Welcome to MeriTalk News Briefs, where we bring you all the day’s action that didn’t quite make the headlines. No need to shout about ‘em, but we do feel that they merit talk.

U.S. Levies Sanctions on Russian Firms, Cites Cyber Attacks

The Trump Administration today levied financial sanctions on five Russian firms, as well as three executives from one of the firms. The Treasury Department cited the alleged participation by the firms and executives in recent cyberattacks, including last year’s NotPetya attack, as well as intrusions into the U.S. energy grid and global network infrastructure. Treasury also stressed more general concerns that Russia has been tracking undersea cables that carry the majority of global telecommunications data. The sanctions will freeze any assets the firms of individuals have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. The companies included in the sanctions are Digital Security and its subsidiaries ERPScan and Embedi; Kvant Scientific Research Institute; and Divetechnoservices. The three individuals sanctioned are Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun, Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov, and Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy – all three men work for Divetechnoservices.

Net Neutrality CRA Vote Nowhere Close in House

As the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) December 2017 order to overturn network neutrality rules took effect today, potential action in the House of Representatives to overturn the FCC decision through a Congressional Review Act resolution was nowhere in sight, as only 170 House members had publicly signed on to such an effort, which would require 218 votes. The Senate on May 16 approved its resolution to overturn the FCC order, but to be successful the effort requires approval by the House and by President Trump. The FCC’s action late last year reclassified Internet service as an information service for regulatory purposes; it had been classified as a common carrier telecommunications service under the FCC’s previous order on the issue in 2015. The effect of last year’s FCC action was to eliminate prohibitions on service blocking and throttling by providers, among other restrictions.

OTA Revival is DOA

The push to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) failed in the House of Representatives on Friday by a vote of 217-195, largely along party lines. The bill was added by Democrats – led by Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Bill Foster, D-Ill. – as an amendment to an appropriations bill that funded energy and water programs, military construction, Veterans Affairs, and the legislative branch for FY 2019. House Democrats initially introduced legislation to reopen OTA in April, with a companion bill introduced in the Senate. OTA was created in 1972 to provide members of Congress and congressional committees with objective analysis of complex scientific and technical issues facing the United States. Closed in 1995, OTA functioned as a non-partisan research shop that weighed in on a wide variety of issues ranging from nuclear arms control to electronic health records to oil and shale technologies. Had it succeeded, Friday’s amendment would have provided OTA with a $2.5 million budget.

NDAA Racks Up New Amendments

Senators are busy adding new cybersecurity-related amendments to H.R. 5515, The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. The amendments covered a wide range of topics. Some focused on specific cybersecurity concerns such as the Signaling System No. 7 vulnerability and Internet of Things vulnerabilities. Other amendments tackled big picture topics, such as sanctions against Russia and improving the overarching U.S. cybersecurity strategy. In what has become an on-going Federal government saga, Sen. Martin Heinrich. D-N.M., introduced a measure that would force President Trump to appoint a new cyber coordinator – a position that was abolished last month by National Security Advisor John Bolton. Since Bolton’s decision, a group of Democratic lawmakers have been scrambling to find a way to reverse course.

Report: Most Disagree with FBI Claim on Phone Encryption

The Washington Post’s “Cybersecurity 202” publication reported today that 72 percent of the digital security experts it surveyed disagreed with the oft-stated claim of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that the FBI’s inability to access encrypted cell phones during investigations leaves the country less safe. The Post said the poll relies on responses from more than 100 “cybersecurity leaders” from government, academia, and the private sector. FBI leaders have for several years loudly complained that their investigations are stymied by the inability to access locked devices and encrypted data on those devices, and has asked device and software makers to create “back doors” in their technologies so that law enforcement can access devices and encrypted data with a warrant. In a high-profile case, Apple in 2016 defended itself in federal court against an FBI effort to compel the company to create such a back-door solution to the phone of an alleged perpetrator of the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. The FBI eventually abandoned the legal effort and hired a third party to crack open the phone in question.

Survey: Most Agency Pros Confident of Cyber Defense Capabilities

Network security technologies developer Varonis Systems said in a report issued last week that 76 percent of Federal agency “decision-makers” surveyed were confident that their agency has “the skills, judgment and experience” to protect against cyber attacks. The company reports results from a poll it conducted in March 2018 of 150 Federal agency officials, half from civilian agencies and half from defense agencies. Among other conclusions, the report found that 82 percent of respondents identified data protection as a “top priority” for their agencies, and 43 percent were “unaware of any data security incident” in their agency over the past year.

Air Force Academy Taps AT&T to Explore New Technologies

The Air Force Academy (AFA) and AT&T signed a 5-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) on Friday to boost the Academy’s use of modern technology at a pace similar the private sector. As part of the contract, AT&T will offer knowledge and best practices regarding cybersecurity and Internet of Things technologies. Additionally, AT&T will help the AFA adopt software-defined networking and 5G capabilities. Additionally, AT&T will offer AFA cadets hands-on demonstrations with the new technologies and solutions. “Networking is a platform for innovation and mission support,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chiaramonte, director of Air Force CyberWorx at the Air Force Academy. “With access to AT&T’s resources, we plan to advance our academic and research objectives. By leveraging public-private partnerships with AT&T and our other industry partners, we improve our understanding and use of technology and, ultimately, improve the Air Force’s mission capabilities.”

Read More About
More Topics
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.