Jeh Johnson Says He'll Stop Checking Gmail from Work, 'Probably Should Have Done It Sooner'

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Johnson addressed reports that he and his senior staffers were using work computers to check private webmail accounts.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson plans to use his smartphone -- not his federally-issued desktop computer -- to access his personal Gmail account, Johnson told an audience in Washington on Wednesday.

During a Tuesday morning event hosted by Politico, Johnson addressed reports that he and 28 senior staffers were using their work computers to check private webmail systems for more than a year. A DHS rule prohibits employees from using webmail services such as Gmail, Yahoo and AOL on DHS networks after hackers breached Office of Personnel Management data in 2014, according to Bloomberg, which first reported that story Monday. 

On Tuesday, Johnson maintained he had obtained a waiver from DHS' chief information officer to do so. 

“At my desktop at work, I was, via the Internet, accessing my personal email account, so I could see who was sending me stuff on my Gmail, my personal account," he said. "Not to be confused with my DHS account, which I use all the time."

Recent reports -- including Bloomberg's -- brought to light cybersecurity concerns he hadn't thought of, Johnson said.

"To be perfectly honest, this is something that I had for a while. And when I read the story, I said, you know, 'Whoops, this is not a good practice, so I should discontinue it,'" he explained.

He added: "So, I’m suspending that. Probably should have done it sooner."

He said he hoped the other staffers allegedly checking their personal emails will also stop checking their email on their desktop computers.

"DHS has to be the model for good cybersecurity within the government," Johnson said. 

When asked whether he was taking a risk by accessing his personal email on DHS systems, he answered, “probably not an appreciable one, but one that probably should be eliminated."

From now on, Johnson said he plans to check his Gmail on his iPhone, "like a lot of other people."