Lawmakers want data on the number of times Senate computers have been hacked

Right now, lawmakers appear to be in the dark on the issue.

The Senate should have an annual tally of when its computers and smartphones have been breached in order to better inform congressional cybersecurity policy, a pair of bipartisan senators says in a letter sent Wednesday to the Senate Sergeant at Arms.

Describing Congress as a perennial target for hackers, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, have asked the Senate Sergeant at Arms (SAA) to be transparent in providing lawmakers with information about the scale of successful hacks of Senate devices, including smartphones. They want annual reports sent to each senator with aggregate data on compromises of computers and other breaches of sensitive Senate data. The senators also asked the SAA to notify the Senate leadership, along with members of the rules and intelligence committees, within five days of breaches to Senate computers being discovered.

Right now, lawmakers appear to be in the dark on the issue.

“We believe that the lack of data regarding successful cyberattacks against the Congress has contributed to the absence of debate regarding congressional cybersecurity – this must change,” Cotton and Wyden wrote in a letter to Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger.


According to the senators, the only time that the cybersecurity of the legislative branch was openly debated on the House or Senate floor was in 2008 when then-Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, spoke about a breach of his office’s computers.

Lawmakers such as Wyden have for some time been raising concerns about Congress’s vulnerability to hackers. Last September, weeks before the midterm elections, the Oregon Democrat said that a major tech company had informed senators that foreign government hackers had targeted their email accounts. The SAA may lack the authority to help defend lawmakers from sophisticated hacking attempts, Wyden said at the time.

In a word, Cotton and Wyden want to know if cybersecurity measures in the Senate are enough to safeguard “the integrity of this institution and the sensitive data with which it has been entrusted.”

“Hackers continue to target all manner of government entities, and there is little doubt that Congress is squarely in their sights,” the senators wrote to Stenger.

You can read the full letter below.


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Sean Lyngaas

Written by Sean Lyngaas

Sean Lyngaas is CyberScoop’s Senior Reporter covering the Department of Homeland Security and Congress. He was previously a freelance journalist in West Africa, where he covered everything from a presidential election in Ghana to military mutinies in Ivory Coast for The New York Times. Lyngaas’ reporting also has appeared in The Washington Post, The Economist and the BBC, among other outlets. His investigation of cybersecurity issues in the nuclear sector, backed by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, won plaudits from industrial security experts. He was previously a reporter with Federal Computer Week and, before that, with Smart Grid Today. Sean earned a B.A. in public policy from Duke University and an M.A. in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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