Typos could steer sensitive messages to Mali, DOD warns

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Millions of emails intended for the Department of Defense have been directed to Mali because of spelling errors in the recipient's email domain.

The Pentagon is once again warning that a common spelling error could direct sensitive messages intended for recipients on the Defense Department's .mil domain to Mali, country in West Africa that has close ties with Russia.

In a May 23 memo that was publicly released on June 28, former DOD Chief Information Officer John Sherman told federal agencies, international partners and the defense industrial base sector that the department “has been encountering typographical errors that mistake the .ml domain for the .mil domain.”

“While this type of unauthorized disclosure is different from intentional and illegal disclosure of classified materials, the department still takes very seriously all kinds of unauthorized disclosures of classified national security information or controlled unclassified information,” Sherman wrote.

The memo said that DOD has “implemented technical controls to block emails originating from the DOD network to the entire .ml domain, while retaining the ability to allow, by exception, legitimate emails to the .ml domain.”

Sherman similarly warned those sending emails to DOD to “exercise vigilance and take policy and technical measures to prevent typographical errors.” 

Despite the new guidance, DOD has been aware of the problem with email domain errors routing department-intended messages to Mali — an issue that has reportedly been occurring for roughly a decade

A series of news reports in July 2023 warned that millions of emails intended for DOD had instead been sent to .ml accounts. The problem was first revealed by a Dutch entrepreneur who manages Mali’s email domain, who said that he had been trying to alert U.S. officials about the issue since 2013.

At the time, a Pentagon spokesperson said DOD was aware of the domain typos and had blocked its email accounts from responding to .ml accounts as a precautionary measure. 

Mali and Russia have formed close ties in recent years, with the two countries partnering on large industrial projects in the African nation and Russia’s Wagner Group providing the government’s military forces with assistance.