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US Lawmakers Seek Probe to Control the Spread of Hacking Tools Sold Globally

The bill is expected to be voted on by the full appropriations committee in the coming weeks before going onto the full House

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A man takes part in a hacking contest during the Def Con hacker convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 29, 2017. VOA

U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that would force the State Department to report what it is doing to control the spread of U.S. hacking tools around the world.

A bill passed in a House of Representatives’ appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday said Congress is “concerned” about the State Department’s ability to supervise U.S. companies that sell offensive cybersecurity products and know-how to other countries.

The proposed legislation, released on Wednesday, would direct the State Department to report to Congress how it decides whether to approve the sale of cyber capabilities abroad and to disclose any action it has taken to punish companies for violating its policies in the past year.

National security experts have grown increasingly concerned about the proliferation of U.S. hacking tools and technology.

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National security experts have grown increasingly concerned about the proliferation of U.S. hacking tools and technology. Pixabay

The legislation follows a Reuters report in January which showed a U.S. defense contractor provided staff to a United Arab Emirates hacking unit called Project Raven. The UAE program utilized former U.S. intelligence operatives to target militants, human rights activists and journalists.

State Department officials granted permission to the U.S. contractor, Maryland-based CyberPoint International, to assist an Emirate intelligence agency in surveillance operations, but it is unclear how much they knew about its activities in the UAE.

Under U.S. law, companies selling cyber offensive products or services to foreign governments must first obtain permission from the State Department.The new measure was added to a State Department spending bill by Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat from Maryland and member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Ruppersberger said in an emailed statement he had been “particularly troubled by recent media reports” about the State Department’s approval process for the sale of cyberweapons and services.

CyberPoint’s Chief Executive Officer Karl Gumtow did not respond to a request for comment. He previously told Reuters that to his knowledge, CyberPoint employees never conducted hacking operations and always complied with U.S. laws.

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Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. questions U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. VOA

The State Department has declined to comment on CyberPoint, but said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that it is “firmly committed to the robust and smart regulation of defense articles and services export” and before granting export licenses it weighs “political, military, economic, human rights, and arms control considerations.”

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Robert Chesney, a national security law professor at the University of Texas, said the Reuters report raised an alarm over how Washington supervises the export of U.S. cyber capabilities.

“The Project Raven (story) perfectly well documents that there is reason to be concerned and it is Congress’ job to get to the bottom of it,” he said. The bill is expected to be voted on by the full appropriations committee in the coming weeks before going onto the full House. (VOA)

Next Story

Now Hackers Aim to Hit Cybersecurity Firms

Companies may face a penalty of up to Rs 15 crore or 4 per cent of global turnover for major violations under the proposed Personal Data Protection law, according to official sources

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A French soldier watches code lines on his computer during the International Cybersecurity forum in Lille, northern France, Jan. 23, 2018. VOA

The new breed of hackers is flexing their muscles and now, cybersecurity firms which aim to safeguard your data are being hit right in their backyard — signaling a worrisome trend for enterprises and governments as encryption is proving to be fundamentally flawed.

In a bizarre incident late last month, global cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks “admitted” that the personal details of its seven current and former employees had been “inadvertently” published online by a “third-party vendor”.

The personal details of some past and present employees — their names, dates of birth and social security numbers — were exposed online.

Palo Alto Networks, however, did not divulge further details on who the third party vendor was and how the personal details of the employees were leaked.

San Francisco-based HackerOne which itself is a vulnerability coordination and bug bounty platform and boasts of clients like Starbucks, Instagram, Goldman Sachs, Twitter and Zomato, last week paid $20,000 to a community user who exposed a vulnerability in its own bug bounty platform.

The vulnerability was exposed by a user with the handle called “haxta4ok00”.

“I can read all reports @security and more programmes,” posted the hacker on the community page.

US Intelligence, Privacy
A specialist works at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center in Arlington, Va., Sept. 9, 2014. (VOA)

“I did it to show the impact. I didn’t mean any harm by it. I reported it to you at once. I was not sure that after the token substitution I would own all the rights. I apologise if I did anything wrong. But it was just a white hack”.

The big question arises: How safe is our data with the cyber security enterprises that have mushroomed in the recent past.

In a statement shared with IANS, HackerOne said it believes in transparency and the vital role it plays in building trust.

“This was a vulnerability reported through HackerOne’s own bug bounty programme by an active HackerOne hacker community member and was safely resolved. The team followed standard protocol to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the issue and implement immediate and long-term fixes. All customers impacted were notified the same day,” HackerOne noted.

“It may seem counterintuitive to publish when things go wrong, but many companies face similar security challenges, and the value of public disclosure for the public and our community far outweighs the risk,” the company added.

Palo Alto Networks said they took immediate action to remove the data from public access and terminate the vendor relationship.

“We also promptly reported the incident to the appropriate authorities and to the impacted individuals. We take the protection of our employees’ information very seriously and have taken steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future,” the company said in a statement.

Cyberattacks
An employee works near screens in the virus lab at the headquarters of Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs in Moscow, July 29, 2013. VOA

The big question arises: If cybersecurity firms are unable to thwart hacking on their platforms, where would an individual or a firm in India go to secure data?

“Both these incidents show that deliberate actions or even mistakes by companies can cripple huge security systems,” Virag Gupta, a lawyer who is arguing the case in Supreme Court for data localisation in India, told IANS.

The Data Protection Bill, which has been cleared by the Cabinet, envisages “sensitive” personal data to be stored in India, but it can be processed outside the country with the explicit consent of the individual concerned.

“Critical” personal data, which is another classified data, can only be stored and processed in India and will not leave the country. What constitutes “critical’ data” will be defined by the government at the time of framing regulations.

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“The new Data Protection Law in India must ensure an easy and fast redressal system that provides for both punishment and compensation,” said Gupta.

Companies may face a penalty of up to Rs 15 crore or 4 per cent of global turnover for major violations under the proposed Personal Data Protection law, according to official sources. (IANS)