WASHINGTON — Cyber-hackers believed to be based in China have tapped three times into the computer network in U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's office, the Florida Democrat said Friday.
Two attacks on the same day this month and another one last month targeted work stations used by three Nelson staffers -- a key foreign-policy aide, the deputy legislative director and a former Nelson NASA advisor, according to Nelson's staff.
The hackers didn't make off with any classified information, which isn't kept on office computers, a Nelson spokesman said.
The cyber-attacks have prompted Nelson, along with Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to call for the creation of a permanent national cyber-security czar.
Nelson, a member of the Senate's Intelligence, Armed Services and Finance committees, noted ''similar incursions on Capitol Hill computer networks are up significantly in the past few months,'' according to various information systems offices on Capitol Hill.
And he noted that Newsweek had earlier reported that federal authorities showed up at the presidential campaign headquarters of both Barack Obama and John McCain and said information on the computers there was being downloaded by a "foreign entity.''
''The threat to our national security, to be sure, is real; and, it will require significant investment and interagency coordination at an unprecedented level to gain an upper hand against would-be cyber-criminals and spies,'' Nelson said Friday. ``These are anxious days, when you consider the threat from such espionage facing our country and recent developments on this front.''
Nelson said he has agreed to work with Rockefeller and Snowe in calling for the creation of a permanent national cyber-security czar.
More specifically, the lawmakers are crafting legislation that, among other things, would:
• Establish a permanent national cyber-security czar who would report directly to the president.
• Require vulnerability assessments by intelligence and Homeland Security officials, reviewing the threat to not only government computers but critical private networks, as well.
• Create a public-private clearinghouse for cyber-threat and vulnerability information-sharing. The clearinghouse would be responsible for the management and sharing of data between the federal government and private-sector critical infrastructure operators.
• Provide funding for scholarships to get more people into the field of cyber-security.