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Trump fires top US cybersecurity official Chris Krebs for debunking false election claims

Chris Krebs, one of the most senior cybersecurity officials in the U.S. government, has been fired.

Krebs served as the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) since its founding in November 2018 until he was removed from his position on Tuesday. It’s not immediately clear who is currently heading the agency. A spokesperson for CISA did not immediately comment.

President Trump fired Krebs in a tweet late on Tuesday, citing a statement published by CISA last week, which found there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Trump, who has repeatedly made claims of voter fraud without providing evidence, alleged that CISA’s statement was “highly inaccurate.”

Shortly after, Twitter labeled Trump’s tweet for making a “disputed” claim about election fraud.

Reuters first reported the news of Krebs’ potential firing last week.

Krebs was appointed by President Trump to head the newly created cybersecurity agency in November 2018, just days after the conclusion of the midterm elections. He previously served as an undersecretary for CISA’s predecessor, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and also held cybersecurity policy roles at Microsoft.

During his time in government, Krebs became one of the most vocal voices in election security, taking the lead during 2018 and in 2020, which largely escaped from disruptive cyberattacks, thanks to efforts to prepare for cyberattacks and misinformation that plagued the 2016 presidential election.

He was “one of the few people in this administration respected by everyone on both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a tweet.

Krebs is the latest official to leave CISA in the past year. Brian Harrell, who oversaw infrastructure protection at the agency, resigned in August after less than a year on the job, and Jeanette Manfra left for a role at Google at the end of last year. Cyberscoop reported Thursday that Bryan Ware, CISA’s assistant director for cybersecurity, resigned for a position in the private sector.

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CDC removes updated guidelines around COVID-19 aerosol transmission, but this expert explains why it should reverse the reversal

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Last week at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, I got the chance to speak to Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist who is a Senior Fellow of the Federation of American Scientists. Dr. Feigl-Ding has been a frequent and vocal critic of some of the most profound missteps of regulators, public health organizations and the current White House administration, and we discussed specifically the topic of aerosol transmission and its notable absence from existing guidance in the U.S.

At the time, neither of us knew that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would publish updated guidance on its website over this past weekend that provided descriptions of aerosol transmission, and a concession that it’s likely a primary vector for passing on the virus that leads to COVID-19 — or that the CDC would subsequently revert said guidance, removing this updated information about aerosol transmission that’s more in line with the current state of widely accepted COVID research. The CDC cited essentially an issue where someone at the organization pushed a draft version of guidelines to production — but the facts it had shared in the update lined up very closely with what Dr. Feigl-Ding had been calling for.

“The fact that we haven’t highlighted aerosol transmission as much, up until recently, is woefully, woefully frustrating,” he said during our interview last Wednesday. “Other countries who’ve been much more technologically savvy about the engineering aspects of aerosols have been ahead of the curve — like Japan, they assume that this virus is aerosol and airborne. And aerosol means that the droplets are these micro droplets that can float in the air, they don’t get pulled down by gravity […] now we know that the aerosols may actually be the main drivers. And that means that if someone coughs, sings, even breathes, it can stay in the air, the micro droplets can stay in the air anywhere from, for stagnant air for up to16 hours, but normally with ventilation, between 20 minutes to four hours. And that air, if you enter into a room after someone was there, you can still get infected, and that is what makes indoor dining and bars and restaurants so frustrating.”

Dr. Feigl-Ding points to a number of recent contact-tracing studies as providing strong evidence that these indoor activities, and the opportunity they provide for aerosol transmission, are leading to a large number of infections. Such studies were featured in a report the CDC prepared on reopening advice, which was buried by the Trump administration, according to an AP report from May.

“The latest report shows that indoor dining, bars, restaurants are the leading leading factors for transmission, once you do contact tracing,” he said, noting that this leads naturally to the big issues around schools reopening, including that many have “very poor ventilation,” while simultaneously they’re not able to open their windows or doors due to gun safety protocols in place. Even before this recent CDC guideline take-back, Dr. Feigl-Ding was clearly frustrated with the way the organization appears to be succumbing to politicization of what is clearly an issue of a large and growing body of scientific evidence and fact.

“The CDC has long been the most respected agency in the world for public health, but now it’s been politically muzzled,” he said. “Previously, for example, the guidelines around church attendance — the CDC advised against church gatherings, but then it was overruled. And it was clearly overruled, because we actually saw it changed in live time. […] In terms of schools, gatherings, it’s clear [that] keeping kids in a pod is not enough, given what we know about ventilation.”

