Alleged Chinese hacking of government computers went high profile June 11 with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf accusing Beijing of cyber attacks on four of his office computers. The Virginia Republican also said other members of Congress and the House Foreign Affairs Committee have been targets of Chinese hackers.
“These cyber attacks permitted the source to probe our computers to evaluate our system’s defenses and to view and copy information,” Wolf said in floor remarks. “My suspicion is that I was targeted by Chinese sources because of my long history of speaking out about China’s abysmal human rights record.”
According to Wolf, the cyber intruders first targeted the computer of his policy and human rights staff person, followed by attacks on the computers of his chief of staff, legislative director and judiciary staff person. Wolf said the FBI and the House Information Resources office said the attacks originated from within the People’s Republic of China.
“On these computers was information about all of the casework I have done on behalf of political dissidents and human rights activists around the world,” Wolf said. “That kind of information, as well as everything else on my office computers — e-mails, memos, correspondence and district casework — was open for outside eyes to see.”
In addition, Wolf warned House members they are vulnerable to cell phone cyber attacks when travelling overseas. “I have been told that, particularly in countries in which access to information is tightly controlled by the government, members are at risk of having their conversations and information recorded or stolen from their cell phones and BlackBerry devices.”
The PRC denied hacking into anyone’s computers, claiming the Chinese government lacks the technical sophistication to launch the attacks. Reuters reported that China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said at a Beijing press conference, “Is there any evidence? China is still a developing country. Does that mean we have already mastered such high-end technology? Personally I don’t believe that.”
Gang added, “I’d like to advise some people in the U.S. not to be overly suspicious and not to make sensational remarks all the time. They should rather do more things that help China-U.S. friendship and understanding.”
While Wolf generated headlines with his accusations, the issue of Chinese cyber snooping on the government is hardly new. The U.S. government is already investigating allegations that the Chinese copied contents of a U.S. laptop during a May visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.
The Congressional Research Search believes the PRC was behind a 2004 incident in which an attack code probed sensitive data files on the computers of Lockheed Martin, Sandia National Labs and NASA.
Wolf noted the Pentagon’s 2008 annual report to Congress states, “In the past year, numerous computer networks around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, were subject to intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC.”