Who Hacked The Federal Workers' Data? Officials Say There's A Specific Country Behind The Cyberattack

The personal information of 4 million current and former federal workers were stolen in a massive data breach on Thursday, and many reports allege that state-sponsored hackers from China are behind the cyber attack against the Office of Personnel Management. Senator Susan Collins, who serves on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, told the Associated Press that hackers believed to be based in China were allegedly focusing on data that would identify people with security clearances. A Chinese Embassy spokesperson told Reuters that jumping to conclusions and making accusations was "not responsible, and counterproductive."

According to its website, OPM conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations. A U.S. official on the condition of anonymity told Bloomberg News that the hackers, who are believed to have links to the Chinese government, got into OPM's systems in September. The Department of Homeland Security's threat detection system, called Einstein, didn't detect the threat until April. As Federal Computer Week has reported, Einstein, which is the federal government's main cyber threat detection for federal agencies, faces a number of regulatory hurdles that prevent it from doing its work effectively. DHS needs individual permission from each agency to deploy Einstein on the agency's network.

An anonymous intelligence official told Bloomberg that the hack was a part of a larger effort by the Chinese government to get healthcare records and other personal information on U.S. government employees. A previous major cyber attack by Chinese hackers against one of the largest U.S. hospital providers, Community Health Systems, Inc., also happened in September, according to Reuters. In that case, the hackers were able to retrieve the personal identifying information of roughly 4.5 million patients, the largest theft of its kind since the Department of Health and Human Services began tracking such incidents in 2009.

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Why healthcare records? Reuters reported that according to some security officials, a person's medical records is worth more money on the black market than their credit card number. According to Reuters, criminals use this information to create fake ID's or drugs that can be resold.

According to The Washington Post, the information the hackers gained access to included employee social security numbers, job assignments, performance ratings, and training information. Bloomberg reported that the information could be used to target individuals with financial or marital problems that are vulnerable to blackmail, bribery, or entrapment.

If the allegations prove to be correct, this isn't the first time OPM has been targeted by Chinese hackers. Thursday's incident would be a part of a larger attempt by the Chinese government to intercept U.S. intelligence, from both the public and private sector. OPM was alerted to another breach of its systems in March 2014, according to The New York Times. Unlike Thursday's incident, no personal records were stolen in the first attempt.

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