A king’s ransom: US House blocks Google cloud apps over ransomware fears

Kevin McCarthy © Jim Bourg
The US House of Representatives is about to get a little quieter. Ransomware infiltration concerns prompted the congressional chamber to be blocked from using software applications hosted on a Google cloud service.

Talk to your Congressman” is common advice those looking to make change. However, that congressman may become more difficult to reach, because Yahoo Mail, Gmail and other apps have been prohibited from the House, according to Reuters. 

The apps were banned after the FBI found potential security vulnerability in Google’s developer platform. As a result, devices using the House’s WiFi or Ethernet cable have been blocked from accessing the apps.

We began blocking appspot.com on May 3 in response to indicators that appspot.com was potentially still hosting a remote access trojan named BLT that has been there since June 2015,” an anonymous staffer told Reuters.

The FBI warned private industry of the BLT trojan back in June and sent out a caution to staffers before blocking appspot.com. On April 30, lawmakers and staffers were informed of an increase in phishing attacks and ransomware attacks from third party applications like Yahoo Mail and Gmail.

An email sent to all House staff was obtained by Gizmodo and reads, “In the past 48 hours, the House Information Security Office has seen an increase of attacks on the House Network using third party, web-based mail applications such as YahooMail, Gmail, etc.” adding, “we will be blocking access to YahooMail on the House Network until further notice.

Ransomware attacks are a recent trend stymieing digital security experts. When a file containing ransomware is opened, the attacker can access a user’s computer and encrypt important files until a ransom is paid.

Reuters reported that two people have been victimized with ransomware attacks but were able to recover their files without paying a ransom. However, Gizmodo was told that one successful attack resulted in the House’s IT team remotely shutting down the computer. The staffer eventually reformatted their computer.

Although neither Google nor the FBI has given any comments about the issue, a spokesperson for Yahoo told Reuters that they are working with the House to resolve the matter.