from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

Cyber Week in Review: March 15, 2019

Sergio Flores / Reuters

This week: Antitrust is having a moment; Washington and Berlin fight over Huawei; Facebook faces a criminal investigation; and the Navy is not keeping up with Chinese hackers. 

March 15, 2019

Sergio Flores / Reuters
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:

Antitrust is having a moment. Last Friday, U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan to break up tech monopolies. Warren accused companies like Facebook and Google of using their resources “to squash small businesses and innovation,” harming the interests of the American public. Warren’s plan seeks to unwind potentially anticompetitive mergers, such as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, and prohibit companies from sharing data with third parties. In Europe, Big Tech is facing fresh criticism as well. On Wednesday, the British government published a 150-page report calling for stricter rules on the tech industry as a means to promote competition, innovation, and privacy. The same day, Spotify filed an EU antitrust complaint against Apple. The EU has cracked down on big tech companies in the past, and next week EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will announce the bloc’s third fine against Google involving an investigation into the company’s AdSense business and its efforts to contractually restricts how third-party sites display search ads from rivals.

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Fighting among friends. Europe has been center stage in the United States campaign to ban Huawei from 5G networks. So far, the dispute has pitted Washington against Huawei, the Chinese telecommunication giant, but increasingly Washington’s push is pitting Washington against its allies. Last Friday, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard A. Grenell warned in a letter to Germany’s economics minister that selecting Huawei or other Chinese equipment vendors would pare back, or potentially end, security cooperation between the two countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel hit back on Tuesday, saying that Germany will develop its own 5G standard without giving in to U.S. pressure. German regulators are currently drafting security requirements for 5G vendors, which experts believe will not prevent Huawei from competing for procurement contracts.

“This is a criminal investigation, not an oops-we-made-another-sloppy-error one.” Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York are conducting a criminal investigation into Facebook’s data-sharing deals with more than 150 partners, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony. These sharing agreements allowed Facebook's partners to access, sometimes without consent, the contact information and other data of Facebook users and their friends. The company is already under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department, and prosecutors from the Northern District of California for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, as Kara Swisher argued in the New York Times this week, a criminal investigation marks a new level of legal trouble for the besieged company. The news comes just a week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed a new privacy framework for the company.

Meet the new strategy, same as the old strategy. In November, the Trump Administration unveiled a new aggressive National Cyber Strategy that aimed to “defend forward” through pre-emptive cyberattacks that keep the adversary on the defensive.  “Our hands are not tied as they were in the Obama administration,” National Security Advisor John Bolton said. At the time, critics called strategy an “irresponsible use of cyber force” while proponents commended the Trump administration for shredding the Obama administration’s predilection for process over decisive action. It turns out, however, that the Trump administration’s strategy might represent more of a continuity than a break. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Rapuano explained the administration’s new policy process for cyber operations in detail—and shocker: it’s not that different from the Obama era.

The Navy is ‘under cyber siege,’ new report says. A new internal Navy review says that the U.S. Navy and its private sector partners are not doing enough to defend itself against foreign adversaries. "For years, global competitors and adversaries have targeted and breached these critical contractor systems with impunity,” the assessment said. Of particular concern is China, which the report argues has “derived an incalculable near- and long-term military advantage from it [hacking].” The review reflects a newfound urgency to defend against Chinese hackers, which Pentagon officials worry could chip away at the U.S. military advantage through cyber-enabled theft. However, two political scientists are skeptical that the exploits of Chinese hackers will give the Chinese a military advantage. Writing in the Washington Post, Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli argue that “military technologies are not plug-and-play.” Stolen secrets alone are not enough to design, develop, and produce advanced weapons systems.

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