TIME Security

What’s More Secure: Gmail or Government Email?

Ministers Attend The London Conference On Libya
WPA Pool—Getty Images U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her phone at the opening of the Libyan Conference, a meeting of international allies to discuss the next steps for Libya on March 29, 2011 in London, England.

Consider this before emailing your Social Security number — or State Department business

From a lone entrepreneur in Nigeria to the U.S. Secretary of State, email security is a major issue that impacts everyone. While third-party email providers like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo claim their services are safe and secure, sometimes it seems smarter to use your work address instead.

But Hillary Clinton opted to use a personal account instead of a government account while serving as Secretary of State, according to the New York Times. That revelation is causing headaches for the potential presidential candidate because she may have violated rules requiring public officials’ correspondence to be archived.

It’s still unclear why Clinton chose to use a personal email account instead of a State Department-supplied one (or which email service she used). Some observers, however, say it was a security risk for Clinton to go off the government grid. But when it comes to hacks and brass tacks, which email service is actually more secure: Consumer services like Gmail or government email?

“Neither,” says Justin White, a former director of information security compliance for the state of Colorado, who has also worked as an information security consultant with Microsoft, Costco, Wells Fargo, and the state of Washington. When asked which service he would use to send sensitive information, White, a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy, begins to answer one way, then another.

And then he pauses and says: “You’d have to torture me to force me to do it.”

There are several reasons for White’s wavering response. First, while some governmental email systems are highly secure, that’s not true for every department. For instance, he says, if you were going to send some sensitive information to another agency, if that department has poor security on its servers, your data is put at risk of being intercepted — even if the other office is located just next door.

Secondly, there’s no way of knowing which governmental agency has good email security and which doesn’t, because, for security purposes, they don’t typically reveal their protocols.

“Some people are woefully unprepared at securing their own email servers at an agency level, so for all you know, people could already be intercepting emails,” says White.

Still, the State Department probably has very good email security for classified messages — security that Clinton apparently opted out of using.

But on the other hand, consumer services like Gmail aren’t hacker-proof, either. They often tout the exact measures they use to keep messages secure as a means of marketing — but by doing so, they’re also helping hackers untangle their safety measures. From unencrypted data to servers that aren’t protected and breaches that haven’t been fixed yet, hackers catalog security deficiencies to find ways to break in.

“You could go on any forum as well, and see what other people have researched about any of the different cloud or (email) solutions,” says White.

Is email encryption a magic bullet solution? The disappointing reality is that between the senders’ and receivers’ servers, there are many opportunities for intercepting or hacking into emails. It’s enough to make a person go all Janet Napolitano (the former Secretary of Homeland Security once said she doesn’t use email).

But that’s not to say we should all revert to the digital dark ages — we just need to be conscious about how secure our email services really are. For Clinton’s part, she might have just opted for more secure methods than email for truly sensitive communications. A State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday Clinton could have used secure voice and video chats instead, or opted for something truly old fashioned: printed documents.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Only Used a Personal Email Account While Secretary of State, Report Says

Hillary Clinton Addresses National Council for Behavioral Health Conference
Patrick Smith—Getty Images Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks during the National Council for Behavioral Health's Annual Conference in National Harbor, Md., on May 6, 2014

Federal law stipulates that her emails should have been kept on departmental and not private servers

Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account while she was Secretary of State, the New York Times reports, possibly breaching a federal law mandating the archiving of all correspondence by State Department officials.

Clinton’s aides allegedly made no effort to upload her personal emails to the department’s servers during her four-year tenure, as stipulated under the the Federal Records Act, the Times says.

Instead, they reportedly went through thousands of emails two months ago, selecting which to submit as part of a renewed compliance effort from the State Department.

Attorney Jason R. Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, told the Times that it was “very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its Cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel.”

Read more at the Times

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to break up the NSA.

By Bruce Schneier at CNN

2. By prescribing appearances, sororities are contributing to a culture of segregation.

By Clio Chang in U.S. News and World Report

3. In Egypt, the U.S. still values security over human rights.

By the Editorial Board of the Washington Post

4. Bartering for eggs is saving giant turtles in Cambodia.

By Yoeung Sun at Conservation International

5. How does Internet slang work its way into American Sign Language?

By Mike Sheffield, Antwan Duncan and Andrew Strasser in Hopes and Fears

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME LGBT

The U.S. Has Appointed Its First Ever Special Envoy for LGBT Rights

The former U.S. consul general in the Netherlands has been named in the role

The U.S. appointed its first-ever special envoy on Monday to defend and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The State Department named Randy Berry, a gay senior diplomat who previously served as U.S. consul general in the Netherlands, to the role, reports Reuters.

