Chinese hackers infiltrate US government network

Chinese hackers infiltrate US government network

Summary: Hackers have reportedly broken into US government systems that store personal data on federal employees.

SHARE:
glowing-keyboard-hacker-security-620x465

Chinese hackers accessed US government systems earlier this year in order to target the files of federal employees who have applied for top-level security clearances.

According to the New York Times, senior American officials said hackers gained access to the system in March before the infiltration was detected and blocked.

The hackers appeared to be targeting files "on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances," and data including employment records, personal information — such as drug use — and the foreign contacts of security applicants may have been placed at risk.

The publication says it is not obvious how far the hackers were able to penetrate the networks of the US Office of Personnel Management.

The Times says an unnamed senior official claimed the recent attack was traced back to China, although it wasn't clear if the attack was state-sponsored. A spokesperson said that monitoring systems "alerted us to a potential intrusion of our network in mid-March."

Relations between China and the United States have been strained of late due to constant accusations that each side is launching cyberattacks — or using the idea as a propaganda tool — in order to harm the other.

China has pointed to documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as a source of the US's surveillance and network infiltration, and the US in turn recently charged five Chinese men as "military hackers" for breaking into US corporate systems and stealing sensitive data.

This week, security researchers at CrowdStrike said one of the most prolific Chinese hacking groups, dubbed Deep Panda, has targeted "several" US think tanks over the past several months. In three years of campaigns, the "advanced Chinese nation-state cyber intrusion group" has targeted US defense, finance, legal and government arenas, and is now shifting to the theft of data concerning security and governmental policy related to Iraq and the Middle East.

The Chinese foreign ministry hit back at the claims, stating that "China opposes and severely cracks down on all forms of cyber-hacking."

In February last year, US officials confirmed that hackers managed to infiltrate the Department of Energy's networks. Personal data related to employees may have been affected, but US officials maintained "no classified data was compromised."

However, the breach in March was left unannounced, although US officials have encouraged businesses to share data related to breaches with each other and the government itself. Caitlin Hayden, an Obama administration spokeswoman told the publication:

The administration has never advocated that all intrusions be made public. We have advocated that businesses that have suffered an intrusion notify customers if the intruder had access to consumers’ personal information. We have also advocated that companies and agencies voluntarily share information about intrusions.

Topics: China, Government US, Security

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

10 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • We probably need to give up the illusion...

    ...that less than friendly governments are not going to spy on the US (and Communist China is not and has never been a friend of the US; merely an occasional partner when dictated by common interest). There was no end to spying incidents involving the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but they were expected and their exposure was never allowed to damage relations; instead, we protected our secrets as best we could and expected the Soviets to do the same. Our attitude toward China should be the same: they spy on us, we spy on them; and both try to thwart the other while keeping the communication channels open and avoiding rash actions.
    John L. Ries
    • Accordingly...

      ...the moralistic rhetoric needs to be abandoned.
      John L. Ries
      • The protestations are defensive, don't you think?

        I believe the US government feels the need to announce these intrusions and protest their occurrence to help soften the revelations of their own intrusion programs.

        Beyond that, I don't believe that US citizens are as actively siphoning bank accounts and credit cards of foreign citizens as former Soviet Bloc and Chinese hackers are. For those types of incidents, I see no problem with the US calling these situations out.
        ejhonda
        • Perhaps

          But I don't normally impugn people's motives unless they're a bit more obvious.
          John L. Ries
  • Spying

    We have always spied on our nations friends as well as enemies. It is called "Intelligence." I speak from personal experience.
    boomchuck1
    • However...

      ...I have serious doubts as to the utility of spying on allied governments and their citizens, as it tends to damage the relationship if one is caught, and I'm guessing that the probability of finding intelligence useful enough to be worth the risk is low.
      John L. Ries
  • It's like stealing the master codes

    Knowing who knows the secrets is like painting a bull's-eye on all those personnel. The enemy now knows who to threaten, blackmail, or seduce to get the keys to the kingdom.
    technojoe
    • Not much help for that...

      ...unless you're going to require people to conceal what they do for a living; this is not really feasible in an open society (and we really do want an open society).

      Spies usually don't have much trouble determining who to contact (that's been true throughout human history); the trick in keeping secrets is to give those with whom you share them as little reason to disclose them and as much reason not to as is practicable.
      John L. Ries
      • The other trick is...

        ...not telling secrets to those who don't need to know them.
        John L. Ries
  • The "old" convenience vs. security issue

    If "public access" were never granted to sensitive files for convenience of the workers, there would never be a security breach possible.
    Q.E.D.
    Willnott