In 2020, Russian hackers stole thousands of US State Department emails, according to two Congressional sources familiar with the intrusion. This is the second known Kremlin-backed breach on the department’s email server in under a decade.
The department’s Bureau of European and of East Asian and Pacific Affairs reported this intrusion.
In response to questions about the hack, a State Department spokesperson said that “the Department takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard its information and continuously takes steps to ensure information is protected.”
The theft of the State Department emails indicates the suspected Russian hackers have been able to access more US government materials than are known to the public. The affected bureaus work on issues related to U.S allies, including NATO, Europ.ean and Indo-Pacific partners.
The Russian government has repeatedly weaponized and leaked stolen Americans’ private communications in efforts to sow discord – a strategy used infamously in he months before the 2016 presidential election.
Russia hackers also managed to penetrate State Department networks and White House computers in 2015. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the risk because many federal employees worked remotely on less secure systems.
The intelligence community has publicly accused the Kremlin of being behind the SolarWinds hack, which targeted at least nine federal agencies and dozens of private companies last year.
State Department officials are not the only ones whose emails have been pilfered by the Russians in the last year. The hackers affiliated with the SolarWinds campaign also gained access to emails belonging to former senior Department of Homeland Security and Treasury Department officials.
And they broke into networks belonging to the energy Department of National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the US nuclear weapons stockpile.
It is just the latest in a series of Kremlin-backed hacks against US targets. A year after targeting State and the White House, Russian hackers stole emails from the Democratic National Committee and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. Russian hackers also targeted political candidates and election infrastructure in the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections.
In the meantime, the administration is focusing on closing what one U.S. official described as “significant gaps in modernization and in technology of cybersecurity across the federal government.”
“We want to make the federal government a leader, not a laggard, in cybersecurity,” the official told reporters last month. “And we know we need to be able to defend against the adversaries who pursue the nation’s diplomatic, law enforcement, and health efforts.”