Every President gets the White House he deserves

Episode 216 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


The Cyberlaw Podcast has now succumbed to an irresistible media trend: We begin the episode with a tweet from President Trump. In this one, he promises to get ZTE "back in business, fast." Paul Rosenzweig and Nick Weaver provide the backstory, and a large helping of dismay, at the President's approach to the issue.

I question the assumption that this will make the life of Chinese telecom equipment makers easier in the US. If anything it could be worse. The 2019 NDAA being drafted in the House will make it very difficult for telecom companies that do business with the Pentagon to rely on Chinese (or Russian) equipment. If anything, the President probably ensured a unanimous Democratic vote for the measure.

The cyber coordinator position in the White House is on the endangered list. Paul explains why it should survive. His take is not completely snark-free. Summing up the first two stories, I suggest that it proves the maxim (which, come to think of it, might be my maxim) that every President gets the White House he deserves.

Nick explains how badly American democracy could be harmed by a relatively trivial Russian (or Iranian, or North Korean) cyberattack on voter registration databases later in 2018. Indeed, they had a chance to launch such an attack in 2016, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is an avoidable disaster if election officials take action now, I point out, but Paul doubts they will.

Paul and I lament the insouciance and ahistoricity of the Fourth Circuit's ruling adding half a dozen new judicial constraints to border searches of cell phones.

Speaking of cyberattacks, you'd better buckle up, because Iranian retribution for US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is probably being prepared as you read this. And according to a highly educational Recorded Future/Insikt report, Iran's semi-privatized hacking ecosystem is likely to err on the side of escalation.

The Iranians aren't the only ones upping their game. Nick summarizes an excellent Crowdstrike report on the new sophistication of Nigerian scammers.

We close with Nick's dissection of the troubling code decisions underlying a pedestrian death caused by Uber's autonomous vehicle.

The Cyberlaw Podcast is hiring a part-time intern for our Washington, DC offices.

As always The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Send your questions, suggestions for interview candidates or topics to CyberlawPodcast@steptoe.com or leave a message at +1 202 862 5785.

Download the 216th Episode (mp3).

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NEXT: The Case for Abolishing the Requirement that the President Must be a "Natural Born" Citizen

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  1. I guess we better not provoke our enemies or we may end up with a diplomatic opening as has happened with the North Koreans. It is much better to avoid offending if there is even a smidgen of a chance the enemy might get mad?

    Regarding Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers, they are addressing only a portion of the vulnerability. How do you address secure cell phones that connect to wireless provider networks that have Huawei and ZTE infrastructure? Unless the voice is encrypted, these calls can be captured by firmware that is intentionally designed to do so within their equipment. Most US telecom local and long haul providers have cheap Huawei equipment within their networks that are based on stolen technology and code.

    Big money deals = expedited trade agreements that conveniently leave the NSA out of the loop regarding code shakedowns.

    1. If I were a nation gathering strategic intelligence from the US or wanted to blind them, I would take maximum advantage of the H1B visa program to infiltrate wireless and fixed network engineers into provider networks. They would then have the keys to the kingdom to gather sensitive information on targeted service provider customers or they could take down national networks that the DoD relies on for a significant amount of their traffic for both NIPRNET and SIPRNET. Although the communications is encrypted at each end device, those devices do no good if all network is down due to a targeted attack.

  2. The big takeaway of ZTE isn’t the export ban or apparent reversal, it’s the fact that the Chinese government probably sent Trump a bribe.

    Now that doesn’t mean Trump’s decision was based on the bribe, there are several other reasons he may have reversed himself. He may not have even wanted the bribe if that’s what it was intended as.

    But when a major policy reversal follows the transfer of millions of dollars to the President, and it’s completely inconclusive if a bribe was intended or successful, the perils of a non-divested President become apparent.

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