would allow Huawei’s employees to accept her as their leader,” Eva writes. “But her lengthy house arrest in Canada has raised her popularity within the company and across China.”

Meng was detained in Canada in 2018 at the request of U.S. authorities. She returned to China in September after acknowledging that she helped conceal the company's dealings with Iran, a violation of U.S. sanctions. (Meng didn't have to plead guilty as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.) She made her first public appearance since returning to China last week.

Global cyberspace

Abu Dhabi state funds were used to buy Israeli spyware group NSO (Financial Times)

Data leak from Russian delivery app shows dining habits of the secret police (The Verge)

Inside Cyber Front Z, the ‘people’s movement’ spreading Russian propaganda (Vice News)

Nordex hit by cyber security incident, shuts IT systems (Reuters)

Ukraine accuses Russia of using WhatsApp bot farm to ask military to surrender (Motherboard)

Cyber insecurity

Fake Trezor data breach emails used to steal cryptocurrency wallets (Bleeping Computer)

After a $625 million hack, the party must go on (CNN)

Bored Ape Yacht Club, other major NFT project Discords hacked by scammers (Motherboard)

Industry report

Google target Mandiant sued by shareholder over acquisition (Bloomberg)

Microsoft hires ex-Seattle police chief Best for security role (Bloomberg)

Privacy patch

Face scanner Clearview AI aims to branch out beyond police (Associated Press)

Daybook

  • Alex Bornyakov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, speaks at a Washington Post Live event on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
  • Gen. Paul Nakasone, who leads U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
  • The House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on securing critical sectors from Russian cyberattacks on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • U.S. Naval Seafloor Cable Protection Office Director Catherine Creese and NTIA senior policy adviser Maureen Russell discuss securing Asia’s subsea cables at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
  • The U.S. Election Assistance Commission holds a meeting and vote on Voluntary Voting System Guidelines Lifecycle Policy 1.0 on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
  • Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), who co-chairs the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, discusses blockchain security at a Washington Post Live event on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
  • Former president Barack Obama; former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs; and Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) speak at a disinformation conference hosted by the University of Chicago and the Atlantic from Wednesday through Friday.
  • Eric Goldstein, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity, and deputy national cyber director Rob Knake testify before a House Homeland Security Committee panel on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Stefanie Tompkins, Defense Innovation Unit Director Michael Brown and Undersecretary of Defense Heidi Shyu testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee panel on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

Secure log off

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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