Sen. Warner calls on State Department to take measures to protect against cyberattacks

Greg Nash

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Tuesday strongly urged the State Department to take measures to protect itself and embassies against cyberattacks in light of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. 

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Warner expressed “deep concern” around the State Department’s ability to defend itself against potential Iranian cyberattacks launched in response to the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. He also requested that Pompeo produce a plan for how his agency will defend against cyberattacks.

Warner, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to past breaches of State Department systems — including an attack in 2014 by Russian hackers which involved the National Security Agency “fighting for control” of the agency’s network — as evidence of potential cyber vulnerabilities that Iran could exploit. 

The senator also referenced a report compiled by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General in 2019, which found that a hiring freeze on the agency in 2018 was detrimental to the State Department’s overall cybersecurity posture.

Warner asked that Pompeo respond by Jan. 31 to a series of questions around how the State Department has addressed hiring more cyber and information technology personnel since the 2019 report was released. He also asked for details about how the department is training employees to defend against potential cyberattacks. 

“Given Iran’s technical capabilities and threats to retaliate, as well as the State Department’s systemic organizational and functional problems addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities, I ask you to answer the following questions on how the State Department will address a surge of offensive cyber activity by Iran,” Warner wrote to Pompeo.

A spokesperson for the State Department told The Hill that “the Department routinely responds to requests by Congressional oversight committees and Members of Congress. We always work closely and cooperatively with Member and committee offices and seek to be as timely and responsive as possible to their requests for information. As a general matter, we don’t comment publicly on our congressional engagements.”

Concerns on Capitol Hill around the potential for Iran to attack the U.S. in cyberspace have spiked since the death of Soleimani, particularly as Iranian leadership has vowed to retaliate against the U.S. 

Iran — alongside Russia, China and North Korea — is considered to be a major cyber adversary to the U.S., and has long been evaluated by the intelligence community as having the potential to target and cause damaging impacts to critical American infrastructure. 

-Updated at 3:45 p.m. to include a response from the State Department. 

Tags Cyberattack cybersecurity Iran Mark Warner Mike Pompeo
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