Head of Homeland Security had his email hacked in SolarWinds attack

SolarWinds logo on the side of a building
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Suspected Russian hackers accessed email accounts belonging to the Trump administration’s head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to a new report.

The Associated Press reports that hackers also gained access to emails belonging to members of the department’s cyber security staff that had the job of hunting foreign cyber threats.

The emails belonged to then-acting secretary Chad Wolf, and hackers compromised them during the months-long SolarWinds attack. It’s unknown what information, if any, was stolen.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, top Republican on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the SolarWinds hack “was a victory for our foreign adversaries and a failure for DHS. We are talking about DHS’s crown jewels,” AP reported.

In addition to Wolf’s email, hackers also obtained officials’ schedules at the Energy Department, including then-Secretary Dan Brouillette. But, in this instance, schedules were not confidential.

A DHS spokesperson said in a statement to the media that “a small number of employees' accounts were targeted."

"Upon learning about the campaign, the Department took immediate steps to respond to the incident, including leveraging response teams from CISA and private sector partners, to continue executing its mission,” said the spokesperson, reported The Hill.


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"The Department no longer sees indicators of compromise on our networks and remains focused on further securing our networks against future attacks, integrating lessons learned from this incident. However, this widespread intrusion campaign has again shown that our strategic adversaries are sophisticated, persistent, and have increasing capabilities."

In interviews with AP, anonymous officials said the response to the hacking campaign was hampered by its outdated technology and there were struggles to discover how many servers ran the SolarWinds software.

In one example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the hack didn’t affect it, only to admit a few days later that it was conducting investigations a few days later.

Other victims of the SolarWinds hack include the Commerce and Treasury Departments, National Finance Center, the State Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Energy Department, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The AP reported the Biden administration isn’t planning to step up government internet surveillance but will instead focus on better private sector partnerships and enhanced information sharing.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.