Hill Staff Briefed on Cybersecurity Issues

Posted October 30, 2009 at 6:00pm

This year, Halloween brought zombies of a different sort to Capitol Hill.

About 50 Congressional staffers gathered in the Longworth House Office Building on Friday afternoon to hear cybersecurity experts from organizations such as Microsoft, MySpace and Facebook discuss responsible social networking, how to avoid having their Web sites hacked, and how to protect against infected “zombie— computer spam and malware.

Dubbed “Cyber Flu Shot — Safe & Secure Social Networking,— the event was organized by Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Alliance as part of a broader effort to make October “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.—

The briefing centered on safe computing habits and responsible use of social networking — especially in a high-stakes environment like Congress.

“There are policies coming out across the federal government that say ‘don’t do social networking at work,’— said Marcus Sachs, Verizon’s executive director for government affairs. “There’s this fear of information leakage, there’s this fear of malware and there’s this fear of blurring home lives with work lives.—

The reality, McAfee cybercrime strategist Pamela Warren said, is that on Capitol Hill, “you’re going to be a highly targeted community. In general, you have to be super aware. You’re not just the average user at home anymore. You’re going to be an active target.—

However, she said, “there are very legitimate reasons to get online with your community and your constituents.—

“Communication and distribution on the Hill are not the most modern in the world,— said Adam Connor, a former Hill staffer and Facebook’s Washington, D.C., associate for privacy and global public policy. Social networking sites can make communicating a little bit easier, he said — plus, “constituents expect you to be there and conversations are happening even without your presence.—

Both the House and the Senate passed resolutions in recent weeks affirming their support for the goals of cybersecurity awareness. In the House, Clarke spearheaded efforts to get the resolution passed, while the Senate resolution had 15 co-sponsors and broad bipartisan support.

Judith Kargbo, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said cybersecurity isn’t a topic that most Congressional staffers spend time thinking about. But in reality, digital technology is ubiquitous on the Hill — from smart phones and BlackBerrys to information technology.

“We need to be cognizant of cyberspace and make sure that it’s secure,— Kargbo said.

The briefing comes in the wake of last week’s embarrassing disclosure that a staff member on the House ethics committee accidently saved a sensitive internal report concerning ethics investigations on a home computer, where it was then inadvertently shared, downloaded and leaked to the media via a peer-to-peer networking program on the Gnutella network. According to a statement released by the committee, the staffer was fired for the security breach.

“I think the House probably woke up this morning and realized there is a problem with peer-to-peer sites,— said Rick Lane, an executive with News Corp., which owns MySpace. “And someone lost their job on the Hill.—