News in Brief

A cyber poll, traveler data, HHS innovators and more

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Poll: Cyber should be Congress' top IT priority

When it comes to IT issues, most U.S. voters think cybersecurity should be lawmakers' top priority, a new poll suggests.

In the Morning Consult's survey of 1,595 registered voters, conducted April 17-20, 40 percent said "cyberattack prevention" was the most pressing technology issue.

Data security standards were named by 18 percent, followed by surveillance reform (10 percent), net neutrality (8 percent) and drone regulation (7 percent).

Government employees had slightly different priorities, however: Cyberattack prevention was still first, but was picked by just 36 percent or public-sector respondents, while surveillance reform (15 percent) and net neutrality (12 percent) both drew notably more attention.

DHS tightens travel-monitoring data

As news of a potential domestic threat from terror group ISIS emerged, the Department of Homeland Security said it has beefed up the data system that monitors travelers inbound on commercial airlines or ships.

A DHS spokesperson declined specific comment on the ISIS threat or exactly how the agency has bolstered the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system, but said DHS, in consultation with the FBI and intelligence partners, has "adjusted" a few of its security measures.

Reports of a potential ISIS threat, possibly aimed at California, began trickling out over the weekend. The threat was based on "chatter" by ISIS groups about a possible, but unspecified, U.S. domestic terror threat.

The DHS spokesperson said the agency has been making security adjustments "over the last few months," to enhance screening at select overseas airports and increasing random searches of passengers and carry-on luggage on flights inbound to the U.S., to reflect "an evolving threat picture."

"We have also added additional layers of security through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization," the spokesperson said. "In February, we added additional security measures at federal facilities including an increased and visible presence of law enforcement. ... Many of those security enhancements remain in place today. These will continue to include a number of measures, both seen and unseen, and we will make adjustments to this evolving environment as appropriate."

HHS IDEA Lab picks innovation winners

A web-based platform that could speed new uses for older drugs, a new evaluation architecture for disasters and a new smart-phone-based approach to malaria detection were the winners of a funding contest under Health and Human Services' IDEA Lab "Shark Tank" innovation competition on April 23.

The three projects will receive growth-stage funding, 15 months of mentoring, and management tools to support teams seeking to move their proven concepts to scale and create sustainable business models for their applications. Investing agency partners in the HHS Ventures Fund will provide $325,000 to the ventures.

The projects of the three teams selected are:

  • Collaborative Use Repurposing Engine (CURE) -- a web-based platform developed collaboratively by the Food and Drug Administration Center for Drugs and Evaluation Research and the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, to capture clinical data around the world on repurposing drugs for serious diseases with no adequate treatment. The platform enables the crowdsourcing of medical information from health care providers to guide potentially life-saving interventions and facilitate the development of new drugs for neglected diseases.
  • Economic Evaluation for Public Health Emergencies -- a project led by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response to create an economic evaluation architecture to improve decision-making and communication related to public health emergencies. This promises to provide decision-makers a better understanding of the potential economic impact of investments made for disaster preparedness.
  • Watch it, Parasite! -- a joint effort of the NIH's National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to improve malaria diagnosis. The new approach to microscopic diagnosis involves leveraging smart phone technology coupled with an analytic platform using digitized imaging of blood smears to detect the presence of the malaria parasites. This has the potential to improve accuracy over manual assessment that is non-standardized and depends heavily on operator skills.

Intelligence official: Russian cyber threat tops all

A top intelligence official on April 27 singled out Russia's cyber capabilities as uniquely threatening to the United States.

"In the event of a military conflict or a geopolitical crisis with Russia, some U.S. critical infrastructure networks will be at risk," said Stephanie O'Sullivan, principal deputy director of national intelligence. "The Russian cyber threat is much more sophisticated than the others."

Russia "has a broad range of highly sophisticated technical and human intelligence capabilities – and it's the blending of them that makes it potent," O'Sullivan said at a conference hosted by Georgetown University. "Moscow's focus goes beyond just taking advantage of common vulnerabilities that can be fixed with a software patch."

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