The Cyberlaw Podcast

The Cyberlaw Podcast: NSA’s Pre-History is a Love Story

By Stewart Baker
Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 8:32 AM

This episode features an interview with Jason Fagone, journalist and author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. I wax enthusiastic about Jason’s book, which features remarkable research, a plot like a historical novel, and deep insights into what I call the National Security Agency’s (NSA) “pre-history”—the years from 1917 through 1940 when the need for cryptanalysis was only dimly perceived by the U.S. government. Elizebeth and William Friedman more or less invented American cryptanalysis in those years, but the full story was never known, even to NSAers. It was protected by a force even stronger even than classification—J. Edgar Hoover’s indomitable determination to get good press for the FBI even when all the credit belonged elsewhere. And, at all its crucial stages, that prehistory is a love story that lasted, literally, right to the grave. Don’t miss this (long!) interview with Jason Fagone, or his book.

Meanwhile, in the news roundup. Dmitri Alperovitch covers the latest events in what we just can’t call the SolarWinds hack any more. There’s no doubt that Microsoft code is at the center of the hack, though not because of unintended features; the hackers showed great interest in Microsoft’s code. Dmitri predicts multiple executive orders from Anne Neuberger’s review, and he hopes it means more centralization of federal civilian security monitoring and policy under the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Dmitri and I agree that the Congressional effort to turn the cybersecurity director position into a Senate-confirmed White House office is more trouble than it’s worth.

The Maryland law imposing taxes on Google and Facebook ad revenue is ground-breaking, and for that reason, it will also be heavily litigated. First time caller, first time listener David Fruchtman explains the tax and the litigation it has already spawned.

Which came first, China’s dream of a rare-earth boycott or U.S. nightmares of a rare-earth boycott? We ask Jordan Schneider, who suggests that neither the dream nor the nightmare is likely to come true any time soon.

Is Australia going to war with Big Tech?  I take on Oz’s link fee and end up siding, improbably, with Mike Masnick and Facebook and against the fee. Meanwhile, the Australian infrastructure protection bill is drawing fire from Microsoft. Dmitri leans toward Microsoft’s view that the law should not give government authority to intervene when a private sector entity is unable or unwilling to respond to an attack.  I lean toward the government.

Jordan Schneider reviews the latest stories of tech companies getting a little too close for comfort to the Chinese surveillance state. The ByteDance censorship story is compelling but not new.  The Oracle story is compelling, new, and a clever piece of journalism by another alumna of the podcast, Mara Hvistendahl: Feeding the Beast: How Oracle Sells Repression in China 

Finally, in a series of quick bites, we cover:

  • U.S. charges against three North Koreans who boosted national GDP appreciably with their hacks. 
  • The ongoing Jones Day Doxtorsion
  • France’s discovery that GRU hackers successfully targeted Centreon servers for years, and
  • Sultan Meghji’s departure from The Cyberlaw Podcast for some damn thing or other.

And more!

Download the 350th Episode (mp3) 

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families, or pets.