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Bipartisan group of senators urge State to employ basic cybersecurity measures

Bipartisan group of senators urge State to employ basic cybersecurity measures
© Anna Moneymaker

A bipartisan group of senators is pressing the State Department to adopt what they call basic cybersecurity measures and are criticizing the agency for not employing multifactor authentication measures to protect employees against cyberattacks.

Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHeat wave sparks historically unseasonable wildfires in West Biogen opens door to adjusting price of Alzheimer's drug amid outcry Overnight Health Care: White House acknowledges it will fall short of July 4 vaccine goal | Fauci warns of 'localized surges' in areas with low vaccination rates | Senate Finance leader releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices MORE (D-Ore.), Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (R-Colo.), Ed MarkeyEd Markey'Fairplay' to launch campaign for children's online protection 'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure MORE (D-Mass.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPoll: 58 percent say Fauci should not resign Fauci says he puts 'very little weight in the craziness of condemning me' Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior MORE (R-Ky.), and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans MORE (D-N.H.) on Tuesday sent a letter that urged Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE to employ more multifactor authentication measures to secure the agency's information systems.

Multifactor authentication helps protect against phishing attacks that usually aim to steal user data.

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“We are sure you will agree on the need to protect American diplomacy from cyber attacks, which is why we have such a hard time understanding why the Department of State has not followed the lead of many other agencies and complied with federal law requiring agency use of [multifactor authentication],” the senators wrote to Pompeo.

 “The Department of State’s Inspector General (IG) found last year that 33% of diplomatic missions failed to conduct even the most basic cyber threat management practices, like regular reviews and audits. The IG also noted that experts who tested these systems ‘successfully exploited vulnerabilities in email accounts of Department personnel as well as Department applications and operating systems,’ ” the letter continues.

The lawmakers asked Pompeo what State has done to boost its security after the Office of Management and Budget designated the agency's cyber readiness as “high risk,” how the agency will address the lack of multifactor authentication that is required by law and for statistics that detail the department's cyber incidences over the last three years.

The lawmakers asked Pompeo to answer these questions by Oct. 12.

The letter comes amid heightened concern that hostile nation states like Russia and Iran are seeking to target the U.S. through digital means, particularly ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

Recently, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer Trump officials including Fiona Hill helped prepare Biden for Putin summit: report Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Experts see 'unprecedented' increase in hackers targeting electric grid MORE declared that the “warning lights are blinking red again” on Russians attempting to carry out cyberattacks during the midterms.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Kremlin hackers used phishing attacks during the heated 2016 presidential race to target political campaigns. 

In July it was reported that Russian hackers had targeted Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSupreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Jan. 6 commission vote delayed; infrastructure debate lingers into June Missouri Republicans move to block Greitens in key Senate race MORE's (D-Mo.) office with phishing emails.

That report came after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 in charges related to his ongoing probe of Moscow's election interference.