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President Trump reportedly has approved the Oracle deal for TikTok’s US operations

President Donald Trump said has has given his stamp of approval “in concept” on the Oracle bid for the U.S. operations of the wildly popular social media app, TikTok, according to a report from Bloomberg.

According to the Bloomberg report Trump said, “I have given the deal my blessing,” as he left the White House for a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday.

“I approved the deal in concept,” Trump reportedly said.

The spinout of TikTok’s U.S. operations from its parent company Bytedance was something that Trump administration had demanded on the grounds that the company’s data handling policies and popularity in the U.S. posed a national security threat.

The President’s push to sever the applications ties to China also followed TikTok users’ alleged prank that turned what was supposed to be a triumphal rally for the President in Oklahoma City into a Presidential campaign embarrassment that cost the job of Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

That said, the U.S. has been looking to curtail the operations of several Chinese technology companies on the grounds that they pose security threats to the U.S. Indeed, the Presidential order that demanded TikTok’s spinout also called for the discontinuation of the U.S. operations of the messaging service WeChat, which is owned by Tencent — one of China’s largest technology companies. And the U.S. government has also put a target on the telecommunications and networking technology developer, Huawei.

With the TikTok deal set to be approved, a new company called TikTok Global will be created as part of the deal, according to statements from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earlier this week.

Bloomberg reported that Trump said the new company would be headquartered in Texas, would hire as many as 25,000 people and would contribute $5 billion toward U.S. education.

The bulk of TikTok’s U.S. operations are now in Los Angeles.

As the Trump Administration continues its push to disrupt the operations of Chinese tech companies in the U.S., strange bedfellows are uniting to voice opposition to the deal.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the head of Facebook’s Instagram subsidiary both came out with statements opposing the proposed transaction.

“This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement on Friday.

And the dragnet against Chinese influence through ownership of U.S. technology companies has reportedly widened to include many of the top U.S. gaming companies, which have been backed (or are wholly owned) by Tencent.

All of this could be exceptionally bad for U.S. technology businesses, as Instgram’s chief, Adam Mosseri pointed out in a series of Friday tweets.

“A US ban of TikTok would be meaningful step in the direction of a more fragmented nationalized internet, which would be bad for US tech companies which have benefited greatly from the ability to operate across borders,” Mosseri wrote.

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FCC invites public comment on Trump’s attempt to nerf Section 230

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has decided to ask the public for its thoughts on an attempt initiated in Trump in May to water down certain protections that arguably led to the creation of the modern internet economy. The nakedly retaliatory order seems to be, legally speaking, laughable, and could be resolved without public input — but the FCC wants your opinion, so you may as well give it to them.

You can submit your comment here at the FCC’s long-suffering electronic comment filing system, but before you do so, perhaps acquaint yourself with a few facts.

Section 230 essentially prevents companies like Facebook and Google from being liable for content they merely host, as long as they work to take down illegal content quickly. Some feel these protections has given the companies the opportunity to manipulate speech on their platforms — Trump felt targeted by a fact-check warning placed by Twitter on his unsupported claims of fraud in mail-in warning.

To understand the order itself and see commentary from the companies that would be affected, as well as Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who co-authored the law in the first place, read our story from the day Trump signed the order. (Wyden called it “plainly illegal.”)

For a bipartisan legislative approach that actually addresses shortcomings in Section 230, check out the PACT Act announced in June. (Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) says they’re approaching the law “with a scalpel rather than a jackhammer.”)

More relevant to the FCC’s proceedings, however, are the comments of sitting commissioner Brendan Starks, who questioned the order’s legality and ethics, likening it to a personal vendetta intended to intimidate certain companies. As he explained:

The broader debate about Section 230 long predates President Trump’s conflict with Twitter in particular, and there are so many smart people who believe the law here should be updated. But ultimately that debate belongs to Congress. That the president may find it more expedient to influence a five-member commission than a 538-member Congress is not a sufficient reason, much less a good one, to circumvent the constitutional function of our democratically elected representatives.

Incidentally, Starks may be who Pai is referring to in a memo announcing the commentary period. “I strongly disagree with those who demand that we ignore the law and deny the public and all stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in on this important issue. We should welcome vigorous debate—not foreclose it,” Pai wrote.

This may be a reference to Commissioner Starks’s suggestion that the FCC address the order quickly and authoritatively: “If, as I suspect it ultimately will, the petition fails at a legal question of authority, I think we should say it loud and clear, and close the book on this unfortunate detour,” he said. After all, public opinion doesn’t count for much if the order has no legal effect to begin with and the FCC doesn’t even have to consider how it might revisit Section 230.

