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Email security falls short for several White House domains

Many White House email domains are not compliant with a governmentwide cybersecurity directive, lagging behind the rest of government and putting them at risk of being used in a large-scale phishing attack, per a review conducted by a cybersecurity organization.

The Global Cyber Alliance found 18 of the 26 email domains of the Executive Office of the President have not begun to implement an email security protocol required under a Department of Homeland Security binding operational directive.

The security protocol, Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance or DMARC, is an email authentication tool designed to prevent email spoofing and provide data on where a forgery may have originated. The Global Cyber Alliance is one of the chief advocates of the use of the DMARC, which is widely deployed among corporations that provide email to their workforce and by public-facing webmail providers.

Jeanette Manfra, DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, said in January that despite the "binding" nature of the directive, the agency doesn't have any way to enforce it.

"We don't have the authority to slap some fine on, and we're not going to kick some federal agency off the internet," Manfra said.

A spokesperson for DHS told FCW the agency didn't have a response to the study. An email to the federal CIO's office at the White House was not returned.

According to the Global Cyber Alliance, seven White House domains have implemented the lowest DMARC level -- “none” -- which means the domains have the DMARC policy in place but are only in monitoring mode; only one has implemented the highest level of DMARC protection, which blocks incoming messages that fail authentication.

There are multiple email domains associated with the Executive Office of the President, including those covering the National Security Council, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Office of Management and Budget and others. The press release put out by the Global Cyber Alliance didn't indicate which of the email domains were out of compliance with the DMARC directive.

"Email domains managed by the EOP are crown jewels that criminals and foreign adversaries covet," Global Cyber Alliance President and CEO Philip Reitinger said in a statement. "The lack of full DMARC deployment across nearly every EOP email address poses a national security risk that must be fixed."

The press release announcing the results of the review stated, "Without DMARC implemented, scammers and criminals can easily ‘hijack’ an email domain to steal money, trade secrets or even jeopardize national security."

By the Global Cyber Alliance’s research, the White House lags considerably behind the rest of government when it comes to implementing DMARC. In January, the cybersecurity firm Proofpoint found 47.1 percent of federal domains hit the first deadline required by the DHS directive.

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