Editor's Desk | Rep. Wolf's warning on cybersecurity

Rep. Frank Wolf disclosed that computers in his office and several others on Capitol Hill had been targeted in 2006 and 2007 by hackers using computers that investigators traced to China

GCN Editor in Chief
Wyatt Kash

GCN

Congress has had no shortage of wake-up calls about the growing number of cyberattacks on civilian agency and military information technology networks.

But the announcement by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) that his office's computers had been targeted by Chinese operatives and his introduction of a resolution (GCN.com/1120) calling for measures to protect government computers and cell phones from cyberattacks was a new if not potent warning to Capitol Hill.

Wolf disclosed that computers in his office and several others on Capitol Hill had been targeted in 2006 and 2007 by hackers using computers that investigators traced to China. He said the hackers accessed sensitive data about the identities and locations of Chinese dissidents and refugees with whom Wolf had worked.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), who joined Wolf in the announcement, said that twice in recent years, Chinese hackers had attacked computers used by a human rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Who exactly was behind the break-ins and why Wolf and Smith waited until now to disclose the incidents remain open questions. China promptly rejected the accusations, saying that as a developing country, it wasn't capable of sophisticated cybercrime.

Evidence of cyber incidents during the past several years ' particularly on military networks ' suggests otherwise (GCN.com/1121).

'It has become clear to me that many members, committees and other offices of the House do not fully understand the extent of this threat against the security of their offices and how to protect themselves from it,' Wolf said.

Wolf might be faulted for not stepping forward sooner, but his willingness to speak out nevertheless deserves credit.

There are many in government who still believe that discussing cyberthreats openly only serves to encourage more of them. However, Wolf was right when he said, 'We are making this dangerous national security problem worse by not discussing it openly.'

Many will argue that what Wolf proposes is not enough. His recommendation that House and Senate committees on government reform, intelligence, judiciary, armed services and homeland security should hold hearings on cyberthreats is likely to drum up more discussion than real action, given Congress' record of late.

But his resolution adds needed weight to the argument that many have been making: More needs to be done to educate government officials ' and congressional staffs ' about the threat cyberattacks pose to government networks and national security.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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