Forget Clinton: State Department Hack is Unprecedented (Now About Clinton…)

The focus on Hillary Clinton’s private server loses sight of a bigger problem: Russian cybercriminals have their fingers in the American pie.

The scandal over Hillary Clinton’s emails should bother Americans for more reasons than one. Sure, it’s weird that Clinton was keeping her emails on her own designated website, aptly named ClintonEmail.com (and not ClintonShemail.xxx, as previously reported by Fox News). It seems at least appropriate, possibly illegal, and probably irresponsible.

Strangely enough, though, storing her messages on her own private server may have protected them from Russian hackers. Attacks believed to originate in Russia “have bedeviled the State Department’s email system for much of the past year and continue to pose problems for technicians trying to eradicate the intrusion,” reported CNN.

In fact, FBI leaders, intelligence community experts, and policymakers familiar with the specifics of the continuing assault on the State Department say it is the “worst ever” breach perpetrated against a United States government office. The intruders are actually attacking the federal government from all angles, compromising email at the White House and additional prominent offices as well.

These hackers are believed to be sponsored by the Russian government, just as the FBI says the Sony and Anthem intrusions were perpetrated by government hackers from (respectively) North Korea and China.

Who cares – let’s talk about Clinton

As CNN points out, Clinton has been roundly criticized for using her own private server, for three main reasons:

  • It fails to back up records in the federal system, as demanded by record-keeping law.
  • Her home server could not possibly have as strong of security as the federal government does.
  • It is just plain crazy and weird, and… she did what again?

The first point seems valid. However, according to an analysis by trial lawyer Aivi Nguyen, Clinton did not break the law. Nguyen notes that the applicable law is the Federal Records Act of 1950. That law was updated in November 2014 by President Obama to insist that anyone who uses a private account for any formal communications has to cc their federal address as well. In other words, said Nguyen, “At the time Clinton was actually in office, personal email addresses were allowed and there was no requirement that private account email records be stored on government servers pursuant to the Federal Records Act.”

It seems that the security argument is not as strong as it should be. Russia stuck its finger into this particular American pie in 2014 (per an ongoing federal investigation), an attack so tenacious that the agency turned off its email one week in November to beef up its protections and eject the Russian riffraff.

As for the third point, it remains difficult to understand why a high-ranking federal official would think it was reasonable to keep all their electronic business communication on a personal system detached from the federal infrastructure. Hillary: explain yourself.

Clinton’s explanation

On Tuesday, March 10, Clinton held a press conference at the United Nations in which she discussed the private email server. She said that she had trashed approximately 50% of the messages from her years as the Secretary of State (hey, 50 cents on the dollar, not bad).

She claimed that she had transferred everything that was relevant to her work to the White House and had gotten rid of messages related to her personal life, reported the New York Times. According to Clinton, trashed emails included information about yoga, preparations for Chelsea’s wedding, and communications related to Hillary’s mother’s death. Speculation is running high that she also cleared out dozens of drunken emails from Bill requesting a divorce because she wasn’t supporting his saxophone career.

Clinton held the press conference to try to calm concerns that she operated in a rogue style by buying her own domain and communicating off the federal grid.

She said that she made the wrong decision to operate her own server but that her actions were always within the bounds of federal regulations, and that she was attempting to make things right by authorizing the State Department to push her emails to the public domain.

“No one wants their personal emails made public,” said Clinton, “and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.”

Well, you know, this situation is a little different, Hillary. It’s not an average Joe’s email account we are talking about here. Plus, there seems to be a little hypocrisy involved. According to the Times, in 2007, Clinton criticized George W. Bush’s team for using an unofficial email system for some of their communications.

The birth of ClintonEmail.com

Sadly, there is no “About Us” page available at ClintonEmail.com. (Heck, there isn’t even an online store to buy commemorative T-shirts!) However, when the Washington Post took a peak into the registrar details for the email site, they found that the domain was first purchased on January 13, 2009 – which is, coincidentally enough, the day Clinton’s confirmation was initially discussed in the Senate.

Don’t go the way of Clinton

The Post comments that the use of an outside system is not isolated. For example, the former director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, used email for official business during her time on the federal payroll as well.

The real issue with Clinton’s emails is that they are not backed up within the federal system. There is only one copy: hers. Essentially, her email is like an unpublished novel. A fire in the house would burn away official federal information.

Don’t make yourself similarly vulnerable. If the State Department can get hacked, you can too. Back up your email. Get serious data protection for seriously low prices today.

By Kent Roberts

Posted in Company, Ideas and Insights Tagged , , , .