In his new role, Berry will work to reduce violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world, including those in some 75 countries where homosexuality and same-sex relationships are criminalized.

“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally — the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

[Reuters]

TIME Drones

U.S. Will Allow Export of Armed Drones

Export requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis

The State Department announced new policies Tuesday stipulating that U.S. drones can only be exported through government programs and that the receiving country needs to agree to certain conditions about what the drone will be used for.

Under the new rules, exports of armed military drones must be made through government entities and the nations receiving the devices must agree to “end-use assurances,” according to the State Department.

“The new U.S. UAS [unmanned aerial systems] export policy provides a disciplined and rigorous framework within which the United States will exercise restraint in sales and transfers and advance its national security and foreign policy interests,” says a State Department fact sheet.

These new proposals come amid increasing controversy and uncertainty over the use of drones, after one crashed onto the White House lawn last month.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Executes Seven Militants During John Kerry’s Visit

John Kerry Sartaj Aziz
Anjum Naveed — AP U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks as Pakistani Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz looks on during their joint press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on Jan. 13, 2015.

The secretary of state’s trip to the country comes a month after the Peshawar school massacre

Pakistani officials oversaw the execution of seven convicted militants across the country on Tuesday morning, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began the second day of his trip to the South Asian nation aimed at ramping up security and intelligence cooperation.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rescinded the country’s moratorium on capital punishment in the wake of the Taliban’s savage assault on a school in Peshawar last month, which left at least 147 dead, including 130 children.

Those executed Tuesday included militants convicted of launching deadly sectarian assaults and foiled assassination plots, according to AFP. Kerry has yet to comment publicly on their fate.

Earlier this week, Kerry unveiled a plan to provide $250 million in emergency aid to Pakistanis displaced by Islamabad’s ongoing military operations targeting Islamic militants by the country’s restive northwest frontier, according to the New York Times.

[AFP]

TIME National Security

State Department Shuts Down Unclassified Email System Over Hacker Attack

The department's classified systems, however, remain unaffected

The U.S. State Department disabled its entire unclassified email system on Friday in the face of a cyberattack, a senior official said.

Technicians are working to repair the potential damage caused to the system by hackers and the State Department is expected to address the closure early this week once those repairs are made, the Associated Press reports.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said unusual activity was first detected in the system in October, around the same time hackers targeted the White House computer network. The U.S. Postal Service and the National Weather Service are among the agencies that have since reported similar attacks.

The department’s classified systems remained unaffected, and the unclassified email is expected to be operational again by Monday or Tuesday.

[AP]

TIME Immigration

Over 11 Million Played the U.S. Green Card Lottery This Year

Program may be nixed if Senate overhauls federal immigration policy

More than 11 million people applied for the annual U.S. visa lottery this year, up 11 percent from a year earlier even as the program appears to be on the verge of ending.

Less than than .5 percent of applicants will receive the opportunity to become permanent residents through the popular program, which has provided green cards to lottery winners since 1990.

But the lottery, which accounts for roughly 5 percent of legal immigration according to the Wall Street Journal, may be eliminated if the Senate passes an overhaul of immigration policy this year, with critics arguing that the lottery can be a security risk, provides residency to low-skilled immigrants, and is unfair to foreigners with family connections to the U.S.

Its backers say the system is particularly beneficial for communities with fewer connections to the United States.

“We must continue our tradition of welcoming people from around the world to the United States,” Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, a Democrat from Brooklyn, told the Journal. “I will work to expand the program, which has been critical for many people from Africa, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe who would not otherwise have the opportunity to come here.”

TIME State Department

Clinton Aides Faulted for Strong-Arming State Investigations

Key Speakers At 2014 The DreamForce Conference
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, speaks during the DreamForce Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014.

A State Department investigation has found that aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contributed to the “appearance of undue influence and favoritism” in three departmental investigations related to alleged sexual conduct by officials in the field.

In the highest-level case, the department’s inspector general found that senior State Department officials declared an allegation that the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium had solicited a prostitute in a public park as a “management issue.” The move effectively halted an investigation by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The ambassador, Howard Gutman, was recalled to Washington from Belgium to meet with Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and Clinton Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, according to the report.

“At the meeting, the Ambassador denied the allegations and was then permitted to return to post. The Department took no further action affecting the Ambassador.” But the inspector general report finds that department officials offered varying reasons for declaring it a “management issue,” and that the diplomatic security investigation was halted before all potential witnesses, including the Ambassador, were interviewed.

