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Websites Of Senate, House Under Attack

Websites Of Senate, House Under Attack
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

The websites of the House of Representatives and the Senate are apparently under cyber attack.

The lower chamber voluntarily took down its web portal on Tuesday, Oct. 17, after “suspicious and unusual activities” were detected, according to House secretary general Reginald Velasco.

He said the move is a “precautionary measure to double-check and reinforce the cybersecurity measures,” ensuring that “vulnerabilities” have been addressed.

“We regret to inform the public that the official website of the House of Representatives has been voluntarily taken offline once again. Despite our security enhancements, we have detected suspicious and unusual activities that necessitate further scrutiny,” he said.

Velasco added that their primary concern is to “guarantee the safety, integrity and reliability of our digital platform for the citizens we serve.”

“We understand the inconvenience this might cause and we ask for public understanding as we work diligently to address these concerns,” he said.

Velasco said the House’s commitment to “transparency and open communication remains unwavering. We will provide updates as soon as we have more information.”

The House website was taken down before 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

Arnold de Castro, head of the House IT team, said mitigation has been done on the original port penetrated by the hackers.

“While we were doing re-scanning, there were other backdoors that hackers were exploiting to get into the system,” De Castro said.

“We opted to take it down until we harden the system with securities. Hopefully, if we can do this within the day, we can restore the website later (Tuesday night),” he added.

De Castro said the House website registered a high number of “visitors” during the period that it was open, but “it does not necessarily mean that they are hackers.”

The URL congress.gov.ph received the following message on its homepage on Sunday, Oct. 15: “YOU’VE BEEN HACKED. YOU’VE BEEN HACKED. HAVE A NICE DAY.”

It was accompanied by a caricature of a laughing man and the message “HAPPY APRIL FULLZ KAHIT OCTOBER PALANG! HACKED BY 3MUSKETEERZ 15-October-2023 || 11:31:24 AM.”

‘Spike of cyber attacks’

The Senate website received a “spike of attacks” on the same day the House of Representatives’ web portal was defaced by hackers, Senate Secretary Renato Bantug Jr. confirmed on Tuesday.

“As soon as we learned of the (House of Representatives) website hacking, our team went on alert and continuous monitoring. May perimeter and application firewall naman ang Senate but our tech team also made adjustments,” Bantug said.

“Per our IT, we recorded a spike in attacks last Sunday,” he added.

Asked by reporters if there were attempts to hack the Senate website in the past, Bantug said “in this age, hacking attempts are usual. It really just spiked on Sunday.”

Mario Antonio Sulit, director of the Senate Electronic Data Processing-Management Information System, said the hacking attempts were traced to the United States, Germany, Vietnam and some from the Philippines.

The hackers may not be from those countries and were merely using virtual private network or mirroring, according to Sulit.

Probe sought

Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the series of cyber attacks on the websites of government offices.

Hackers recently attacked the websites of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Philippine Statistics Authority and Department of Science and Technology.

Cyber hackers uploaded PhilHealth data on the dark web and demanded $300,000 or P17 million.

“The breach of personal information kept by government agencies endangers the safety and security of the people, leaving us even more vulnerable to increasingly nefarious schemes involving text message spams, online scams, phishing, financial fraud, extortion, blackmail and identity theft,” Hontiveros said.

She said the police Anti-Cybercrime Group recorded 16,297 cybercrime cases in the first quarter of 2023 alone.

“It also calls into question the sufficiency of cybersecurity measures of government agencies handling information vital to national security. There is a need to assess the capacity of the government to secure critical strategic infrastructure from cyberattacks and other potential threats,” Hontiveros added.

She said the government has an “inherent obligation” to ensure that personal information and communications systems in the private sector are secured and protected as provided under Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Law.

Leads

Authorities are pursuing leads to identify the hackers or group responsible for the cybersecurity attacks on government websites, according to officials of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Lawyer Renato Paraiso, DICT spokesman and assistant secretary for legal affairs, said an analysis of the defacement posted on the House website indicated the involvement of local hackers.

Paraiso said the DICT was also aware of a hacker with a handle or online name “DiabloX,” said to be claiming responsibility for the hacking of the House website.

During Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate committee on science and technology chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, a DICT official said the hackings appeared to be organized.

DICT Undersecretary Jeffrey Ian Dee confirmed that other government agencies were attacked by hackers, but did not identify the government offices.

Dee requested for an executive session, considering the sensitivity of the information.

“We are pursuing some leads. What I can say right now after the Medusa ransomware attack is that other government agencies were also victimized. These are professional groups. If we are talking about the recent spate of hackings after PhilHealth, we believe them to be local hackers and not just a coincidence,” Dee noted.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian expressed belief that the hacking incidents were organized. – With Rainier Allan Ronda