US government network hacked by Chinese cyber criminals

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US government network hacked by Chinese cyber criminals

Warwick Ashford

Chinese hackers broke into the computer network of the US government agency that stores personal information on all federal employees, US official have revealed.

The hackers appeared to be targeting files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances, according to the New York Times (NYT).

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A senior US official said the attack had been traced to China, but it was not clear if the hackers were part of the government.

Although US officials said federal authorities had detected and blocked the intruders, it remains unclear how far they penetrated the network of the Office of Personnel Management.

But a senior Department of Homeland Security official said that so far there was no evidence that any personally identifiable information had been accessed.

The intrusion took place in March, two months before the US charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into five US companies and a labour union to steal trade secrets.

Those charged are members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Shanghai-based Unit 61398, which was identified as a dedicated and prolific hacking unit by US security firm Mandiant in 2013.

The charges are believed to be the first to be made by the US against state actors for infiltrating commercial targets by cyber means.

China responded to the allegations by suspending co-operation with the US on an internet working group and made counter claims that the US hacked into Chinese systems using phishing attacks.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the allegations were "made up" and would "damage Sino-American co-operation and mutual trust".

But this week, China and the US began annual talks in Beijing, called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The talks are expected to include discussions on cyber security.

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