Computer Hackers Clog Capitol Hill E-Mail

Computer Hackers Clog Capitol Hill E-Mail

c.1997 Hearst Newspapers

ASHINGTON -- Unknown hackers have sent hundreds of electronic-mail messages
to federal lawmakers in recent days, in an apparent attempt to clog up
Capitol Hill computer systems.

The e-mails, which arrived with forged return addresses, warned: ``All
files on the Senate's computers will be deleted by our gang of cyberpunks
dedicated to the eradication of your systems.''

Responding to the threat, the Computer Crime Squad in the New York office
of the FBI has launched an investigation.

``An investigation is underway,'' said Jim Margolin, a special agent with
the FBI, adding that the agency received complaints about nuisance e-mails
bombarding electronic mailboxes on both sides of Capitol Hill.

White House officials wouldn't say whether they've been targeted by the
hackers, but spokeswoman April Mellody said the White House has taken
``appropriate precautions'' and has an electronic ``firewall'' to ensure
that no one can tamper with its computer system.

One repicient o& tIese nuisance e-mails, Sen. Barbara Boxer, got 200 of
them over Presidents' Day weekend and Tuesday.

The messages were copied to virtually every other U.S. senator, said David
Sandretti, a spokesman for the California Democrat.

``It's a nuisance,'' Sandretti said. ``What we're most concerned with is
that folks are getting their e-mail addresses hijacked.''

Sandretti said the office has set up a filter to screen out the unwanted

``We want take every precaution and not clutter people's e-mail with
unsolicited responses,'' he said.

Virtually all of the electronic missives that landed in Boxer's electronic
mailbox had forged return addresses, Sandretti said.

That gummed up the system a bit because the e-mails triggered electronic
responses from Boxer's office to the fake return addresses.

``We're not into spamming,'' Sandretti said.

After the electronic messages bombarded lawmakers' offices, the Senate's
Sergeant of Arms sent all members a letter about the problem Tuesday.

``What we've done is send a security procedure out indicating that these
messages are coming through,'' said a staff member of the Rules and
Administration Committee, which deals with Senate operations including
computer systems.

``The problem is, it's a threat, you have to beware. We're monitoring it.
Right now it looks like it's someone just trying to disruptive.''

The staffer said computer hacks may have rigged a system that automatically
fires off the messages.

``I'm not sure what the objective is,'' the staffer said. ``There are no
indications that anyone is upset about any issue and this doesn't seem to
be connected to any particular cause.''

NYT-02-20-97 1326EST