United States government officials revealed on July 9 that hackers gained access to databases that stored information on tens of thousands of government employees in March. While the extent of the intrusion is not yet known, officials say that the attacks sought to collect information about government employees who had applied for top-secret security clearance, and marks the latest in a string of high profile cyber espionage events with connections to China.
In March of this year, hackers gained access to a multiple databases maintained by the Office of Personnel Management. Authorities were eventually able to detect and block the breach, but have not revealed the volume of information compromised by the attack.
The New York Times reports that in response to questions about the attack, a senior Department of Homeland Security official confirmed that it had occurred, but that the department had not yet “identified any loss of personally identifiable information.” Another official stated that the attack originated from China, however it is unknown whether the breach was executed by private or government agents. The Times called the event notable, saying that while hackers frequently attempt to gain access to secure systems, they rarely succeed in doing so.
Earlier this year, five Chinese hackers were indicted by the Department of Justice for their part in the theft of infrastructural secrets from U.S. centers of industry. The group, which had ties to the Chinese government but may have been acting independently, shows the graying of boundaries between agent of the state and rouge units in perpetrating attacks. This trend is increasingly common, and could theoretically generate a new threat as government trained individuals become guns-for-hire in cyber espionage attacks.
While the U.S. has been vocal in its admonishment of Chinese cyber-espionage, it too has allegedly been responsible for breaches against international targets. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden, say that the National Security Agency compromised the networks of China based computer manufacture Huawei, in an attempt to capture conversation the company conducted with Chinese officials.