Whatever the case, the proposal is ready for you to comment on it. To do so, visit this page and click, in the box on the left, “+New Filing” or “+Express” — the first is if you would like to submit a document or evidence in support of your opinion, and the second is if you just want to explain your position in plain text. Remember, this information will be filed publicly, so anything you put in those fields — name, address and everything — will be visible online.

To be clear, you’re commenting on the  NTIA proposal that the FCC draw up new rules regarding Section 230, which the executive order compelled that organization to send, not the executive order itself.

As with the net neutrality debacle, the FCC does not have to take your opinion into account, or reality for that matter. The comment period lasts 45 days, after which the item will likely go to internal deliberations at the Commission.

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TikTok says it’s “not planning on going anywhere” in response to pending U.S. ban

TikTok’s U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas has posted a video message to the platform that appears to be a response to reports from Friday that President Trump is working on an effective “ban” of the app in the U.S., a plan he shared with reporters from the White House pool on board Air Force One. Whether or not he’s even able to do this remains an open question, but in the meantime TikTok seems keen to reassure U.S. users it doesn’t intend to change its operational plans in response to this vague, but potentially existential threat.

The message from Pappas was pushed out to all U.S.-based users on TikTok as a notification, and appears on their discover page, making it clear they want this seen by the entire community. It starts by thanking users on the platform, and highlights some of its U.S.-based contributions, namely the jobs it has created to date, and committed to creating in future, and the fund it has set up to support creators in the U.S. and globally.

Pappas ends by asserting that TikTok is “here for the long run,” and calling for community support to “stand for TikTok.”

Trump’s assertion that he plans to sign an order as early as Saturday to bar U.S. access to the app followed reports that Microsoft is in talks with the company’s China-based owner ByteDance to potentially acquire its U.S. business. Trump appeared to discount any support for that possibility in his comments to the White House press pool, but a new report from Saturday morning said that Microsoft is indeed in talks to acquire a stake in TikTok and take over stewardship of its U.S. user’s data, as part of a potential deal to stave off any ban.

Again, it’s not clear what executive powers would actually allow Trump to put in place a U.S.-wide ban of the application, but it looks like ByteDance is working with parties in the U.S. on a deal that assumes he’d be able to do so unless the Chinese company divests entirely its U.S.-based TikTok operations to an American owner.

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The intersection of small business, tech and our financial system is more important than ever

The two of us oversaw the U.S. Small Business Administration’s capital, investment, loan and innovation programs serving America’s small businesses. The nation is rooting for our 30 million small businesses. They employ more than half of the country and create most net new jobs, and 80% of them have less than 60 days cash on hand.

The world has never experienced dislocation of labor and business activity at this scale and speed. We applaud Congress and the White House for stepping up with a $2 trillion relief package, of which, $350 billion is being injected into America’s small businesses. Another $250 billion is being contemplated and negotiated as we write this.

Washington has been talking regularly with the financial sector, and for small business relief to be effective, banks of all sizes, fintechs, other tech companies, community banks and other capital conduits need to be involved in the solution. There is an urgent need to deploy the funds, and technology will be critical to that end.

Two encouraging developments  occurred on Wednesday: 1) SBA launched a new AWS-powered gateway for a streamlined lender entry point and 2) an application for non-bank, non-insured (read: fintech) lenders was made available. Good steps for sure, but retrofits always come with limitations at their root.

Looking back to move forward, the crisis of 2008 was in many ways a “dress rehearsal” of what we are experiencing now. While there are some similarities, the pandemic’s massive toll on virtually every sector of the economy is happening simultaneously, as evidenced by the fact that 17 million people have filed for jobless claims.

The financial crisis was driven by excess risk in the financial system whose shock rippled through our economy with some level of predictability. The number of exogenous factors of the pandemic’s effect on our economy are more interconnected, more widely spread and faster to hit than those in 2008.

This 21st century problem requires 21st century solutions, and that requires fresh thinking, from policy-to-execution. The large part of our economy that lives at the intersection of small business and the financial system is expecting this thinking and execution.

It must be pointed out that some constraints and limitations of implementing the CARES Act are not regulatory in nature — they are born out of legacy technologies that slow banks down. The antiquated systems of our government agencies, such as SBA’s much talked about and clunky E-Tran system, do not help either.

