Email is great; it’s transformed business, enabled geographically dispersed families and friends to stay in touch, redefined news distribution, transformed sales pipelines … the list of good stuff about email is endless. But, as many people have discovered to their cost, keeping control of your email account requires effort, effort like not using dumb, easy-to-guess passwords, and making sure your email hosting service is reliable and not, for example, Yahoo or AOL. And these issues aren’t anything like new, recent discoveries; we’ve all known for over a decade where the risks lie … well, all of us except, apparently, for the government.
I don’t know about you, but during the 2016 election I was fairly surprised when the Democratic National Committee email system was hacked after which the email account of John Podesta, the DNC chairperson, was hacked. You’d have thought that the folks who manage IT for these people would have known the risks and done more to minimize exposure but when simple phishing and malware intrusions that should never of happened and which went undetected were successful, then you have to wonder where the disconnect lies.
I think the problem is “the Cyber.”
Whenever I hear “the Cyber” used by any government official, or for that matter, by anyone at all, I cringe because it’s a shorthand for that digital “stuff” that they clearly don’t understand any more than they understand, say, nuclear physics beyond the concept of “it goes boom.”
Case in point: Yesterday, Wikileaks revealed that the aforementioned John Podesta received nuclear weapons secrets via email … actually via a Gmail account as well as another account hosted by the private Center for American Progress in 2013:
Beyond the question of why on earth Podesta was being briefed on nuclear weapons, the question of why anyone would think unencrypted email, even in the long ago, dim history of 2013, was a suitable channel for classified state documents underlines a willful ignorance, casual negligence, and a staggering lack of due care.
What we should all be concerned about is why so little is being done to address what are crucial digital security issues and why the willful ignorance continues. Until people know enough to loudly and derisively laugh at anyone, including the president, who utters the phrase “the Cyber” in public and to hold the machineries of government accountable for their digital security failures, we’re going to be nowhere near to having the secure national infrastructure that, as a nation, we not only need but also deserve.