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Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Security hawks urge U.K. to ban Huawei ahead of final 5G decision

By Joseph Marks

PowerPost Analysis
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events

President Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Steve Parsons/Getty Images)

Cybersecurity hawks on both sides of the Atlantic are making last-ditch pitches for the United Kingdom to ban the controversial Chinese telecom Huawei from its next-generation 5G networks as it plans to decide as soon as this week week.
It's a final parry in a global battle that has sparked a rift so wide between Washington and its closest allies that U.S. officials have considered drastically reducing the intelligence they are willing to share with the U.K. and Canada.
U.S. officials took their concerns directly to British counterparts with President Trump warning Prime Minister Boris Johnson against Huawei in a Friday phone call and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pressing his case in London throughout the weekend.
Lawmakers in both nations, meanwhile, ratcheted up pressure on British leaders from the sidelines.
Conservative Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat warned on Twitter that partnering with Huawei could amount to Britain giving up all sovereignty over its data — a statement echoed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The UK has a momentous decision ahead on 5G. British MP Tom Tugendhat gets it right: “The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign.”
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 26, 2020
A British member of the European Parliament, Richard Tice, took to Twitter with a capital lettered message of “BAN THEM” and a warning that “our national security is at risk.”
HUAWEI: Boris’ first mega decision. BAN THEM. Our national security is at risk. Don’t don’t trust complicit civil servants. Worrying that Culture Secretary leading this major security & intelligence issue, is Govt not taking it seriously?
— Richard Tice (@TiceRichard) January 26, 2020
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted “If UK allows Huawei into their 5G network, they will have taken their sovereignty back from Brussels and handed it to Beijing,” a reference to the deadline at the end of this month for Britain to leave the European Union.
If UK allows Huawei into their 5G network, they will have taken their sovereignty back from Brussels and handed it to Beijing. @UKinUSA @GCHQ
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) January 26, 2020
Though no final decision has been made, Britain appears likely to allow Huawei to build at least some portions of its 5G network while banning it from core infrastructure that touches the most data.
That will be a serious blow to U.S. officials who have crisscrossed the globe sounding an alarm about Huawei but so far has convinced only a handful of nations to ban the company from 5G networks including Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Johnson may be considering capping Huawei’s market share in British telecom networks as one way to limit its role, the Financial Times’s George Parker and Nic Fildes reported, citing people close to the conversations.
U.S. officials say Huawei can’t be trusted to not allow Beijing to use its networks for spying and sabotage — a charge Huawei steadfastly denies. The danger is especially high with 5G networks, which will carry orders of magnitude more data than existing telecom networks, officials say.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, has also battled internally about how far to take its fight against Huawei, sometimes undercutting its message to allies.
Most recently, the Pentagon blocked a Commerce Department bid to make it even harder for U.S. companies’ overseas units to sell computer chips and other technology to the company, as my colleague David J. Lynch reported.
“The Pentagon feared additional limits would cost U.S. companies such as Qualcomm, Intel and Micron so much revenue that their research spending would suffer, causing them to fall behind their global rivals and imperiling the American military’s technological edge,” David reported.
That brought a quick pushback from Huawei critics in the Senate who demanded a briefing on the Pentagon’s move.
“Huawei is an arm of the Chinese Communist Party and should be treated as such,” a letter from Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Okla.) states. “It is difficult to imagine that, at the height of the Cold War, the Department of Defense would condone American companies contracting with KGB subsidiaries because Moscow offered a discount.”
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President Trump and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)
PINGED: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is pressing the National Security Agency to ensure the White House is protecting officials' personal devices from being breached by U.S. adversaries following the Saudi government's alleged hack of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, the Hill's Maggie Miller reports. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
“Until the White House takes security seriously, the most sensitive secrets of this country will end up in enemy hands,” Wyden told reporters Friday describing a letter he sent to NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone.
Wyden specifically asked Nakasone to investigate the security risks of White House adviser Jared Kushner, who reportedly messaged the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on his personal cellphone. Kushner reportedly communicated with bin Salman on WhatsApp and investigators believe the malware that infiltrated Bezos's phone arrived in a WhatsApp messaging from the crown prince.
“If the Saudi government had access to Jared Kushner’s phone, it'd be practically like putting a bug in the Oval Office,” Wyden told reporters.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
PATCHED: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla conditionally approved Los Angeles County's new custom-built voting machines Friday, making it the largest jurisdiction to embrace ballot-marking devices, which have sparked intense disagreements among election security advocates. 
The advocates all agree that BMDs are superior to older voting machines that don’t have paper records of votes, but many say they aren’t as secure against hacking as hand-marked paper ballots. BMD supporters, however, say they’re far more accessible for people with disabilities and adaptable for jurisdictions such as L.A., where ballots must be printed in multiple languages. Los Angeles custom-built its BMDs over the course of a decade rather than buying them from one of the main voting machine vendors. 
Upgrading to a modern system will improve the long-term reliability and security of elections in the largest county in America, Padilla said in a statement. L.A. County covers 5.2 million voters, making it the most populous voting jurisdiction in the country.
The decision arrives just days before top election officials from across the country will meet at the National Association of Secretaries of State convention in Washington to discuss elections security among other issues and make final preparations for the 2020 contest.

Former deputy national intelligence director Sue Gordon. (Office of the Director of National Intelligence/AP)
PWNED: Former deputy intelligence director Sue Gordon will join Microsoft in a consulting role advising the company on national security, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Tom Burt tweeted Friday.
Sue will be helping us with a wide range of projects central to our mission to protect our customers and improve the security of the internet ecosystem globally
— Tom Burt (@TomBurt45) January 24, 2020
Gordon resigned from her office in August of last year after being passed over as director of national intelligence. She is just one of several high-ranking cybersecurity officials to exit the Trump administration in the past year. Jeanette Manfra, a senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, officially left this month to join Google's cloud computing division.
Before taking a top post at ODNI, Gordon served in the CIA for nearly three decades, where she was instrumental in enhancing the agency's cybersecurity technology.


— Cybersecurity news from the public sector:
Democrats will record the votes from the Iowa presidential caucuses next month using a smartphone app, a procedure that has stirred security questions.
Wall Street Journal
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Sunday insisted claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election were “not a conspiracy theory” and accused those using the characterization of pushing a “Democratic talking point.”
The Hill
NSA phone snooping system leaked by Snowden is on the rocks with Republicans and Democrats.
Auditors have been reporting weaknesses in IT security controls for over a decade.


— Cybersecurity news from the private sector:
A report concluding Saudi Arabia likely hacked into Jeff Bezos’ phone has spurred questions among cybersecurity experts, who say the audit left several major technical questions unexplained and in need of more examination.
Wall Street Journal
A law passed by Congress prohibits transit agencies from buying rail cars from China-based companies because of cybersecurity concerns.
Justin George
By downloading the app and monitoring the network traffic sent back to its servers, Gizmodo found a handful of major names in the ad tech space—including Facebook and Google-owned YouTube—gleaning details about the app every minute.


— Cybersecurity news from abroad:
Sweeping cyberattacks targeting governments and other organizations in Europe an...
Activists fear that a new “sovereign Internet” law could sharply boost Russian censorship efforts.
Isabelle Khurshudyan
Viettel to launch China-free network in June
Nikkei Asian Review


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