In the US, the political events of January 6, 2021 are headed for the history books. The US Capitol building experienced an extreme breach of physical security. While the rioters ravaged the rooms, could they have planted a cyber security threats?

For example, rioters accessed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. In theory, a person could have installed malware or spyware on Pelosi’s desktop computer. According to Vinny Troia, a former Defense Department cyber security employee, “You’d need a CAC card to install anything on a government network. It’s an actual physical ID card you have to put into the computer.” So it’s unlikely that anyone conducted any harmful electronic activities while in federal offices.

In addition, USB ports connected to federal devices are reportedly disabled. This is a security feature implemented after Edward Snowden exfiltrated data using a USB key.

What about the laptops that were stolen?

Federal information security teams can now erase data on government phones and laptops that get lost or stolen. That being said, it’s unclear as to which senators’ items were stolen from which senators’ offices.

“If there was [cyber] damage, we don’t know the extent of that yet,” says Michael Sherwin, the District of Columbia’s acting US attorney. An inventory of missing items is in progress.

Congress’s cyber security posture: Hackers and spies

Although there is no evidence suggesting that the rioters included skilled hackers or spies, federal cyber security leaders will need to take these possibilities into account while pursuing damage control initiatives around this event. Authorities will need to ensure that no rogue electronic devices, like USB drives, were left behind. Out of an abundance of caution, it may also be necessary to wipe all of the electronic devices in the Capitol buildings.

Chaos as a cover for further disruption?

Experts suggest that foreign and domestic cyber criminals may attempt to hide new attacks beneath the cover of the existing chaos. Chaos is an ideal cover for cyber criminal operations.

How should cyber security leaders respond?

Cyber security leaders must remain vigilant. “For CISOs across the world and around the United States, I’d be exercising my controls right now to increase my effectiveness…because hostile actors are going to go against them, too,” says Jonathan Reiber, former head of strategic cyber security policy in the US Defense Department.

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