Facebook accounts of four Mo. legislators are hackedwww.STLtoday.com
Monday, February 7, 2011
JEFFERSON CITY • Internet hackers are targeting Missouri state representatives and their staff, and no one knows exactly how or why.
Since the legislative session started Jan. 5, five people on the House side of the Capitol have reported their Facebook accounts being hacked: three Republican legislators, one Democratic legislator and one Republican staffer.
It is the most concentrated, widespread rash of hacking events the House has seen.
"If the reports are true, this is a spike in what we've experienced in the past," said Adam Crumbliss, the House clerk. "We're hearing more about it than we ever have."
Though no exact cause has been established, the instances of hacking point to a potentially gaping computer security hole: A free, open wireless network for House visitors and legislators serves as a virtual welcome mat for hackers, security experts say. Each of the five recent hacking victims had used the network recently.
In recent years, politicians have aggressively adopted Facebook and other social media as a public relations tool, using the Internet to publicize their policies and communicate with constituents. If a hacker alters a lawmaker's carefully crafted public message, the political damage can be immediate and lasting.
On Jan. 21, an embarrassing status update was posted to the personal Facebook page of freshman Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, for a couple of hours.
"I love lobbyist! (sic) All the free food and stuff you get. This job is awesome!" the post read.
Typically, Lichtenegger said, she only uses Facebook every Friday to post updates about her legislative activities during the week. At the Capitol, Lichtenegger usually accesses the Internet through a protected account for legislators.
But on the day her Facebook was hacked, Lichtenegger logged on to Facebook using the House's free public wireless Internet.
A few hours later, she realized that her account had been compromised. By then, news of the post had spread and state political blogs had picked up on the story.
"I just don't trust this stuff, and now I know why," she said.
And she's not alone.
About three weeks ago, freshman Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, saw that his Facebook status had been changed to one that extolled free food and gifts from lobbyists — almost identical to the status later posted to Lichtenegger's Facebook page.
"I didn't know where this was coming from, so I didn't say anything about it," Schatz said.
Though Schatz does not consider himself a computer expert, he said he had a hunch as to how his account was hacked.
"I know that I was on the public Wi-Fi connection, and that's when I was hacked," Schatz said. "In a public Wi-Fi setting, they were able to hack into that site and play a little joke."
In all of the cases in which Facebook accounts were accessed in the House, the owners of the accounts had used the House public Wi-Fi network. Some legislators said they use the public wireless Internet nearly exclusively, and some said they don't know how to access the secure Internet network for legislators.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, where there have been no complaints of hacking, all Internet networks are monitored to varying extents: The internal secured network is overseen more stringently; the public network, superficially. Amy Niedergerke, director of computer information systems for the Senate, said the legislative body primarily keeps tabs on Web traffic that might be harmful, like potential viruses or hacking threats.
But on the House side of the Capitol building, the public wireless network goes unwatched. Crumbliss said the House wants to ensure individuals' freedom to surf the Web without concern for government censorship or surveillance.
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