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U.S. Rep. Wolf Says Chinese Hackers Targeted Him For Criticizing China

The legislator says four computers in his office had been compromised and that computers used by other members of Congress and by the House Foreign Affairs Committee had also been hacked.

In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of cyber espionage, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Wednesday said that four computers in his office had been compromised in 2006 and that computers used by other members of Congress and by the House Foreign Affairs Committee had also been hacked.

Wolf said that based on meetings with FBI officials, the attacks appear to have originated in China. "These cyber attacks permitted the source to probe our computers to evaluate our system's defenses, and to view and copy information," said Wolf. "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."

Many groups critical of China have reported online attacks after speaking out. The Chinese government maintains that it is not involved in such attacks and, in general, security experts agree, attributing such attacks to civilian hackers motivated by patriotism. However, the Chinese government's support for bellicose nationalism and selective enforcement of cyber crime laws may contribute to the willingness of Chinese hackers to strike perceived enemies of the state.

According to Wolf, the hacker or hackers broke into the computers of Wolf's foreign policy and human rights staff person, his chief of staff, his legislative director, and his judiciary staff person. "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," he 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 countries that criminalize political expression, such information can lead to the imprisonment or death of human rights activists.

Wolf said that despite government recognition of cyber security risks as far back as 1997 and "despite all the activity, reports, funding, and growth in the Department of Homeland Security, little seems to have changed in terms our vulnerability to cyber incidents."

Invoking British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce's demand in 1789 that his colleagues confront the horrors of slavery, Wolf concluded with his own call to action: "We cannot afford to look the other way when foreign sources are threatening to compromise our government institutions, our economy, our very way of life through cyber espionage. We cannot sit by and watch."

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