Congress Demands Answers on NRCC, Marriott Data Breaches


Strengthening the nation’s cyber stance was top of mind, with a new House Energy and Commerce Committee cyber report, and bills to improve connected devices and cyber education.

Congress is trying to get a handle on a pair of major cyberattacks that surfaced over the last week, and as those incidents become more commonplace, one lawmaker thinks the Pentagon should start funnelling more money to digital weapons and defenses.

The House is also taking up bills that would lockdown the government’s internet of things and support cyber training for people who work in critical infrastructure like hospitals.

Here’s your rundown:

Hate to Say I Told You So

Lawmakers want to get to the bottom of a cyber intrusion that exposed thousands of sensitive emails from senior officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee this spring.

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders called for the FBI to give them a full briefing on the hack that let outsiders monitor the email accounts of four senior NRCC aids for multiple months, according to Politico. Though it remains unclear who carried out the attack, lawmakers wasted no time drawing parallels between the most recent incident and the 2016 breach of the Democratic National Committee (and taking some cheap shots).

“News of this hack … makes it clear Republicans ignored election security at their own peril,” said House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., in a statement. “Nevertheless, Republicans should feel secure knowing that Democrats will continue to lead on cybersecurity and will look into all threats to our elections as soon as we take charge in January.”

(Not) a Nice Surprise, Bring Your Alibis

Both chambers Congress are also demanding answers on the massive data breach at Marriott International.

The hotel chain reportedly knew about the hack, which exposed personal data on up to 500 million customers, for nearly three months before it made a public announcement, and the Senate Commerce Committee wants to know what the company did during that period to investigate the incident. Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., also requested details on the scope of the breach and how the company secured its data in a letter to Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., also requested a meeting with Sorenson to discuss the company’s response to the breach and the steps it’s taking to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Welcome to the New Age

It’s time the government starts walking the walk when it comes to defending against foreign misinformation and cyber threats—and it should also start talking the talk, for that matter, said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

In a sweeping policy proposal, Warner called on the government to push for international standards for cyberwarfare and reallocate Pentagon funding to cyber weapons and defenses. Fighting Russia, China and other adversaries in cyberspace will take “a whole-of-society” effort, so the tech industry also has a responsibility to secure internet-connected devices and stop the spread of misinformation and propaganda on social media, he said Friday in a speech at the Center for New American Security.

Warner also lambasted President Trump’s habit of downplaying online influence campaigns, saying his behavior “disrupts and undermines” his administration’s efforts to combat digital threats.

We’re All In This Together

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also called on the country to up its cyber game on Friday in a report that summarized years of cybersecurity hearings and inquiries.

In the writeup, the group’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee advocated for government and industry to engage in more coordinated vulnerability disclosure programs, embrace open-source software and implement lifetime strategies for tech products. Lawmakers also stressed the need for private-public partnerships to secure critical infrastructure.

And We Should Know What We’re Doing

Reps. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.. and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-Pa., last week introduced legislation that would increase cyber training for workers charged with running hospitals, power grids and other critical infrastructure. The Cybersecurity Education Integration Act would create $10 million in competitive grants to encourage career and technical education providers to include cybersecurity fundamentals in their training.

“We need to offer better training for the workers who deal with these systems on a day-to-day basis, particularly in safety critical industries where lives can be put in jeopardy by malicious cyber actors,” Langevin said in a statement. “They are the first line of defense, and our bill ensures they will have the skills they need to keep us safe.”

Nothing Unsecure Can Stay

Lawmakers think the government can push industry to secure the internet of things through its massive purchasing power instead of direct regulation.

Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., plans to introduce legislation that would require all internet-connected devices purchased by government to meet a set of basic cybersecurity standards. The Internet of Things Federal Cybersecurity Improvement Act would ban devices containing hard-coded passwords and require vendors to routinely patch software as new vulnerabilities are discovered.

The bill will serve as the House counterpart to cybersecurity legislation Sen. Mark Warner, D.-Va., introduced last year.

A Text by Any Other Name

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and a group of Democratic senators wrote to Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai urging him not to change text messages classification from a telecommunications service to an information service. The latter allows telecoms to block messages based on their content and could inhibit free speech, the senators wrote.

“By leveraging their gatekeeper role, carriers could force businesses, advocacy organizations, first responders, doctors and any others to pay for for expensive short code system or enterprise text messaging to reach their audience, rather than by traditional text message,” they wrote. FCC has a vote scheduled for Dec. 12.  

Coming Up:

Lawmakers rescheduled a handful of tech- and cyber-centric hearings last week to mourn the passing of former President George H. W. Bush, and they added a few others to the list.

On Tuesday at 10 a.m., the House Judiciary Committee will grill Google CEO Sundar Pichai on the company’s data collection practices.

At 2 p.m., the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology will review efforts to expand internet coverage to more Americans.

At 3:30 p.m., the House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee will examine the Pentagon’s investments in artificial intelligence.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the House Oversight IT and Government Operations subcommittees will go over the seventh iteration of the FITARA scorecard.

At the same time, the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss how to fight “non-traditional” Chinese espionage.

At 3:30 p.m., the House Armed Service Oversight and Investigations subcommittee will get an update on the security clearance backlog.