WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress are vulnerable to hacking, and lawmakers fear they could be next on the Russian target list.
Congressional offices are increasingly aware of cyber threats and are upgrading security, said Meg King, who teaches Capitol Hill staffers about cybersecurity.
"A lot of people say, 'It's not the if, it's the when,'" said King, a digital security expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.
The Government Accountability Office reports that information security "incidents" affecting federal government computer systems are on the rise. The number skyrocketed from 5,503 in 2006 to 77,183 last year.
There are constant attempts to penetrate congressional offices. "We're hacked here every day," said Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "The adversaries are real," he said.
The concern was raised in Tuesday's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, when Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, brought up the possibility that Russia would use cyber intrusions to discredit U.S. politicians.
"They don't limit this to elections," Rubio said. "They target individual policy makers throughout many countries in Europe, particularly those in the former Soviet sphere ... . And isn't it true that that could very well happen here in the United States?"
Rubio went on to describe what he called a hypothetical scenario in which the Kremlin uses hackers to target a U.S. politician and frame him for a crime.
"Imagine there's a U.S. senator or congressman who adopts a policy position that the Kremlin does not agree with," Rubio said. "Somehow through a phishing expedition they gain access to your personal computer network. And once they gain access to your personal computer network, they use it to fabricate and/or actually conduct ... child pornography ... (or) let's say money laundering activity. And then they call law enforcement and tip them off."
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed that elected officials have to be concerned about being hacked by foreign intelligence services.