In just the last two weeks, three of the world’s most prominent social networks have been linked to stories about data leaks. Troves of information on both Facebook and LinkedIn users – hundreds of millions of them – turned up for sale in marketplaces in the cyber underground. Then, earlier this week, a hacker forum published a database purporting to be information on users of the new Clubhouse social network. 

Andrew Sellers is the Chief Technology Officer at QOMPLX Inc.

To hear Facebook, LinkedIn and Clubhouse speak, however, nothing is amiss. All took pains to explain that they were not the victims of a hack, just “scraping” of public data on their  users by individuals. Facebook went so far as to insist that it would not notify the 530 million users whose names, phone numbers, birth dates and other information were scraped from its site. .

So which is it? Is scraping the same as hacking or just an example of “zealous” use of a social media platform? And if it isn’t considered hacking…should it be? As more and more online platforms open their doors to API-based access, what restrictions and security should be attached to those APIs to prevent wanton abuse? 

To discuss these issues and more, we invited Andrew Sellers into the Security Ledger studios. Andrew is the Chief Technology Officer at the firm QOMPLX* where he oversees the technology, engineering, data science, and delivery aspects of QOMPLX’s next-generation operational risk management and situational awareness products. He is also an expert in data scraping with specific expertise in large-scale heterogeneous network design, deep-web data extraction, and data theory. 

While the recent incidents affecting LinkedIn, Facebook and Clubhouse may not technically qualify as “hacks,” Andrew told me, they do raise troubling questions about the data security and data management practices of large social media networks, and beg the question of whether more needs to be done to regulate the storage and retention of data on these platforms. 


(*) QOMPLX is a sponsor of The Security Ledger.

In this episode of the podcast (#206): with movement towards passage of a federal data privacy law stronger than ever, we invite two experts in to the Security Ledger studio to talk about what that might mean for U.S. residents and businesses.


Data theft and misuse has been an acute problem in the United States for years. And, despite the passage of time, little progress has been made in addressing it. Just this week, for example, SITA, an IT provider for the world’s leading airlines said that a breach had exposed data on potentially millions of travelers – just the latest in a steady drumbeat of breach and hacking revelations affecting nearly every industry. 

In the E.U. the rash of massive data breaches from retail firms, data brokers and more led to the passage of GDPR – the world’s first, comprehensive data privacy regime. In the years since then, other nations have followed suit.

But in the U.S., despite the passage of a hodgepodge of state data privacy laws, no comprehensive federal law exists. That means there is still no clear federal framework covers critical issues such as data ownership, the disclosure of data breaches, private rights of action to sue negligent firms and so on. 

Changes In D.C. Bring Data Privacy Into Focus

But that may be about to change. In a closely divided Washington D.C. data privacy is the rare issue that has bipartisan support. And now, with Democrats in control of Congress and the Whitehouse, the push is on to pass pro-consumer privacy legislation into law. 

Rehal Jalil, the CEO of Securiti.ai into the studio to dig deep on the security vs. privacy question. SECURE – ITI is a firm that sells privacy management and compliance services.  

n this conversation, Rahil and I talk about the evolving thinking on data privacy and security and about the impact on IT  the EU’s GDPR and state laws like CCPA are having on how businesses manage their data. Rehan and I also talk about whether technology might provide a way to bridge the gap between security and privacy: allowing companies to derive the value from data without exposing it to malicious or unscrupulous actors. 


As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to securityledger.com/subscribe to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted. 

A new commercial has hit the airwaves in Israel. It begins with a door swinging open to reveal a beautiful seaside patio with a couple awaiting their dinners as a voiceover says, “How much have we missed going out with friends?” Well, with the Green Pass “a door simply opens in front of you” and we can “return[ ] to life.” This commercial is advertising Israel’s version of a digital vaccine passport.

Although there are still lots of unknowns, there are many countries and industries considering vaccine passport programs like Israel’s, including  Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as airlines and some concert venues, to name a few.

Israel’s vaccine passport was released on February 21.  There, vaccinated people can download an app that displays their Green Pass when they are asked to show it. The app also can display proof that someone has recently recovered from COVID-19, which also allows passage. Other proposed ”passport systems” offer several ways to show you are not a threat, such as proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Israel hopes this technology will encourage more citizens to get vaccinated.

