The New York Times reported this week that Chinese hackers were said to have broken into U.S. government computer networks that contain the personal information of federal employees.
American officials confirmed, the Times says, that hackers accessed the Office of Personnel Management system in March. Although the officials did not specify how long the hackers had access to the network, it appears they were after the files of tens of thousands of employees who had previously applied for top-secret security clearance. There is also no clear information about how deep the hackers were able to dig into the system.
The Department of Homeland Security responded to questions concerning the access. It reported that neither Homeland Security nor Personnel Management offices know of any loss of personally identifiable information. Federal authorities were reportedly able to block the hackers' access to the system once they realized the hackers' presence.
The Times noted that this attack is significant because it is a rare success among many attempts. Hackers reportedly try to access American government networks nearly every day, but they rarely get in. The last publicly-announced success occurred last year at the Department of Energy, and in that case, the hackers were able to steal personally identifying information.
This attack is also significant because officials have traced it back to China. Officials have made indictments against Chinese hackers in the past, but it is the opinion of the Times that Chinese citizens will have little chance of witnessing U.S. court proceedings because enforcement of the indictments is not severe. A senior intelligence official is quoted as saying recently that "there's no price to pay for the Chinese, and nothing will change until that changes."
Government officials have not identified any Chinese military or citizens as responsible for this recent attack, but military has been cited in previous attacks on both American and European space and satellite technology companies, the Times says. It identifies a Chinese military unit known as Unit 61486 that has not scaled down its efforts even after its counterparts in a separate military unit were indicted for cybercrimes.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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