The Cyberlaw Podcast: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t (Pay the Ransom)

Stewart Baker
Tuesday, October 6, 2020, 11:13 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

In this episode, Jamil Jaffer, Bruce Schneier, and I mull over the Treasury announcement that really raises the stakes even higher for ransomware victim. The message from Treasury seems to be that if the ransomware gang is the subject of OFAC sanctions, as many are, the victim needs to call Treasury and ask for a license to pay – a request that starts with a “presumption of denial.”

Someone has been launching a series of coordinated attacks designed to disrupt Trickbot Bruce explains.

CFIUS is baring its teeth on more than one front. First comes news that a newly resourced CFIUS staff has begun retroactively scrutinizing past Chinese tech investments. This is the first widespread reconsideration of investments that escaped notice when they were first made, and it could turn ugly. Next comes evidence that the TikTok talks with CFIUS could be getting ugly themselves, as Nate Jones tells us that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has laid down the elements the US must have if TikTok is to escape a shutdown. None of us think this ends well for TikTok, as China and the US try to prove how tough they are by asking for mutually exclusive structures.

The US government is giving US companies some free advice about how to keep sending their data to the U.S. despite the European Court of Justice decision in Schrems II: First-time participant Charles Helleputte offers a European counterpoint to my perspective, but we both agree that there’s a lot of value in the U.S. white paper. If nothing else, it offers a defensible basis for most companies to conclude that they can use the standard contractual clauses to send data to the US notwithstanding the court’s egregiously anti-American opinion. The court may not agree with the white paper, but the reasoning could buy everyone another three years and might be the basis of yet another U.S.-EU agreement.

The UK seems to be preparing to take Bruce’s advice on regulating IOT security plan, but he thinks that banning easy default passwords is just table stakes.

Bruce and I once again review the bidding on voting by phone, and once again we agree: No. Just No.

Nate questions the press stories (and FBI director testimony) claiming that the FBI is pivoting to a new strategy for punishing hackers by sending Cyber Command after them. He thinks it’s less a pivot and more good interagency citizenship, which I suspect is still a change of pace for the Bureau.

Bruce and I explore the possibility of attributing exploits to individuals based on their coding style. You might say that their quirks leave fingerprints for the authorities, except that at least one hapless hacker has one-upped them by leaving his actual fingerprints behind in an effort to get himself approved in a biometric authentication system.

And in updates, we note that Microsoft has a new and unsurprising annual report on cyberattacks it has seen; the Senate will be subpoenaing the CEOs of Big Social to talk section 230 in an upcoming hearing; and the House intel committee has a bunch of suggestions for improving the performance of the intelligence community against evolving threats from Beijing.

And more!

Oh, and we have new theme music, courtesy of Ken Weissman of Weissman Sound Design. Hope you like it!

Stewart A. Baker is a partner in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP. He returned to the firm following 3½ years at the Department of Homeland Security as its first Assistant Secretary for Policy. He earlier served as general counsel of the National Security Agency.

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