Personnel records of federal employees, numbering in the tens of thousands, who requested top-secret security clearances were the target of hackers from China, The New York Times
It is not known if the intrusion, which took place in March, was ordered by the Chinese government. Beijing has devoted substantial resources to a relentless campaign of breaking into U.S. government computers, the Times reported.
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Only when personal data is compromised are U.S. authorities obliged to acknowledge a penetration, according to the Times.
The files are maintained by the Office of Personnel Management which administers a security clearance system that goes by the name e-QIP. Federal employees must request security clearance through e-QIP and are obligated to routinely update the website about changes in their professional, private and financial circumstances.
The intruders were detected and blocked from the system though it isn't known if any data were compromised. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the attack took place and that an emergency response team had been assigned to assess the extent of the breach, according to the Times.
The revelation comes as Secretary of State John Kerry
is in Beijing for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the two countries.
In May, the Justice Department indicted a cohort of People's Liberation Army Unit 61398 members who gained unauthorized access to U.S. corporate data and disseminated their pictures on wanted posters. Another Shanghai-based military outfit, identified as Unit 61486, also engages in cyberattacks against the United States.
U.S. intelligence analysts say there is no incentive for the Chinese to halt their hacking. Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence during the first Obama administration, co-wrote a report outlining economic disincentives that could discourage Chinese hacking, the Times reported.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency penetrated computer systems designed by the Chinese technology firm Huawei, with the aim of intercepting conversations of high ranking political and military leaders in China.
Beijing authorities dismissed the hacker indictments and protested by calling off meetings on cyberspace planned for the present round of U.S.-China talks, CCTV reported
quoting the official Xinhua news agency.
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