In the second case, department managers were found to have interfered in the investigation into a Regional Security Officer accused of sexual misconduct and harassment. In the third, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security was found to have improperly delayed for four months a diplomatic security interview with Brett McGurk, the Obama administration nominee’s to be Ambassador to Iraq in 2012. McGurk withdrew his nomination after flirtatious emails were leaked between him and a then-Wall Street Journal reporter while the two were based in Baghdad in 2008. The inspector general said the investigation into the leak was brought to a temporary standstill until McGurk could be interviewed.

The revelations were first reported in a 2013 leaked draft of the inspector general report.

Republicans, looking for any ammunition to use against Clinton as she prepares for a likely presidential run in 2016, are likely to attempt tying Clinton to the report’s findings, though the inspector general did not find any direct link to the former secretary.

TIME foreign affairs

The State Department’s Twitter War With ISIS Is Embarrassing

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
Reuters

Rita Katz is the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online.

An English-language outreach program is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments

Thirteen years into the war on terror, it is distressing to see certain ways the U.S. government is combating domestic radicalization by groups like al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS). Among the more embarrassing of these ventures is the “Think Again Turn Away” campaign, launched in English in December 2013 by the United States Department of State as part of an effort to enter the war of ideas and win over hearts and minds of jihadists on social media. (Earlier efforts began in Arabic and Urdu in 2011.) And while the State Department is making a great step in the right direction by recognizing the importance of social media in jihadi recruitment, the Think Again Turn Away campaign has been anything but valiant—particularly on Twitter. This outreach by the U.S. government is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments—regularly engaging in petty disputes with fighters and supporters of groups like IS (also known as ISIS), al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and arguing over who has killed more people while exchanging sarcastic quips.

U.S. Department of State

The Think Again Turn Away Twitter account has over 7,300 followers and has made more than 1,900 tweets since it was created in December 2013—roughly six to seven tweets per day. The account uses two approaches: tweeting counter messaging material and addressing prominent jihadist accounts.

The account’s counter-message material is mostly taken from the media, with articles related to the jihadi threat. For instance, on September 15 the account sent tweets touting articles such as “Grassroots citizen effort to defeat #ISIS using technology to track them”; “US President condemns murder of David Haines; his brother says #ISIS not about Islam, only terror”; and “Girls marry jihadis, frequently widowed, subject to polygamy; see non-Muslim female slaves.”

Though these messages are unlikely to be effective coming from the State Department, I would accept the argument that they’re not actually doing any harm. However, the account’s second approach of directly addressing and engaging with jihadist accounts is where things start to get ridiculous.

Illustrating these discussions is, for instance, one initiated on September 4 when an IS-supporting account, under the handle @de_BlackRose, showed gruesome pictures of tortured prisoners from the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal in 2003-2004 along with the message: “REMEMBER HOW YOU AMERICA ARRESTED AND HUMILIATED OUR BROTHERS IN IRAQ AND HUMILIATED THEM IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY!!”

Following a couple of messages of support, the Think Again Turn Away account responded, “US troops are punished for misconduct, #ISIS fighters are rewarded,” along with a collage of U.S. soldiers interacting happily with children in the Middle East.

Not surprisingly, the user, along with other IS followers, jumped on the opportunity to drag the U.S. government in a discussion about the Abu Ghraib scandal. @de_BlackRose, along with likeminded others, rebutted to Think Again Turn Away’s response with such replies as, “loool in spilling their bloods only a misconduct? Well that’s not enough,” “poor children where Americans fooling them with their smiles,” and “well only in june did isis crucify one if its fighters for robbing civilians at checkpoint.”

Even then, Think Again Turn Away persisted through the conversation, tweeting, “This is what children see under #ISIS rule, this brand of honor and respect,” and included a picture of children standing around a crucified soldier in the street of an unidentified city. From here, over a dozen anti-American tweets were made at the account, most of which from @de_BlackRose, stating, “looool you dont know about shariah.. better think again and turn away..”; and, “i rather my children see this so they know whats their fate when they aganst shariah of ALLAH, than democazy.”

Now, while no one would doubt that the Abu Ghraib scandal was a brutal act of torture on the part of American soldiers in Iraq, the topic is one the U.S. government should probably avoid conversing about on Twitter—especially to an audience it is trying to sway. Yet, the State Department showed no such tact.

