Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday asked the chief information officer at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to take immediate action to ensure that the organization’s websites use HTTPS.
The senator noted that some of the DoD’s websites, such as the ones belonging to the NSA, the Army and the Air Force, do use HTTPS by default and certificates trusted by major web browsers, but many other sites either don’t use HTTPS at all or they rely on digital certificates issued by the DoD Root Certificate Authority. Certificates issued by the DoD itself trigger security warnings in browsers.
The list of websites that do not use HTTPS includes the ones of the Navy, Marines, and even the CIO’s official website hosted at dodcio.defense.gov.
Sen. Wyden believes the security warnings displayed for HTTP sites will “erode the public’s trust in the Department and its ability to defend against sophisticated cyber threats” and “actively degrade the public’s security by teaching users to treat security warnings as irrelevant.”
The lawmaker has pointed out that memo M-15-13 issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2015 requires all federal agencies to secure their websites by enabling HTTPS and enforcing HSTS. Furthermore, a Binding Operational Directive issued last year by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires all agencies to start using web and email security technologies such as HTTPS, DMARC and STARTTLS.
The senator also noted in his letter that Google’s Chrome web browser will soon start marking HTTP pages with a red “Not Secure” warning.
The CIO of the DoD, Dana Deasy, has been instructed to direct all agencies to enable HTTPS with HSTS on all public web services, obtain and deploy certificates trusted by major browsers, and evaluate the use of shorter-lived certificates such as the ones offered by Let’s Encrypt. An action plan and progress report must be provided by the DoD by July 20.
The senator is well regarded by many in the cybersecurity industry for his initiatives. One of his advisers in privacy researcher and activist Christopher Soghoian, formerly principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.
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