News | Politics: Congress is powerless to stop the most obvious way they could get hacked by foreign states

Politics: Congress is powerless to stop the most obvious way they could get hacked by foreign states

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  • Foreign governments are hacking into the personal email accounts of US senators and their aides, a senator warned.
  • But the office in charge of overseeing the Senate's security has no mandate to protect personal accounts and devices, only official ones.
  • "At least one major technology company" recently informed senators and their staffers that their accounts are under fire, Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote.
  • He is pushing legislation to allow the US Senate Sergeant at Arms to protect private accounts and devices.

Congress has no power to stop foreign powers from hacking into the personal emails of senators and their staff, a senator has warned.

The US Senate Sergeant at Arms (SAA), which oversees all of the Senate's security, lacks the authority to shield politicians and their aides from the growing number of cyberattacks from foreign governments, Sen. Ron Wyden wrote in a Wednesday letter.

Wyden, a Democratic senator for Oregon, said in his letter that "at least one major technology company" had recently "informed a number of Senators and Senate staff members" that their personal email accounts were under fire from hackers backed by foreign governments.

Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter warning of the foreign hacking attempts.play

Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter warning of the foreign hacking attempts.

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The SAA's cybersecurity personnel, however, has not been able to shield senators and staffers from those attempts, Wyden said.

He wrote:

"Given the significance of this threat, I was alarmed to learn that SAA cybersecurity personnel apparently refused to help Senators and Senate staff after these attacks.

"The SAA informed each Senator and staff member who asked for help that it may not offer cybersecurity assistance for personal accounts.

"The SAA confirmed to my office that it believes it may only use appropriated funds to protect official government devices and accounts."

The US Capitol in Washington, DC.play

The US Capitol in Washington, DC.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Wyden did not specify in his letter who those targets were, or which foreign governments were supposedly behind the attacks.

He also did not say when those members were notified of the hacking attempts, though the Associated Press cited an unnamed Senate staffer as saying they took place "in the last few weeks or months."

Fancy Bear, a hacking collective closely aligned to the Russian government, are among the groups trying to hack personal email accounts, Wyden said.

He now plans to introduce legislation to allow the SAA to provide help to senators and their staff for their personal accounts and devices.

A group dressed as "Hillary Clinton's emails" at a Halloween parade in New York City in October 2016.play

A group dressed as "Hillary Clinton's emails" at a Halloween parade in New York City in October 2016.

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Email hacking attempts in politics are nothing new.

In early 2016, John Podesta, the campaign chairman of then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, had his personal account hacked after clicking on a fake link that asked him to change his email password.

That resulted in hackers obtaining 500,000 emails from his account, which WikiLeaks published shortly before the November presidential election.

Last month Microsoft said it had uncovered new attempts from a hacking group tied to the Russian government to target US political groups ahead of the November midterm elections.

The attempts mirrored similar Russian attacks before the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials said to help Donald Trump by hurting his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The FBI and CIA agreed in December 2016, one month after the election, that Russia intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win. Clinton also said she believed Russia-backed hackers targeted her campaign because of Putin’s personal grudge against her.

In July, Facebook refused to say whether they had seen evidence of organized information campaigns like those in 2016.

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By Kwame Ntow 20/09/2018 07:52:00