***A new annual threat report by Symantec credits the U.S. government and social media companies with taking a more "proactive" role to combat foreign election interference, saying governments and the private sector are now using a mix of intelligence, bot tracking and lessons learned from the 2016 election to identify and close thousands of accounts and pages believed to be associated with foreign influence campaigns.
The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Cyber Command also got shout outs for efforts to protect election infrastructure in the lead up to the 2018 midterms. Those efforts included conducting cyber operations against Russia and other nations, establishing better coordination with states and installing Albert sensors that could detect malicious activity around voting machines and election software.
However, such cyber campaigns continue and these organizations should only get "partial credit" for tackling the issue until their efforts are further tested during the 2020 presidential elections.
Symantec also found that the global use of zero-day exploits continues to fall, while malware inserted into Microsoft Word documents accounted for nearly half of all malicious email attachments -- a huge leap from 2017 when the practice accounted for only five percent of such attacks.
"Hunting for a zero day is very expensive,” said Ken Durbin, a senior strategist for global government affairs at Symantec. "It takes time and effort and resources and…once it's out in the wild it can be mitigated, which means you've lost your investment. It's very hard to flag Microsoft Word traffic as malicious unless you have more context around it, so it's hiding in plain sight."
*** Agency human capital reviews are set to begin in April, and the Office of Personnel Management wants each agency to select an official to run point on coordinating the reviews.
The annual human capital reviews consist of discussions between agency leadership and representatives from OPM's policy, oversight and products and services programs. In a memo to agency heads, acting OPM director Margaret Weichert said the personnel agency is "particularly interested in learning about the strides your agency is making towards achieving a modern workforce for the 21st century," and how those efforts support the President's Management Agenda.
"This includes strategically hiring employees with the proper skills to align with evolving mission needs, engaging the workforce, and reskilling employees as necessary," as well as using data to inform decision-making, Weichert wrote.
Agencies are to inform OPM of who will coordinate their human capital reviews by Feb. 28.
*** Shared customs data solutions can help ease the economic stress that helps drive illegal migration at the Southern U.S. border, according to the Customs and Border Protection's top official.
In remarks to the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America on Feb. 15, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said his agency was consulting with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- known as the Northern Triangle -- on customs and supply chain issues. Those kinds of economic nuts and bolts, he said, can help boost economic growth by smoothing out trade practices. The "single window" trade process among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, he said, allows companies to submit their customs information to a government once and have it available to all through systems that share data.
"CBP has identified the importance of engaging with the Northern Triangle countries and supports further enhancement of their customs authorities and processes," a CBP spokesman told FCW. "Currently CBP is in the process of negotiations with the Northern Triangle countries to establish Customs Mutual Assistance Agreements which must be in place before CBP can expand on Single Window customs data sharing."
NEXT STORY: FCW Insider: Feb. 19