Breach of fuels concerns about House's use of Skype

Security concerns remain over the House’s adoption of the Internet phone service Skype, particularly in light of last weekend’s hacking of the Senate’s computer system.

“There’s a concern about having items broadcast that may be classified in nature,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who was tasked in March with heading a new House technology working group.

House rules have prohibited Skype as a potential threat to the security of the chamber’s networks. But members have been requesting use of the popular video and phone service for more than a year. 

In April 2010, House Republicans sent a letter to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) requesting implementation of Skype.

Several months later, then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) backed the request.

“Some have set up their own Skype networks, but more members are requesting and want to do it through more of the official channels,” said Chaffetz. “The demand is there, but we’ve got to make sure the security’s in place first.”

The House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — Chaffetz is a member of both — are “very concerned” about cybersecurity. 

“It’s not just a House phenomenon, it’s a government problem. It’s very real,” he said. “I’m sure there’s been a lot more incidents than have ever been reported.”

One such widely reported incident was last weekend’s breach of by the hacker group Lulz Security. The group, which has also attacked the websites of the Public Broadcasting Service and Sony, did not gain access to the Senate’s computer network or undermine the network’s security.

They were, however, able to read and determine the directory structure of the files on the Senate’s website, according to Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Martina Bradford.

The attack on a government network is just one more reason to exercise caution in adopting Skype, according to Chaffetz.

“You suddenly put cameras in all these offices, you want to be able to make sure that those can’t be turned on remotely,” he said.

Though no timeframe is currently in place for when House members can expect to use the Internet phone service, the Utah lawmaker assured that, “We’re working on it.”

“We’ve got to allow some of the cybersecurity folks to give us a thumbs up before we take it to the next step,” he added.