Think Again Turn Away’s involvement in counterproductive conversations has been a regular occurrence for some time now. Some of the most tragic of these conversations are often shared with “Amreeki Witness,” a pro-IS user and a follower of late jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki. Amreeki Witness’s Twitter account profile pictures directly mock that of Think Again Turn Away: the Arabic text from the IS banner inside of the Department of State seal and the IS flag on top of the White House. The page info section reads: “Dedicated to raising awareness about the upcoming conquest of the Americas, and the benefits it has upon the American people.

The State Department responded to an August 6 tweet by Amreeki Witness stating, “IS has flaws, but the moment you claim they cut off the heads of every non-Muslim they see, the discussion is over.” Though the discussion was not addressed to them, Think Again Turn Away replied, “#ISIS tortures, crucifies & shoots some- ISIS also gives ultimatums to Christians: convert, pay or die- Some flaws u say?”

Amreeki Witness, thrilled to be noticed by the U.S. Government, and given a stage on which to launch radical jihadist views toward Think Again Turn Away’s thousands of followers, provided a long series of rebuttals, some of which linking to form lengthy attacks. The Think Again Turn Away account, instead of ignoring the claims of a pro-IS jihadist, dignified them by responding, “#ISIS confiscated food, houses, stole millions from banks & has only brought suffering and death to innocents- Join reality!”

Of course, the State Department’s intent here is to hijack the audience of accounts like Amreeki Witness in order to address the moderate Muslims on the fence regarding jihad—their real target audience. However, these exchanges, as illustrated by the overwhelming response from Amreeki Witness as compared to that of Think Again Turn Away, frequently backfire by providing jihadists legitimacy and a stage on which to project their messages.

The State Department account is not only a gaffe machine, but in fact some of its tweets walk dangerous ethical lines. On September 11, for example, Australian cleric Abu Sulayman, an official leader within AQ al-Nusra Front in Syria, tweeted, “On this day, in 2001, the USA’s largest economic shrine, the idol of capitalism was brought to the ground..the toll of injuctice is hefty.”

To this tweet, by the AQ official, the Think Again Turn Away account jumped in, tweeting, “Nobody’s a bigger fan of the fruits of capitalism than so-called #ISIS Caliph” and provided a picture pointing out IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s watch, stating it was a “Rolex.”

Now, al-Muhajir, an AQ and al-Nusra Front religious leader, is among the most prominent opposing figures of Baghdadi and IS, who has been fighting IS and its leadership for more than a year, and constantly fight against the group physically and religiously. So why would the State Department tweet to the AQ leader bashing a figure he already opposes?

Even worse, Sulayman is not just another AQ supporter, but an AQ official! The irony is ugly: When State Department makes a series of tweets about the horrors of 9/11 and attacking those that committed it, it also tweets directly to an AQ leader, providing legitimization to the account of the same people who committed the attacks.

Any competent foreign policy analyst knows that the al-Nusra-IS feud is one all jihadists are attuned to, so the State Department’s tweet to Sulayman and his 18,000 followers could only suggest that the U.S. is clueless to the jihadi landscape.

On July 30, responding to an IS fighter discussing the training of newcomers at IS training camps, the Think Again Turn Away tweeted, “everything #ISIS does is hardest on their victims & families- #alqaeda ideology shames humanity,” and provided a link their video titled, “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ land (ISIS/ISIL).” The video, widely discussed by the media in recent weeks, is a grim parody of IS recruitment materials, sarcastically stating that Muslims should come to the Islamic State wherein one “can learn useful new skills for the Ummah [Nation],” which include “Blowing up mosques” and “Crucifying and executing Muslims.”

Videos like this clearly illustrate that the U.S. government lacks the basic understanding of recruitment of young Westerners, that these ghastly scenes of executions and destruction are exactly what groups like IS have been using as recruitment propaganda.

The video prompted anti-American responses, including a counter-spoof video, published on September 7, by jihadi Twitter account of “tawheedvlag,” telling viewers, “Run Do not walk to US Terrorist State…Where you can learn usefull new anti Islam skills.”

In order to counter a problem, one must first study it before adopting a solution. Had the people behind Think Again Turn Away understood jihadists’ mindsets and reasons for their behavior, they would have known that their project of counter messaging would not only be a waste of taxpayer money, but ultimately be counterproductive.

To be fair, I acknowledge that the State Department’s project, at the very least, may serve as a noble undertaking by those in power to fight an idea while preserving free speech. Sadly, though, that’s all the credit I can give it. I would much rather see the State Department’s online ventures involved in projects that explain the great things American policies have achieved—not arguing with jihadi fighters on who killed more innocent Muslims.

Rita Katz is the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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