Lawmakers accuse China of hacking computers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers active in human rights affairs said on Wednesday they believe their office computers were hacked from China and urged greater security for congressional computers.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, said his office computers had been compromised in August 2006 and that he was told by the FBI and other officials the source of the attack was inside China.

Rep. Christopher Smith, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his computer had also been attacked from China. The New Jersey Republican has sponsored legislation that would prohibit U.S. companies from cooperating with governments that restrict information about human rights and democracy on the Internet.

The two lawmakers said at a news conference the computers of other members and at least one committee have also been compromised.

A spokesman for the FBI had no comment on the report.

Wolf sponsored a resolution urging officials to take steps to increase awareness of the problem and make sure lawmakers are fully briefed on how to secure electronic equipment. He also called for congressional hearings on the attacks.

The House debated the resolution late on Wednesday and referred it to the House Administration Committee for action.

Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said House officials have already taken steps to improve computer security and to train staff on how to protect their electronic systems.

She said lawmakers needed to be careful about using House computers to visit web sites in China where they can pick up malicious programs that attack their computers.

Wolf said U.S. lawmakers were vulnerable when traveling overseas, which can expose their computers, Blackberry devices and mobile phones to being tapped or stolen for information.

“My deep concern about the safety and integrity of this institution has led me to speak out about the threat that cyber intrusions from China and other countries pose not only to Congress but to the entire U.S. government, including our military and private sector,” Wolf said in a statement.

Wolf said some officials had tried to discourage him from making the information public and going forward with the resolution, but he said it was time to act.

“I think this is a major issue and I think Congress has to address it,” Wolf said.

Wolf said the computers that were targeted contained sensitive information about human rights in China.

Smith said he had “every reason to believe” the Chinese government was behind the intrusion into his computer.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington could not be immediately reached for comment.

Smith urged lawmakers to be careful about what they put on their computers, particularly the names of dissidents.

(Reporting by Donna Smith; editing by Todd Eastham); 202-898-8391;Reuters Messaging: