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Christopher Krebs. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The head of the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity division described a popular class of anonymizing tools known as VPNs — particularly ones made in authoritarian countries — as a potential threat to data security and national security in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that was shared with Cyberscoop.

Why it matters: The services disguise the internet address and browsing habits of their clients from websites and eavesdroppers, but the VPNs themselves are potentially aware of every move a client makes online and every password they enter, making less-scrupulous VPNs an ideal espionage tool.

The backdrop: There have long been concerns about how difficult it is to identify fraudulent VPNs. A simple Google search turns up dozens of potential VPN services, and researchers have discovered several free VPN services that manipulate user traffic for advertising purposes or even sell user bandwidth.

  • There has not been similar research into the national security risks of VPNs.

Details: Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), sent the letter to Wyden, on May 22.

  • Wyden had asked about the dangers of VPNs in February.
  • Krebs noted that India had recently accused a number of popular Chinese apps of all types of being used in surveillance operations — and that any VPN app made in Russia would be legally bound to share customer data with the Russian government.
  • He declared that the risk to government systems was low to moderate, noting that the number of federal employees using vulnerable networks are unknown and quite possibly very low.

Go deeper: The most important mobile app you've never heard of

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
10 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

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