American officials suspect Chinese hackers of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing identifying information of at least 4 million federal workers, said
The US Department of Homeland Security in a statement on Thursday, June 4, 2014, said that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been compromised:
“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” the statement said.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican said the hackers were believed to be based in China
Ms. Collins, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said the breach was “yet another indication of a foreign power probing successfully and focusing on what appears to be data that would identify people with security clearances.”
However the Chinese Embassy in Washington called such accusations “not responsible and counter productive.”
“Cyberattacks conducted across countries are hard to track and therefore the source of attacks is difficult to identify,” spokesman Zhu Haiquan said on Thursday . He added that hacking can “only be addressed by international cooperation based on mutual trust and mutual respect.”
The data breach, according to experts, could potentially affect every federal agency.
“This is an attack against the nation,” said Ken Ammon, chief strategy officer of Xceedium, The information stolen could be used to impersonate or blackmail federal employees with access to sensitive information, he said.
The Office of Personnel Management is the human resources department for the federal government, and it conducts background checks for security clearances. The OPM conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, according to its website.
Cyber-security experts also noted that the OPM was targeted a year ago in a cyber-attack that was suspected of originating in China. In that case, authorities reported no personal information was stolen.
One expert said it’s possible that hackers could use information from government personnel files for financial gains.