China-US Cyber War Update: Chinese Hackers Had Access to US Security Clearance Database

Chinese hackers have kept the World Wide Web busy with as the news of their cyber onslaught of US government systems revealed over the weekend. Over the five years, US intelligence agencies were tracking multiple groups of Chinese hackers who were extracting information from various US segments including energy plants, defense contractors, and electronics manufacturers. However, US agencies have lost track of some Chinese hackers over the one year as they shifted their target to US government systems and hit the Office of Personnel Management. And how they cracked and burrowed deep into those systems is recently discovered as New York Times released a spine chilling update. NYT’s findings revealed that Chinese hackers not only attempted to hook in top the database, but they actually had access and inside help into the database.

NYT said:

“Undetected for nearly a year, the Chinese intruders executed a sophisticated attack that gave them “administrator privileges” into the computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management, mimicking the credentials of people who run the agency’s systems, two senior administration officials said. The hackers began siphoning out a rush of data after constructing what amounted to an electronic pipeline that led back to China, investigators told Congress last week in classified briefings.

Much of the personnel data had been stored in the lightly protected systems of the Department of the Interior, because it had cheap, available space for digital data storage. The hackers’ ultimate target: the one million or so federal employees and contractors who have filled out a form known as SF-86, which is stored in a different computer bank and details personal, financial and medical histories for anyone seeking a security clearance.

“This was classic espionage, just on a scale we’ve never seen before from a traditional adversary,” one senior administration official said. “And it’s not a satisfactory answer to say, ‘We found it and stopped it,’ when we should have seen it coming years ago.”

Once hackers got administrators’ privileged access, the risks of secondary penetration cannot be avoidable. They can now access any other computer system which is connected to OPM data. US administration is trying to comprehend which other sectors are the next target of Chinese hackers. Times magazine has claimed that “lax security at the Internal Revenue Service, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Energy Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission — and the Department of Homeland Security, which has responsibility for securing the nation’s critical networks.”

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