Delaware cybersecurity panel begins work with secret meeting

DOVER — A Delaware cybersecurity task force moved its inaugural meeting into a closed “emergency” executive session Wednesday because of what its chairman called a “mix-up” about the sensitivity of information presented in an FBI briefing.

James Collins, chief information officer for the state and chairman of the Cyber Security Advisory Council, called the secret session after an FBI agent expressed reservations about allowing members of the public to share what had been described on the meeting agenda as an “unclassified FBI threat briefing”

The decision came after an Associated Press reporter refused a demand by FBI agent Daniel Gray that he not be quoted. Gray said, however, that he was not going to divulge any classified information.

“His definition of unclassified didn’t match up with our definition of unclassified. That was really the mix-up today,” Collins explained afterward.

Collins defended his decision, with advice from Deputy Attorney General Lisa Morris, to call the executive session even though Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act requires that such closed-door meetings be noted on the agenda ahead of time. The notice requirement includes an exception for emergency meetings required “for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”

“I’m generally open, and I had to split the baby here today because we got our wires crossed,” Collins said, adding that some of the information was not appropriate for public discussion.

Asked why he was concerned about a reporter being in the room when other members of the public were present, Gray took a defensive tone, but he said he also would have questioned anyone else about publicly sharing information from the meeting.

“Let me just say this point blank to you: I’m not going to entertain you trying to take my words and turn them around in some kind of way so that you can get some kind of article,” said Gray, a Baltimore-based agent who oversees FBI cyber investigations in Maryland and Delaware.

Gray and Collins said the closed-door meeting included a discussion of insiders acting to undermine an organization’s cybersecurity, law enforcement investigative techniques and specific case examples of companies dealing with cybersecurity threats.

“The insider threat has got to be taken more into consideration,” Gray said. “I gave specific techniques … that insiders might try to use.”

“We got down to the (computer) code level,” Collins explained.

“I think the thing I learned today is that any of our meetings have the potential to go into executive session, … but my goal would certainly be to give people proper notice,” Collins added.

Before the executive session, Gray spent a couple of minutes outlining various cybersecurity threats, ranging from malware distribution and spear phishing to business email scams and distributed denial of service attacks. He said the fastest growing malware market involves mobile devices.

“If you’ve got an Apple, you think Apple is going to save you? No. They’ve got problems, too. Their malware is going up. People actually figuring out how to access the iCloud is going up,” Gray said.

The FBI ignited a legal controversy last month when it obtained a court order from a federal judge in California to force Apple to help unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 San Bernardino terror attack. The agency said this week that it may be able to use an alternative method to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.

The sensitivity of the issues the council will be addressing left at least one panel member wondering what could be shared publicly.

“What’s appropriate for discussion outside this council?” asked Mike Maksymow, chief information officer for Beebe Healthcare.

“This information is valuable to my colleagues in their respective hospitals and organizations,” Maksymow added. “So how much of this am I able to share with them?”

“Almost everything,” Collins responded, noting the exception for information discussed in executive session.

Randall Chase writes for the Associated Press

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