WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cyber-invaders thought to be in China have recently hacked into the computer network in U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s office, according to the senator’s office.

Two attacks on the same day this month and another one last month targeted work stations used by three Nelson staffers – a key foreign-policy aide, the deputy legislative director and a former Nelson NASA adviser. But the hackers didn’t make off with any classified information, which isn’t kept on office computers, a Nelson spokesman said.

Nelson is a member of the Senate’s Intelligence, Armed Services and Finance committees; and, he heads a Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA. “I have had my office computers invaded three times in the last month. One of them, we think, is serious,” Nelson acknowledged Thursday, during a Senate Armed Services hearing that touched upon the subject of hackers trying to invade U.S. military computer networks.

Besides the attacks on Nelson’s office, similar incursions on Capitol Hill computer networks are up significantly in the past few months, according to various information systems offices on Capitol Hill. Last year, according to Newsweek, federal authorities showed up at the presidential campaign headquarters of both Barack Obama and John McCain and said information on the computers there was being downloaded by a “foreign entity.”

And the year before, “unknown foreign entities” hacked computers at the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Commerce, as well as NASA, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scholars headquartered in Washington, D.C. that focus their expertise on defense and security.

“The threat to our national security, to be sure, is real; and, it will require significant investment and inter-agency coordination at an unprecedented level to gain an upper hand against would-be cyber criminals and spies,” Nelson said today. “These are anxious days, when you consider the threat from such espionage facing our country and recent developments on this front.”

To combat the rising attacks on some of America’s most sensitive computer networks and to close e-security gaps, Nelson said he’s agreed to work with Sens. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine, in calling for the creation of a permanent national cyber-security czar. More specifically, the lawmakers are crafting legislation that, among other things, would:

  • Establish a permanent national cyber-security czar who would report directly to the president;
  • Require vulnerability assessments by intelligence and Homeland Security officials, reviewing the threat to not only government computers but critical private networks, as well;
  • Create a public-private clearinghouse for cyber threat and vulnerability information-sharing. The clearinghouse would be responsible for the management and sharing of data between the federal government and private sector critical infrastructure operators; and
  • Provide funding for scholarships to get more people into the field of cyber security.