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Phifer swept up in cyber attack

Leah Phifer

Since using an exploratory motorcycle tour of the 8th District last year to launch herself into a full-fledged campaign, Leah Phifer has been on the move.

As such, her story of coming to politics from working for the federal government in counter-terrorism and national security has been well-disseminated.

More recently, Phifer’s background intersected with her campaign in another way. She learned late last year that her private information had been compromised as part of a Department of Homeland Security database hack.

In a Dec. 28 letter, Homeland Security informed Phifer that her personal information on file with the department had been affirmed to be part of a data breach. People employed by DHS in 2014 had the potential to be impacted, said the letter — part of which Phifer shared with the News Tribune.

“It’s scary how much information the hackers may have gotten,” Phifer said, describing personal identification numbers and other things she had on file with DHS. “I don’t want to issue any assumptions, but if it was another state actor we should be very concerned they have the information of people who held secret or top-secret security clearance.”

Phifer is using the incident to illustrate one of her most ardent policy positions. Even before she got the letter, Phifer believed the United States needed to do a better job protecting its place in cyberspace.

Multiple online sources report that the federal government endures thousands of cyber attacks every day.

In a column she wrote outlining her national security position, Phifer said the U.S. possesses a “blind spot” when it comes to cyber attacks — one which is “manifested in our slow response to the rise of cyber-terrorism.”

“As our lives and our democracy grow increasingly automated,” she wrote, “devious nation states and lone actors will ramp up their attempts to exploit these areas.”

In her column, Phifer calls on veteran policy leaders to listen to a new generation of front-line wisdom. She wants the U.S. to shut down government-use backdoors in its own encrypted applications, cautioning that such backdoors invite hackers. She adds that the federal government ought to raise its pay scale for cyber scientists and experts to make it “on par with their private sector counterparts.”

“We have this idea that our national security organizations are well-suited and guarded against those sorts of intrusions,” Phifer told the News Tribune. “(But) we as a public need to start waking up to the fact we’re not equipped to deal with a breach like what happened to me.”