from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: August 17, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump observes a demonstration with U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division troops, an attack helicopter, and artillery. Carlos Barria/Reuters

This week: changing the rules for offensive cyber operations, helping cops in Australia, the Chinese Communist Party dislikes video games, and Cubans get mobile internet access. 

August 17, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump observes a demonstration with U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division troops, an attack helicopter, and artillery. Carlos Barria/Reuters
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Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:

1. I'm not feeling very relaxed. Two media reports suggest the Donald J. Trump administration has changed the rules that guide the United States' offensive operations in cyberspace, with the Wall Street Journal reporting the rules have been "relaxed" and Politico noting they have been "scrapped." In 2012, the Barack Obama administration issued a classified directive outlining the inter-agency process U.S. government entities had to follow before conducting an offensive cyber operation, loosely defined as one intended to manipulate, disrupt, or destroy computer networks or data. Some U.S. national security officials claimed the directive, which was later made public through Edward Snowden's disclosures, needlessly hampered the United States' ability to react quickly to cyber threats outside of U.S. government networks. A Trump administration official quoted in the Journal described the move as "offensive step forward," a description consistent U.S. Cyber Command's strategy released earlier this year in which it seeks to "defend forward" and prioritize offensive activity to contest an adversary's cyber capability. That approach has both its supporters, who argue that more offense is required given that deterrence in cyberspace doesn't work, and detractors, who argue it will only increase the odds of misperception and uncontrolled escalation between adversaries. 

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2. Lawful access down under. The government of Australia launched a consultation process on draft legislation that would require companies operating in Australia, from U.S. tech giants to local start-ups, to assist law enforcement and intelligence agencies upon request. These requests could vary wildly, ranging from a simple request for more information on how an app or service works to something more intrusive, such as asking for the GPS coordinates of a user or decrypting specific data. Under the proposal, law enforcement and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization would have three ways to ask for assistance. First, companies could voluntarily hand over the information requested. Second, companies could be compelled to provide the requested information data under penalty of a fine (up to AUD$10 million for a company, or AUD$50,000 for an individual). Third, companies could be compelled to alter their product in a way that allows them comply with the request for assistance. Although the legislation expressly prohibits Australian agencies from requesting companies weaken encryption algorithms and thus does not allow for "backdoors," critics are not assuaged given that companies can be compelled to weaken the security of a device or app to allow for surveillance. This is Australia's second legislative attempt in as many years to address the challenge digital technology poses to criminal and national security investigations. Over at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Fergus Hanson argues this latest proposal faces an uphill battle. 

3. Why don't you go play outside? Chinese video game companies are taking a massive financial hit after Chinese regulators stopped issuing video game licenses. The industry is experiencing an unexpected winter as the government approval process for video games grinds to a halt. Online gaming is a big business in China, but the industry relies on approval from suspicious regulators that screen games for violence, gore, and other possible affronts to propriety and Communist rule. The proximate cause of the downturn is a personnel reshuffle at SARFT, the new media oversight body established in March 2018. However, the government's deep dislike of video games and suspicion that they do not spread "core socialist values" is also a factor. On Thursday, Tencent's stock dipped after, in a separate case, regulators ordered the company to pull "Monster Hunter: World," which was supposed to be the company's blockbuster hit of the year. 

4. Free internet for a New York minute. Cubans were able to access the internet for free from their mobile phones for about nine hours on Tuesday. Cubans traditionally get their internet from specifically designated WiFi hotspots around the island, which cost about $1 an hour--a princely sum considering the average Cuban makes $30 a month. The free access was a test from state-owned telecom ETECSA, which is planning to sell mobile internet access as part of its cellphone packages. That would allow Cubans to use the internet from the privacy of their own homes or wherever they may be instead of the hotspots. Although Cubans mostly expressed surprised delight at the free internet, the test brought Cuba's already slow internet to a crawl as word of the unannounced test spread throughout the island. 

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