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Lawmakers discuss cybersecurity at Las Vegas hacking conference

Updated August 9, 2019 - 5:15 pm

Several members of Congress from outside of Nevada are in Las Vegas this weekend to discuss the country’s cybersecurity at DEF CON, the annual computer hacking convention held on the strip.

Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and James Langevin, D-R.I., will join former California congresswoman Jane Harman at the convention, which features the “voting village” — an area marketed by organizers as the only public space in which hackers may “audit” voting equipment for vulnerabilities alongside government representatives.

Nevada Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Thorley will also attend a panel in the voting village on Saturday.

Jen Ellis, vice president of community and public affairs at security-focused software company Rapid7, participated in a panel discussion with the congress members on Friday morning. She said the goal of the panel was to provide information on how Congress is addressing cybersecurity concerns through policy, as well as to allow for discussion between the hacking community, cybersecurity professionals and elected officials.

“For me, when we get security pros and policymakers in a room learning from and inspiring each other, that is literally the most fun and exciting part of my job, and typically it’s the part that leads to the best outcomes for advancing security and protecting people,” Ellis said.

In an interview Thursday, Lieu said he is a strong proponent of privacy and encryption, even going so far as to oppose his own home state’s efforts to allow law enforcement a “back door” to access citizens’ phones and personal electronic devices. The congressman was a computer science major before becoming an attorney and serving in the U.S. Air Force prior to elected office.

Lieu passed a bill in 2018 that required the Department of Homeland Security to hire hackers in an effort to limit its vulnerability to cyberattack. He said Thursday he hopes to amend the law to impose the same requirement on the U.S. Department of State.

As a member of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, Lieu was able to question Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Lieu said that most election equipment is extremely difficult to hack or compromise. The real concern for everyday Americans, he said, should be Russia’s continued attempts to influence the country’s public opinion through spreading false information on social media platforms.

“The good news is Americans are learning,” Lieu said. “When they look at social media posts, many of us will now think to ask ‘hey, did this post actually come from someone down the block, or did it come from the Kremlin?’ Americans are much more aware that there are Russian trolls who are trying to influence them in ways that divide our country.”

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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