US Senate Staff Targeted by Hackers

September 20, 2018 Updated: September 21, 2018

Attempts by foreign government hackers to break into the personal email accounts of U.S. senators and their aides persist — yet the Senate’s security office is refusing to defend them, a US lawmaker says.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a Sept. 19 letter to Senate leaders that his office discovered that “at least one major technology company” has warned an unspecified number of senators and aides that their personal email accounts were “targeted by foreign government hackers.”

On Sept. 20, Google spokesman Aaron Stein confirmed that his company had notified the Senate targets.

Neither Stein nor Wyden provided any indication as to who might be behind the attempted break-ins, whether they targeted lawmakers from both political parties or their timing, though a Senate staffer said they occurred “in the last few weeks or months.” The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Email theft is favored by hackers the world over, including the Russian military agents accused of leaking the content of Democrats’ inboxes ahead of the 2016 elections, and personal accounts have proven to be the easiest targets.

Wyden noted that the Office of the Sergeant at Arms, which oversees Senate security, had informed legislators and staffers that it has no authority to help secure personal, rather than official, accounts.

“What I am concerned about, for foreign hackers hacking into the personal accounts of senators and national security staff is really low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Wyden has proposed legislation that would allow the security office to offer digital protection for personal accounts and devices, the same way it does with official ones.

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