Politics

What the government’s new cybersecurity report could mean for business

Industry is apparently part of the problem — and the solution.

Sen. Angus King

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, co-chairs the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which issued a report Wednesday saying the U.S.' cybersecurity infrastructure is dangerously inadequate.

Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein via Getty Images

America's cybersecurity strategy needs an overhaul, according to a massive new government report — but what does that mean for the technology industry?

"The reality is that we are dangerously insecure in cyber," co-chairs Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., wrote in a letter prefacing the report, which was released by the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission on Wednesday. "Your entire life — your paycheck, your health care, your electricity — increasingly relies on networks of digital devices that store, process and analyze data. These networks are vulnerable, if not already compromised."


Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.


The 182-page report argues for an approach of "layered cyber deterrence" and makes dozens of recommendations that would affect public and private sectors alike. The more than 75 recommendations run the gamut, from concrete suggestions about ensuring paper trails for voting machines to additional authorities for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as well as specific legislative fixes aimed at spurring private sector security changes.

Many of the recommendations in the report "do not break new ground," James A. Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Protocol. But if they are enacted, some of them could have a significant impact on technology companies and other industries.

There's a lot to dig through, but here are some key takeaways.

Industry is part of the problem — and the solution

The report is littered with references to public-private partnerships and collaboration, many of them vague. But the general vision laid out in the report "will require private-sector entities to step up and strengthen their security posture," King and Gallagher not, adding that most critical infrastructure "is owned by the private sector." The underlying message: That some of that infrastructure is not resilient enough.

If the strategy laid out were followed through, there would be additional expectations placed on private industry — generally in the form of things like adhering to new security standards and working with various new federal structures designed to help manage digital national security risks.

However, King and Gallagher say they "do not want to saddle the private sector with onerous and counterproductive regulations, nor do we want to force companies to hand over their data to the federal government." That suggests that even they are looking for voluntary cooperation in many circumstances.

Data security and privacy liability incoming?

That said, there are some places where the Commission calls for concrete changes that would change business practices.

One of the most significant is the recommendation that Congress pass legislation requiring "that final goods assemblers of software, hardware and firmware are liable for damages from incidents that exploit known and unpatched vulnerabilities for as long as they support a product or service."

This would provide clarity and increased protections for consumers, it argues, while putting businesses on the hook for keeping their products and services secure. Expect plenty of pushback from across the tech sector and beyond over any proposed lawmaking along those lines.

On a similar front, the Commission recommends Congress "pass a national data security and privacy protection law establishing and standardizing requirements for the collection, retention and sharing of user data." Right now, there is no overarching federal standard, akin to Europe's General Data Protection Regulation, for data security. Instead a patchwork of state regulations help set the effective floor of privacy protections, led by more stringent regulation out of California.

The impact of any such law on businesses would obviously depend on just how strict it is — but there is increasing bipartisan support for some form of data privacy regulation, so watch this space.

One other recommendation that could affect industry is the proposal that Congress establish a "National Cybersecurity Certification and Labeling Authority" to run programs including voluntary security certifications and labeling for IT and communications products. While voluntary, this would be a step toward giving cybersecurity safety certifications similar to those used to show certain electric products meet basic safety standards — and could change customer perceptions of the products and services they buy.

But don't assume Congress will act

While the report lays out the stakes as dire — it even opens with a bit of dystopian fiction about a post-cyberpocalypse Washington — there's no guarantee Congress will take action anytime soon. In fact, many of the report's recommendations, including a comprehensive federal data privacy law, are proposals that have been floating around in the legislative ether in one form or another for years.

Angus acknowledged the legislative status quo in an interview with Wired, saying he hopes that around half of the recommendations will be considered as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in May.

Still, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., a member of the commission and co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, said he has "never felt more optimistic" during his decade of working on cybersecurity issues than with the release of this report.

"We have a long way to go as a nation to close our aperture of vulnerability in cyberspace," the Congressman told Protocol in an emailed statement. "But the strategy we lay out today will make us much more secure if we have the political will to execute it."

