jeh johnson

Homeland Security Execs Under Scrutiny for Personal Email

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and 28 other officials are under fire for accessing personal email from federal computers despite an agency-wide ban due to heightened security concerns.

Judicial Watch announced Friday that documents released from DHS illustrate how these officials defied security provisions and used web-based personal email accounts while using government computers.

Despite the department’s crackdown on employees using webmail accounts like AOL, Hotmail, Comcast, Gmail and Yahoo, top Homeland Security executives obtained exemptions from a February 2014 agency-wide ban on the use of web-based email systems.  The waivers were granted despite security officials warning of the risks of malicious attacks from webmail use.

A department memo previously warned employees that webmail use was led to half the outside efforts to compromise DHS security, including 14 Trojan-Horse attacks in August 2013 and 25 attacks in December 2013.

The memo also imposed a total ban on employee use of web-based email systems:

New restrictions are being implemented that will no longer allow employee access to personal webmail sites from government computers [Emphasis added].  This action is being taken to strengthen cybersecurity and enhance protection of the Department’s computer networks.  Effective tonight, access to webmail sites like AOL, Hotmail, Comcast, Gmail, Yahoo, and other email services will be prohibited.

The records reveal that despite this strict prohibition, Johnson was given an exemption from the ban on the first day of its implementation simply because he liked to check his personal email from the office every day.  

The documents also reveal that Homeland Security officials misled Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) when Perry specifically asked whether personal accounts were being used for official government business.

Rep. Perry even directly asked: “Are DHS officials permitted to maintain private email accounts that are used to conduct official business? If so, who and under what circumstances?”

Homeland Security officially responded: “To date, no requests have been approved to use a private email account for official business.”

Talking to GovExec, a DHS spokesman said the story is old news and that the situation has been rectified. “As of a year ago, no one here has access to their personal email (or "webmail") over their DHS computers,” J. Todd Breasseale, assistant secretary for public affairs, told Government Executive. “It feels oddly political to suddenly attempt to revive this topic.”



By Brionne Griffin, FEDmanager

Posted in General News

Tags: DHS, cybersecurity


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