Chinese hackers have penetrated the White House computer network on multiple occasions, and obtained e-mails between government officials, a senior U.S. official told the Financial Times.
On each occasion, the cyber attackers accessed the White House computer system for brief periods, allowing them enough time to steal information before U.S. computer experts patched the system.
U.S. government cyber intelligence experts suspect the attacks were sponsored by the Chinese government because of their targeted nature. On the other hand, it's extremely difficult to trace the exact source of an attack beyond a server in a particular country, so the motive remains unclear.
I don't think this is the kind of diplomacy we were hoping for, was it?
The Financial Times reports:
The official said the Chinese cyber attacks had the hallmarks of the "grain of sands" approach taken by Chinese intelligence, which involves obtaining and pouring through lots of - often low-level - information to find a few nuggets.
Some US defence companies have privately warned about attacks on their systems, which they believe are attempts to learn about future weapons systems.
The National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, a new unit established in 2007 to tackle cyber security, detected the attacks on the White House. But the official stressed that the hackers had only accessed the unclassified computer network, not the more secure classified network.
"For a short period of time, they successfully breach a wall, and then you rebuild the wall ... it is not as if they have continued access," said the official. "It is constant cat and mouse."
Dana Perino, White House press secretary, declined to comment. The Chinese embassy also did not comment, but in the past China has called similar allegations reflective of "Cold-War thinking."