The Obama administration should retaliate for a cyber-attack on federal employee records that was the worst breach the U.S. government has ever suffered, members of Congress said on Sunday.
“There has to be a price to pay for this,” Representative Peter King, a New York Republican on both the intelligence and Homeland Security committees, said on the “Fox News Sunday” program.
U.S. officials suspect that the Chinese government was behind the theft of records maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human-resources department. Hackers stole data on as many as 4 million current and former federal employees before the attack was discovered in April, the government said on Thursday.
“This is the most significant breach of federal networks in U.S. history,” Representative Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Hackers aimed to gather personal information on political appointees and federal employees in order to recruit spies or “compromise individuals” for espionage purposes, McCaul said. King said that the Obama administration should determine appropriate timing and methods to retaliate, and should keep its plans secret.
“These countries or these terrorist groups should know there will be consequences when they act this way,” King said.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, said the administration must determine “when we’re going to go on offense.”
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Sunday that the identity and motives of the hackers are subjects of an ongoing FBI investigation. He would not confirm that China is suspected of culpability.
“The FBI has been looking at this for some time,” Earnest said at a news conference from the G-7 summit in Germany. “They obviously have experts who have already learned important information about the intrusion.”
None of the lawmakers confirmed that the Chinese government was behind the breach. McCaul came closest, saying that “all the threat indicators point to the fact that it is China, and perhaps nation-state sponsored because of the way it was done,” the Texas Republican said.
“We’ve gotten very good at attribution,” or figuring out the source of cyber attacks, Schiff said.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Zhu Haiquan, on Friday said that the country’s laws prohibit cybercrime. “Jumping to conclusions and making hypothetical accusations is not responsible and counterproductive,” he said in an e-mail.
Both Schiff and King called for stepped-up actions to protect U.S. computer systems. “More has to be done,” King said.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican presidential candidate, said Congress should increase funding for cybersecurity.
“People in the intelligence committee are more worried about this than anything else,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday, warning that a cyber-attack could disrupt U.S. financial systems.
The government should encourage companies to enhance their defenses, Graham said.
“Incentivize the private sector to harden their infrastructure against the cyber-attack,” he said. “Give them liability protections if they do.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security are investigating the breach, according to a statement from the Office of Personnel Management.
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