June 25 2021

This Week in Washington

USA Today ‘We have a deal’: Biden reaches $1.2 trillion infrastructure compromise with bipartisan group of senators
President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of 21 senators reached a compromise Thursday to modernize the nation’s deteriorating transportation and public works systems, putting the president in position to pass the first plank of his sweeping infrastructure agenda. Yet Biden made clear he would only sign a bipartisan infrastructure bill if Congress also approves a larger measure focused on “human infrastructure” programs like subsidized child care, home caregiving and climate change that only Democrats support.

Reuters U.S. SEC probing SolarWinds clients over cyber breach disclosures
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has opened a probe into last year’s SolarWinds cyber breach, focusing on whether some companies failed to disclose that they had been affected by the unprecedented hack, two persons familiar with the investigation said on Monday. The SEC sent investigative letters late last week to a number of public issuers and investment firms seeking voluntary information on whether they had been victims of the hack and failed to disclose it, said the persons, speaking under the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential investigations.

CyberScoop CISA doesn’t know how many US federal agencies use firewalls to fend off malicious traffic
The Department of Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity agency doesn’t know how many agencies are segmenting their networks from unwanted outside traffic, a basic security practice, according to a letter recently sent to the office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) by the agency. The agency provided the answers in response to a February inquiry from Wyden’s office following a heated Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about the breach at the federal contractor SolarWinds.

Fierce Wireless PAWR tackles rural broadband with new wireless testbed
The U.S. government bankrolled the creation of a fourth testbed as part of the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) program, this time aiming to find ways to reduce the cost of rural broadband and prove out future use cases. PAWR’s new Agriculture and Rural Communities (ARA) Wireless Living Lab will blanket a nearly 600-square-mile area in central Iowa – including farms, schools and rural communities – with broadband coverage to enable testing of both end-to-end wireless systems and applications.

Reuters Biden sees work needed to address problems created by big tech firms
U.S. President Joe Biden believes steps are needed to safeguard privacy, bolster innovation and deal with other problems created by big technology platforms, the White House said on Tuesday, signaling his support for legislation concerning Big Tech. Biden is encouraged by bipartisan work underway in Congress to tackle these issues, the official said, a day before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee votes on a package of antitrust bills, some of which target the market power of large tech firms.

Article Summary

Geekwire Microsoft joins space industry information clearinghouse to boost cybersecurity
Microsoft is joining the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center as a founding member, with a mission to strengthen cybersecurity for critical space assets. “As the first hyperscale cloud service provider to join this member organization, we will share our unique global threat insights to protect critical infrastructure and strengthen cybersecurity expertise in the space community,” Tom Keane, corporate vice president for Azure Global, said today in a blog posting.

ZDNet Microsoft has big plans for healthcare, and it’s taking a different path than the rest of big tech
Healthcare seems to be top of the to-do lists of CEOs of tech’s biggest companies: Amazon is launching its own healthcare business, Apple’s turning the iPhone into a patient engagement and diagnostics tool, while Google’s parent company Alphabet is betting heavily on healthcare through its investment arm, AI and analytics. And the other big tech giant isn’t getting left behind either: Microsoft has also got big plans. It’s been looking at healthcare in the hope that technology could play a role in helping to address some of the health industry’s most pressing problems.

NBC News California rolls out digital vaccine verification – but don’t call it a passport
Don’t call it a vaccine passport, but California now offers something that’s awfully close. The state’s Departments of Public Health and Technology unveiled a website Friday that lets users who verify their identities get digital copies of their Covid-19 vaccination record. Called the Digital Covid-19 Vaccine Record portal, the site is meant as a digital backup to the paper cards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Americans receive when they get a Covid-19 vaccination, said Amy Tong, the state’s chief information officer.

Motherboard Facial Recognition Failures Are Locking People Out of Unemployment Systems
People around the country are furious after being denied their unemployment benefits due to apparent problems with facial recognition technology that claims to prevent fraud. Unemployment recipients have been complaining for months about the identity verification service ID.me, which uses a combination of biometric information and official documents to confirm that applicants are who they claim to be.

CyberScoop A plan to label companies vulnerable to hacking is set to spark debate on Capitol Hill
The notion of writing more cybersecurity regulations is gaining traction following the Colonial Pipeline and JBS ransomware incidents, after decades of a largely hands-off approach to private sector-owned critical infrastructure. Top Biden administration team picks have testified about how voluntary standards aren’t getting the job done, and some in Congress have indicated their patience is waning with letting industry go it alone.

Politico EU to launch rapid response cybersecurity team
The European Union wants to launch a new cyber unit to respond to cyberattacks, according to a draft of the plan seen by POLITICO. The European Commission will present its plan on Wednesday to set up what it calls the “Joint Cyber Unit,” which would allow national capitals hit by cyberattacks to ask for help from other countries and the EU, including through rapid response teams that can swoop in and fight off hackers in real time, according to the draft.

The Associated Press Ransomware gangs get paid off as officials struggle for fix
If your business falls victim to ransomware and you want simple advice on whether to pay the criminals, don’t expect much help from the U.S. government. The answer is apt to be: It depends. “It is the position of the U.S. government that we strongly discourage the payment of ransoms,” Eric Goldstein, a top cybersecurity official in the Department of Homeland Security, told a congressional hearing last week.

Cyberscoop Spanish-language misinformation about vaccines is evading Facebook’s moderators
Facebook is still struggling to rein in COVID-19 misinformation in Spanish, a recent report from the advocacy group Avaaz indicates. Avaaz, a global human rights group, looked at top-performing posts on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, promoting a debunked viral claim the coronavirus will make patients’ arms magnetic because it contains metals or possibly a microchip. Of the 30 Instagram posts in Spanish, only one had received a fact-checking label as of June 14. In comparison, roughly half of the 47 high-performing English posts had a fact-checking label.

Think Tank / Tech Trade Association Highlights

The Brookings Institution

  • Blog on Closing the Digital Divide
    One of the lessons of COVID-19 was the need for speed in digital broadband connections. As more and more members of a household were online simultaneously doing schoolwork or working from home, the need for bandwidth increased. An August 2020 survey found that almost a quarter of broadband households planned to upgrade to higher speeds. It is for these, and many other reasons, that the broadband infrastructure program being considered by Congress must prioritize spending public funds for high-speed service, not simply good-enough service. (TechTank – Don’t replace the digital divide with the “not good enough divide”June 21, 2021)