Cybersecurity

Bipartisan group of senators urge State to employ basic cybersecurity measures

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 Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Tuesday sent a letter that urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 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.

"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 Coats 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 McCaskill's (D-Mo.) office with phishing emails.

That report came after special counsel Robert Mueller 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.

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