Google’s latest plans for Chromecast are all about free TV

The company is in talks to add dozens of free linear channels to its newest streaming dongle.

Google launched its new Google TV service a year ago. Now, the company wants to add free TV channels to it.

Photo: Google

Google is looking to make its Chromecast streaming device more appealing to cord cutters. The company has plans to add free TV channels to Google TV, the Android-based smart TV platform that powers Chromecast as well as select smart TVs from companies including Sony and TCL, Protocol has learned.

To achieve this, Google has held talks with companies distributing so-called FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) channels, according to multiple industry insiders. These channels have the look and feel of traditional linear TV networks, complete with ad breaks and on-screen graphics. Free streaming channels could launch on Google TV as early as this fall, but the company may also wait to announce the initiative in conjunction with its smart TV partners in early 2022.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

While it's easy to get lost in the operational and technical side of a transaction, it's important to remember the third component of a payment. That is, the human behind the screen.

Over the last two years, many retailers have seen the benefit of investing in new, flexible payments. Ones that reflect the changing lifestyles of younger spenders, who are increasingly holding onto their cash — despite reports to the contrary. This means it's more important than ever for merchants to take note of the latest payment innovations so they can tap into the savings of the COVID-19 generation.

Keep Reading Show less
Antoine Nougue,Checkout.com

Antoine Nougue is Head of Europe at Checkout.com. He works with ambitious enterprise businesses to help them scale and grow their operations through payment processing services. He is responsible for leading the European sales, customer success, engineering & implementation teams and is based out of London, U.K.

Protocol | Policy

Iris scans for food in Jordanian refugee camps

More than 80% of the refugees in Jordanian camps now use iris scans to pay for their groceries. Refugee advocates say this is a huge future privacy problem.

A refugee uses their iris to access their account.

Photo: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images

Every day, tens of thousands of refugees in the two main camps in Jordan pay for their groceries and withdraw their cash not with a card, but with a scan of their eye.

Nowhere in the United States can someone pay for groceries with an iris scan (though the Department of Homeland Security is considering collecting iris scans from U.S. immigrants, and Clear uses iris scans to verify identities for paying customers at airports) — but in the Jordanian refugee camps, biometric scanners are an everyday sight at grocery stores and ATMs. More than 80% of the 33,000-plus refugees who receive cash assistance and (most of them Syrian) and live in these camps use the United Nations' Refugee Agency iris-scanning system, which verifies identity through eye scans in order to distribute cash and food refugee assistance. Refugees can opt out of the program, but verifying identity without it is so complex that most do not.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Protocol | China

Weibo is muzzling users for discussing a landmark #metoo case

A number of accounts have been suspended, even deleted, after voicing support for the plaintiff.

Photo: Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

As a Beijing court dismissed China's landmark sexual harassment case on Tuesday, Weibo censors acted to muzzle a number of accounts that voiced support for the accuser, or even simply discussed the trial beforehand.

In 2018, the plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known by the nickname Xianzi, filed a high-profile #MeToo case against Zhu Jun, a renowned state broadcast show host. Zhou claimed that Zhu sexually harassed her while she was an intern on Zhu's show in 2014. Chinese web users have closely followed the civil suit, which has also drawn international media attention.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.

Protocol | Enterprise

Take that, Slack: ServiceNow gets a little closer to Microsoft Teams

ServiceNow is expanding its decade-long partnership with Microsoft as both companies intensify their rivalry with Salesforce.

Microsoft and ServiceNow's "coopetition" is aimed at a higher goal: undermining Salesforce, which is fast becoming the main rival for both vendors.

Photo: Uwe Anspach/Getty Images

For ServiceNow, Microsoft is the lesser of two evils compared to Salesforce.

After ditching Slack for Teams following the Salesforce acquisition, ServiceNow is deepening its decade-long partnership with Microsoft, promising co-development of new products and fresh integration capabilities within Teams, it plans to announce Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Latest Stories