Cyber wrap
23 Nov 2016| and

The future of US cybersecurity policy remains uncertain as the Trump administration begins to take shape. On Friday Trump named Michael Flynn, previous director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his national security advisor in the White House. The retired Lieutenant General has strong views on bolstering US offensive cyber capabilities and has been described as a ‘cybersecurity hawk’. Meanwhile, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper handed in his resignation last week, effective from 20 January 2017, after six years in charge of the 17 different agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community. His intention to call it quits at the end of President Obama’s term was long expected but the announcement represents another significant opportunity for the president-elect to shape US posture in intelligence and cyber spheres. Concerns have also been raised by cyber policy and tech professionals in light of Trump’s campaign rhetoric foreshadowing increased barriers to digital trade.

Fortunately, US tech and policy development appears to have strong momentum. This week, Elon Musk proposed a network of satellites to provide global internet access and Microsoft announced a doubled investment in quantum computing research. The US is taking rapid steps to keep abreast of such changes. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently released a new cybersecurity framework for small businesses providing SMEs a step-by-step guide to protecting themselves online. The Federal Trade Commission has also just published a report on the ‘Sharing Economy’ of app-based services such as Airbnb and Uber.

Privacy concerns have prompted Facebook to stop collecting WhatsApp user data from its European customers. Last month 28 European data collection authorities sent an open letter to WhatsApp’s CEO urging the company to pause the flow of user information to its parent company. Germany has already ordered that WhatsApp cease the data flow, which Facebook was ostensibly collecting for marketing and advertising purposes, and the UK, France and Italy are conducting their own investigations. European regulators noted ‘serious concerns’ in their open letter over those changes to WhatsApp’s Terms of Service, highlighting its contradiction with previous public statements that affirmed no data would be shared between the two companies.

Google has also had a run-in with European regulators after they were accused of using the Android operating system to ‘crush rivals’ by blocking them in online search advertising. The European Commission has been investigating Google for six years after complaints from competitors, and CEO Sandar Pichai met last Friday with the EU’s Competition Commissioner and the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society to discuss the problem after the company issued a formal rejection of the European’s claims earlier this month.

Things are looking more positive between Chinese regulators and industry with two of the country’s biggest tech companies, Alibaba and Tencent, publically stating their support for China’s controversial new Cyber Security Law. Speaking at the 3rd World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Alibaba’s Vice President noted that the company is working with law enforcement agencies to monitor content, and a Tencent executive stated that company has removed 80,000 videos from its site this year. President Xi also addressed the conference, calling for improved cooperation between states on internet governance and respect for cyber sovereignty. Both public and private sector leaders at the conference emphasised the security risks of cyber terrorism and the cited proliferation of false news during the US election as justification for tighter national and international control over the internet.

Security concerns over Chinese company Lenovo have surfaced after the ABC revealed that the Australian National University’s National Computational Infrastructure is planning to procure software and hardware from the company. ANU and Lenovo have both defended the plans, noting that the US government has approved Lenovo’s US acquisitions and the US Department of Defense has no restrictions on Lenovo products. The National Computational Infrastructure describes itself as ‘home to the Southern Hemisphere’s most highly-integrated supercomputer.’

And finally, a survey of 2,000 people in the US has found that 40% would prefer to skip sex for a year if it meant their personal information was protected from hackers. While this seems a bit surprising, the finding that 41% would give up their favourite food for a month rather than reset all their account passwords indicates that laziness is probably equal to privacy concerns in the driving force behind American attitudes to cybersecurity.