White House jabs Congress: 'Come out of the Dark Ages'

White House jabs Congress: 'Come out of the Dark Ages'
© Getty Images

Congress needs to "come out of the Dark Ages" and take action to protect the country from cyberattacks, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday.

Earnest defended President Obama’s actions on cybersecurity in the wake of a major data breach revealed this week that compromised the personal information of up to 4 million current and former federal employees. He noted that the White House submitted three pieces of cybersecurity legislation to Congress in January.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We need not just improved efforts on the part of the federal government, but improved coordination with the private sector on these matters, and that effort to coordinate requires congressional action,” Earnest said.

“The fact is, we need the United States Congress to come out of the Dark Ages and come into the 21st century to make sure we have the kinds of defenses that are necessary to protect a modern computer system.”

Corey Fritz, a spokesman for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFreedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE (R-Ohio), fired back at the White House, noting that the House passed two cybersecurity bills back in April to address public-private data sharing with broad bipartisan support.

"Where is the leadership? The federal government has just been hit by one of the largest thefts of sensitive data in history, and this White House is trying blame anyone but itself. It’s absolutely disgusting," he said.

The White House cautiously endorsed the House bills, but companion legislation in the Senate has so far stalled.

Earnest declined on Wednesday to confirm reports in The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal that Chinese hackers were responsible for the latest cyberattack, cautioning that the FBI is still investigating the incident.

“No conclusions about the attribution of this particular attack have been reached at this point,” he said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to get to the bottom of these incidents.”

Earnest said that the administration might not publicly name the culprit even, after they are discovered.

“Even if a conclusion is reached about who is responsible, I cant guarantee necessarily that our law enforcement professionals will assess that making that information public is in the best interest of their investigation,” he said.

Investigators are still trying to figure out the motivation of the hackers, including whether they were acting alone or supporting a foreign government, Earnest said.

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday announced it discovered the hack, but the notification lacked specific details further than the number of employees potentially impacted. The Washington Post reported hackers infiltrated the network in December, and the OPM discovered it in April.

The government uses a system nicknamed EINSTEIN to detect intrusions, and Earnest said the government has moved up the timeline to implement a new version of the system from 2018 to this year. He said the move was unrelated to the recent hack.

— This story was updated at 2:51 p.m.