Cyber Saturday—U.S. Officials Deliver Wake-Up Call on Russia, Despite President Trump

August 4, 2018, 1:48 PM UTC

Good morning, Cyber Saturday readers.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates said Thursday that Russia is “a keyboard click away” from disrupting America’s midterm elections. Joined by a collection of top security officials for a White House press briefing, he noted that Moscow’s meddlers “are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party.”

One must commend Coates for his candor. He is trying, desperately, to raise awareness about one of the gravest, immediate threats to American democracy, despite his boss’s intransigence on the matter. President Donald Trump has continued, in contrast, to prevaricate when asked about Russia’s interference in U.S. politics. His go-to: ignoring the consensus of the intelligence community, casting doubt on its findings, and offering Russian President Vladimir Putin a free pass. (As recently as two weeks ago—days after the disastrous Helsinki summit—he called Russia’s interference “all a big hoax.”)

Whether Trump realizes it or not, this approach serves to further the Kremlin’s aims: fomenting mistrust through disinformation. It is a shame to see it. These are not times for sophistry; the American public—and its allies abroad—deserve clarity and guidance. Nothing less than the integrity of the electoral system—the bedrock of this nation’s right to govern—is at stake.

During my cybersecurity session at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. last month, I cited another one of Coates’ recent remarks as a prompt for my panelists. Coates had warned in the days prior that “the warning lights are blinking red again” in a way not observed since the lead-up to the coordinated terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001. Jen Easterly, a security leader at Morgan Stanley and former White House counterterrorism official, replied lucidly. Her answer was so eloquent, I must quote it here in full.

“I’ll try not to use any double negatives,” Easterly began, alluding to Trump’s thin, post-Helsinki summit walk-back regarding Russia’s election interference. “There is no mystery. There is incontrovertible evidence of nation state-sponsored attacks and deliberate—it’s not just espionage—but deliberate sabotage against what we hold dear as part of our constitutional democracy: fair and free elections. I don’t say this as an employee of Morgan Stanley; I don’t say it as a former senior White House official; I say it as an American and, frankly, as a former military officer who spent 22 years in the army sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic.”

Her words were refreshing. It’s the kind of statement one might hope to hear from a chief executive.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


FINished? The Justice Department arrested three Ukrainian men that it alleges were leaders of a cybercrime group, called FIN7, that has stolen millions of people's payment card data. At a press conference announcing the indictments, a U.S. attorney said, "We are under no illusion that we have taken this group down altogether. But we have made a significant impact."  Amazingly, questions remain as to whether employees of the alleged cybercrime ring's front company, Combi Security, knew that they were involved in an illegal operation, rather than merely performing legal penetration tests on the victim companies.

Dynamic Duo. Cisco has agreed to acquire Duo Security, a startup that sells online account-management tools, such as for two-factor authentication, for $2.35 billion. The networking giant hopes to beef up its fast-growing security business and continue to pivot its business model from hardware sales to software subscriptions. We spoke to Dug Song, Duo's CEO and founder, as well as David Goeckeler, a top Cisco exec, about the deal.

Tech troubles. Reddit disclosed a security breach that it said may have compromised pre-2007 data, including email addresses, passwords, and private messages. Facebook said it removed shady accounts that were attempting to incite social unrest ahead of midterm elections in the U.S. And Google reportedly prepared a bespoke search engine and is designing a news aggregation app for China that censors controversial content.

The right to print arms. Defense Distributed, an organization that develops and publishes designs for 3D-printed guns, won a settlement with the State Department in July. The group, which had successfully sought first amendment protection, was cleared to publish its blueprints this month, until a Seattle judge issued a temporary restraining order. A number of states' attorneys general are suing the State Department and Defense Distributed to block the weapon plans from reaching the public.

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A mother, a son. The Guardian spoke to the surviving family of Osama bin Laden. This dynasty, whose construction empire built much of Saudi Arabia, remains one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the kingdom. Bin Laden's mother contends that her jihadist son was a good child, until he fell in with the wrong crowd—a group she compares to a cult. For those who seek more, I recommend Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll's biography The Bin Ladens, which is the most authoritative account of the family I have read.

Alia Ghanem is Osama bin Laden’s mother, and she commands the attention of everyone in the room. On chairs nearby sit two of her surviving sons, Ahmad and Hassan, and her second husband, Mohammed al-Attas, the man who raised all three brothers. Everyone in the family has their own story to tell about the man linked to the rise of global terrorism; but it is Ghanem who holds court today, describing a man who is, to her, still a beloved son who somehow lost his way. “My life was very difficult because he was so far away from me,” she says, speaking confidently. “He was a very good kid and he loved me so much.” Now in her mid-70s and in variable health, Ghanem points at al-Attas – a lean, fit man dressed, like his two sons, in an immaculately pressed white thobe, a gown worn by men across the Arabian peninsula. “He raised Osama from the age of three. He was a good man, and he was good to Osama.”


DHS Announces New Center to Guard U.S. Infrastructure From Cyberattacks by Monica Rodriguez

Facebook Removes Bad Actors From Attempting to Meddle With Midterm Elections by Jonathan Vanian

China Has Named a New Cyberspace Czar to Police Its Internet. Here's What You Need to Know by Alice Tozer

Microsoft Pours Millions into Startup that Nails Cybercriminals by Robert Hackett

HP Will Pay Researchers $10,000 If They Can Hack Its Printers by Kevin Kelleher

Ancestry and 23andMe Agree to Rules on Providing DNA to Third Parties by Emily Price

Donald Trump's Twitter Account Is Being Spoofed for Cryptocurrency Scams by Don Reisinger

Facebook's Security Chief Is Leaving to Teach Stanford's 'Hack Lab' Course by Glenn Fleishman


Portrait of a thief. In Oct. 2012, a crew of Romanian criminals pulled off one of the world's biggest art heists. NRC Media, a publisher of newspapers in the Netherlands, tells the tale of the Kunsthal robbery. Seven masterpieces—including works by Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, Monet, among others—were stolen from a gallery in Rotterdam, and they were subsequently destroyed.

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