Government agencies, let alone their systems, were not built to deal with anything of this magnitude and urgency. But the inherent scalability, penetration, infrastructure, algorithmic capability and plumbing of financial technology should be brought to bear, and now! More on this below.

The financial system has significant tech adoption lags, organizational inertia and regulatory constraints — all contributing to the chaotic nature of the programs’ implementation. The design of a potential fourth phase of relief should take this into account. While pumping more money into small businesses is a good decision, the process and its underpinning needs to be improved.

We want regulators and agencies to help minimize the impact to American small businesses and implement the CARES Act in the spirit of what Congress intended. We don’t believe much cash has reached taxpaying citizens or small businesses as of this writing. According to the latest figures, SBA has guaranteed 25% of the relief. While this is an encouraging marker, it is still a small fraction of the $350 billion.

Probably more important for people to understand is that when banks secure loan guarantees, that does not immediately translate to funded loans injecting cash into small businesses.

For cash to move, a few things would help smooth the glide path from CARES Act to small businesses: 1) finalizing definitive guidance on bank notes; 2) enhancing secondary market liquidity; 3) developing a 21st century digital interface for more streamlined touch points for all stakeholders; and 4) opening the pathway to new players, including fintech companies as service providers, rails or lenders themselves.

This is important because SBA has been tasked to increase its capacity by a factor of at least 50. All of its credit programs combined put out $25 billion a year. The task at hand: $350 billion in 8-12 weeks. We know SBA has been working 24×7 — along with Treasury, FRB and other agencies — on systems, technology and execution, but there are real friction points working against solving the problem at hand.

The Federal Reserve’s liquidity backstop for SBA loans is welcome news, but it will take time to develop. Equally welcome news is FDIC’s easing on community bank leverage ratios. Regulators are considering relaxing additional prudent and temporary requirements and limits. This all assists the endeavor, yet there are still unanswered questions keeping lenders of all stripes on the sidelines.

The use of digital constructs and 21st century technology is highly needed due to the amount of dollars, number of loans and the short window we have to deploy them. We urge the SBA, other agencies and regulators to deploy energy and resources to leverage digital finance and financial technology.

Financial technology can help streamline applications, comply with know-your-customer and anti-money laundering rules and application automation. Technology also improves origination, underwriting, loan disbursement and loan servicing, and should be leveraged. Millions of small businesses, the most vulnerable ones in fact, don’t use bank credit. Yet many use Square to accept payments, for example. Fintech now has an open door to participate — good! We encourage regulators to fully leverage the collective capabilities of technology.

Not everyone has a printer, let alone the ability to walk into a bank — but most small businesses and their owners have mobile phones and a digital footprint. A number of fintech companies provide technology to banks themselves, and in those cases, banks should use this time with alacrity to leverage those capabilities. To be clear, fintech is no longer an innovation experiment, given the $200 billion that has been invested in financial technology since the financial crisis.

There is immeasurable pressure to get capital out on the one hand, but on the other, tight regulations create an equally forceful pull. COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need to usher in a financial system that works for all, and technology is central to that. If there is a time to try new constructs, that time is now!

The problem with losing a job is that it is very hard to re-create. Preserving them, which is the guiding principle of all the recent government action — is energy better spent. Let’s focus on preserving jobs and providing relief to our economy’s beating heart — small businesses.

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New York State seeks tech talent for its COVID-19 technology SWAT team

New York State is ramping up efforts to combat the growing coronavirus pandemic, including appeals to all industries for help in the form of much-needed medical equipment for healthcare workers. It’s also specifically asking for help from the tech community, through an open call for contributions from individuals and …

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Open-source project spins up 3D-printed ventilator validation prototype in just one week

In a great example of what can happen when smart, technically-oriented people come together in a time of need, an open-source hardware project started by a group including Irish entrepreneur Colin Keogh and Breeze Automation CEO and co-founder Gui Calavanti has produced a prototype ventilator using 3D-printed parts and readily …

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Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to address the coronavirus pandemic

During a White House press briefing on Wednesday, President Trump opened remarks by confirming that he has invoked the Defense Production Act, a move that many have called for him to take to help fight the coronavirus pandemic since at least earlier this week. The Act, which was originally enacted …

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White House provides an update on COVID-19 testing in the U.S., says there’s been a ‘dramatic ramp’

During a White House press briefing on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., members of the White House coronavirus task force provided updates about the current state of coronavirus testing in the U.S., which is a crucial metric to track given that the World Health …

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