Apr 24, 2018

The rule-free world of federal officials' personal accounts

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Federal agencies have no security requirements for federal employees' personal social media accounts —leaving the door open to mischief and mayhem should one of those accounts get hacked.

Why it matters: Officials and federal employees often blur the lines between personal and official-business accounts — as when the president announces policy from his personal Twitter account. If hackers took over the account of, say, a regulatory official, they could manipulate the stock market by tweeting regulatory changes. If they took over the account of the president, anything might go.

"Social media, especially the lack of a policy, has become a real national security threat," said James Foster, founder and CEO of ZeroFOX, a company specializing in social media security.

  • The effects could be geopolitical as well as financial. "We crossed a threshold. It was not common more than a year ago for world leaders to tweet at each other."
  • Tweets are different from TV statements: Foster notes that conflicts on social media escalate much faster than those on TV, as back and forth exchanges accelerate.

How to fix it: Foster advocates extending the social media policies governing official accounts to any personal account mentioning an individual's federal role. Those policies are not particularly complex. Typically, they involve two factor authentication, good password hygiene and securing email addresses tied to the account.

Why there's no policy: Tony Scott, formerly President Obama's federal CIO and currently senior data privacy and cybersecurity adviser at Squire Patton Boggs, told Axios the administration had weighed the problem but decided against acting.

  • “This is an important issue and was certainly discussed during my tenure in the last two years of the Obama administration," said Scott. "The consensus at that time was that regulating personal social media accounts for government officials was not advisable, and our main focus was on the official government accounts maintained by the various agencies and officials."

Go deeper

Cuomo says New York is "literally going day-to-day with our supplies"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference on Sunday that New York is struggling to maintain medical supplies while combatting the novel coronavirus — operating "literally" on a "day-to-day" basis.

Why it matters: New York City has become an epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, facing mass quarantines and stay-at-home orders. Cuomo said Saturday that New York reported 630 new deaths in 24 hours — an "all-time increase" that beat the previous day's record of 562 deaths.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. ET: 1,225,360 — Total deaths: 66,542 — Total recoveries: 252,615Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. ET: 312,249 — Total deaths: 8,503 — Total recoveries: 15,021Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. Surgeon general says this week will be "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August." Biden says DNC may have to hold virtual convention.
  5. States updates: The Louisiana governor warned that his state is set to run out of ventilators in four days. Illinois governor claims Trump doesn't understand the word "federal."
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Work update: Employees still going to work are often facing temperature checks, distanced work stations, protective devices and mass absences.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Illinois governor: "The president does not understand the word 'federal'"

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that President Trump's comments about the federal government's stockpile of medical equipment suggest he "does not understand the word 'federal.'"

Why it matters: White House adviser Jared Kushner argued at a press briefing last week that the "notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile; it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use."