Courts & Corrections

FBI warns Vermont lawmakers of threats to email system

Lawmakers have been asked to change passwords and follow other safety protocols after the FBI alerted state authorities that the legislative email system had been targeted by a foreign entity.

Maj. Rick Hopkins of the Vermont State Police said the email system was not successfully breached or hacked and no information was taken. Instead, he said, the FBI reported almost all of the 180 legislators’ emails had been found to be “of interest” to an undisclosed foreign attacker.

Gov. Phil Scott said he learned of the situation on Friday night and said the problem has not spread to emails of other state officials, including the administration. The Legislature is on its own server, Hopkins said, and the problem appears to be confined to that system.

“It’s fairly contained because it’s just there on one server, but we were concerned that there may be some overlap and a way that it could get into other systems,” Scott said Tuesday.

Technicians over the weekend built firewalls between the legislative system and the one that serves the executive branch.

Tim Ashe
Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County, chair of Senate Finance. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

“Cybersecurity, I’ve identified that is something we really need to pay attention to, so this is just another example of why,” the governor said.

Hopkins said it was a concern anytime a foreign agent was targeting a legislative body, but he said the situation was not worthy of “panic.”

Scott noted the significance of the attempt in the wake of a data breach at the Department of Labor and the attempted hack at the Burlington Electric Department.

Sen. President Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said the advisory from the FBI suggested it was a more serious threat than usual.

Ashe, who mentioned the FBI warning on the Senate floor, said there had been no apparent disruption in service on the legislative email server.

Hopkins said he had been contacted by the FBI only rarely about an attack on an email server. However, he noted many computer systems face threats every day and the users and companies should be vigilant about following best practices, including not opening attachments inside emails that look suspicious or that come from unknown senders.

Some lawmakers say they often receive email from people they do not know who are advocating for a particular cause.

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  • Christopher Hamilton

    What could any entity possibly want with emails from citizen legislators in Vermont?
    Top secret info regarding the 2018 maple syrup harvest?

    • Ned Pike

      Hey, Clarence Beeks and the Duke brothers are VERY interested in that data.

  • Dominic Cotignola

    If you know how the internet works such as I, it was never meant to be a “private” system. The technology behind the internet is meant to be open and policed by citizens, not political bureaucrats or government entities. The best course now is to educate people how to use it with common sense of which, some are lazy to learn when young. High five to the people that started it (i.e. governments) to be an open and free system that will never be able to make it private unless you start your own type of internet network from scratch.

  • First my healhcare data is compromised. Now my “thank you for raising my taxes” emails to legislators have also been compromised.

  • Edward Letourneau

    One good outcome of this, assuming the emails were released, would be to give insight on just how corrupt things are in this state.