Hacked lawmaker calls for cyber briefings

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., told House leaders Tuesday that few members of Congress have availed themselves of secret briefings meant to educate them about outsiders trying to penetrate lawmakers' computers and steal sensitive information.

Despite "repeated assurances" that the House leadership would inform members of Congress about threats to their computer systems and personal electronic devices, members are still at risk of being hacked by foreign and domestic sources, Wolf wrote in a letter [PDF] sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders, which was obtained by National Journal. In September of last year, the Republican and Democratic caucuses held classified briefings for lawmakers about cyber risks, but "the meetings were sparsely attended," Wolf wrote. "I fear that Members are no better informed today than they were before."

Because so few members showed up, Wolf wants to require mandatory briefings. He has proposed including language to that effect in the rules package set to be adopted Tuesday during the first meeting of the new Congress. Wolf suggested that the meetings address "threats to House information security, threats to information security when members travel abroad, and measure being taken [to] secure House computer networks and electronic devices."

Last year, Wolf announced that his office's computers had been compromised by sources he believes reside in China. Seven other members' office computers, as well as those in eight committee offices, were infected with a virus designed to covertly remove files and track what a user writes in e-mail or text messages. After the electronic break-ins, Wolf said that few of his colleagues understood that sensitive information contained on their computers was accessible to outsiders.

"This is a serious issue, and we have got to have bipartisan participation," said Daniel Scandling, Wolf's chief of staff. "If someone physically broke into a member's office and took something, people would be up in arms. But we're turning a blind eye to information being swiped off of computers."