However, the Green Pass and other passport programs may also bring up some big privacy concerns. Orr Dunkelman, a computer science professor at Haifa University, says that the Green Pass displays more information than simply whether the individual has been vaccinated or has recently recovered from COVID-19. The pass also displays the date of the recovery and the date of the vaccine and uses outdated encryption technology that is potentially vulnerable to security breaches and hackers. Orr also says that because the app is not open source, no third parties can test whether these concerns are founded.

In the United States, PathCheck Foundation at MIT is working with Ideo on a low-tech solution that may address these privacy concerns before any kind of ”passport” is available here. The prototype uses a paper card similar to the one that individuals are currently receiving once they are vaccinated. However, to avoid fraudulent cards, the paper card being developed by PathCheck Foundation and Ideo would use multiple forms of verification such as QR codes for scanning (maybe at the gate of a concert or movie theater entrance) that only displays an individual’s vaccination status, while other entities (such as health care providers) would be able to scan the card and receive more detailed information (e.g., the type of vaccination received, the date, the location it was administered, etc.). Additionally, PathCheck Foundation points out that privacy is important to those who are undocumented or simply don’t have trust in the government, and we don’t want to create yet another repository that is hackable (and may potentially contain entire state populations).

At this point, it isn’t clear whether the United States will be able to implement a vaccine passport quickly because we don’t have a universal identity record or federal medical records system (which Israel does). However, whichever option eventually becomes widespread across the country, it will need to use a system that will be able to maintain certain individual privacy rights while also allowing businesses and venues to reopen safely.

How will a Biden-Harris presidency affect the U.S. privacy landscape? Let’s take a look.

Federal Privacy Legislation

On both sides of the political aisle there have been draft proposals in the last 18 months on federal privacy legislation. In September, movement actually happened on federal privacy legislation with the U.S. Setting an American Framework to Ensure Data Access, Transparency and Accountability Act. To read the bill, visit https://www.billtrack50.com/BillDetail/1242877.

With a Biden-Harris administration, there is potential for continued movement on federal privacy legislation. This movement would likely come from Congress since both the Republicans and Democrats have previously supported (and are pushing for) privacy bills.

E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield and Data Transfers

With the 2020 “Schrems II” decision  looming over international data transfers, the Biden-Harris administration is likely to pave the way for negotiations with the European Commission for a new version of the Privacy Shield. However, the Schrems II ruling will continue to be a real challenge. The hope is that there can be effective, productive dialogue with the E.U. and that the U.S. can convey the fact that there is a mutually beneficial relationship with intelligence agencies in the U.S. and member states of the E.U.

FTC Enforcement and FCC Rules

During Chairman Joseph Simons’ tenure, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been very active on privacy issues. Examples include the FTC’s enforcement actions against Facebook, Google and YouTube, as well as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rulemaking proceeding held in 2019. Just this past week, the FTC announced a settlement with Zoom for alleged data security failings. While the FTC was certainly busy under a Republican-led agency, it is likely that we will see a heightened level of scrutiny and more enforcement under a Biden-Harris administration. While Chairman Simons can serve until 2024, he might step down, and it is also likely that the FTC will gain more Democratic commissioners.

For the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a Biden-Harris administration may also lead to a revival of the net neutrality rules.

Cybersecurity

Many experts agree that cyber-attacks are the number one national security threat in the U.S., both from a geopolitical and an economic standpoint. A recent report, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission report, states that one of the biggest reasons for continued cybersecurity issues in the U.S. is the failure of strategy and leadership in this arena, and that now is the time for greater accountability of the government to defend against cyber-attacks.

Big Tech and the U.S.’s International Relationships

There has been a lot of scrutiny on how a Biden-Harris administration will regulate Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Biden has already pledged to create a task force for investigating online harassment, extremism and violence, so it is likely that there will be a focus on privacy, surveillance and hate speech online through some of the Big Tech players in Silicon Valley. We may also see some shifts in the U.S.’s relationship with China when it comes to privacy.

Of course, none of this change will happen overnight, so we’ll be watching as the train chugs forward.