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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

Report: Pentagon watchdog finds Ronny Jackson drank on duty and harassed staff

Rep. Ronny Jackson walking through the Canon Tunnel to the U.S. Capitol in January. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) allegedly made "sexual and denigrating" comments about a female staffer, drank alcohol and took sleeping medication while working as White House physician, according to a report obtained by CNN Tuesday night.

Driving the news: The Department of Defense inspector general's report stems from a years-long investigation. Jackson has called the allegations "false and fabricated."

DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.

Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.

Poll: Immigration is America's most-polarizing issue

Data: The American Aspirations Index/Populace; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Immigration was found to be the most polarizing issue in America based on new polling from Populace.

Why it matters: Americans have surprisingly similar priorities for the U.S., but immigration stands out as one of the few issues with clear partisan differences. It underscores the challenge for advocates and lawmakers hoping to pass immigration reform in the coming weeks amid narrow margins in Congress.

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