House investigates website hackings

The Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) — the House’s technological maintainer and adviser — informed affected members that the Information Systems Security Office is looking into the matter and they should have temporary websites up shortly.

House officials are expected to hold a meeting late Thursday afternoon to look at what course of action the House should take toward the hackings.

The sites were hacked Wednesday night after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, according to the offices of several affected lawmakers.
 

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As of mid-morning Thursday, several websites were down for maintenance, including those of Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.).

It was unclear how many sites had been affected by hackers and how many had been taken down for maintenance as a precaution. 

The CAO is working with GovTrends to get the sites back online. GovTrends oversees the maintenance of about 100 member sites and is one of a few outside technological specialists approved by the CAO.

Hunter's office said they have still to hear from GovTrends as to the extent of the damage to the site and they have been given no indication as to when their site will be back up and running normally.

If GovTrends does not put the affected websites back online within the next several hours, the CAO is planning to insert "placeholders" on to the sites that detail the member office's contact information and which site users are attempting to view, according to CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura.

Users are now greeted with the words, "This site is currently undergoing maintenance. Please check back soon." And no indication is given of whose site they are attempting to access.

Many of the affected lawmakers’ websites have fallen victim to hackers in the past. Last August nearly a dozen websites of members were hacked and defaced due to what their site host, GovTrends, said were uncomplex password configurations. 

Wilson’s site experienced an overwhelming amount of traffic after Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress last year, when the lawmaker’s shout of “You lie!” landed him in the national spotlight. The burst in traffic caused the site to go down overnight, and while it was back up and running the next morning, it was operating on a bare-bones template.
 
GovTrends founder Ab Emam did not immediately return calls requesting comment. But the GovTrends website describes its services for prospective customers as such: “All our services are heavily built on open-source platforms. Open-source is a development method for building powerful Web applications with the promise of better security."

-- This article was updated at 12:24 p.m.