China building ‘database’ on Americans: Report

7 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Big US data breaches offer treasure trove for hackers.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks about the cyberattack affecting 4 million federal workers Friday, June 5, 2015. WASHINGTON: A massive breach of US federal computer networks disclosed this week is the latest in a flood of attacks by suspected Chinese hackers aimed at grabbing personal data, industrial secrets and weapons plans from government and private computers. The breach was an embarrassment for the government’s computer-defense system, which is supposed to detect unusual Internet traffic that might reflect hacking attempts or stolen data being transmitted outside the government. (The Associated Press ) WASHINGTON — An immense hack of millions of government personnel files is being treated as the work of foreign spies who could use the information to fake their way into more-secure computers and plunder U.S. secrets.

The Obama administration on Thursday disclosed the breach of computer systems at the Office of Personnel Management and said the records of up to 4 million current and former federal employees may have been compromised. Federal employees were told in a video Friday to change all their passwords, put fraud alerts on their credit reports and watch for attempts by foreign intelligence services to exploit them. US officials have said on condition of anonymity they believe the hackers are based in China, but Washington has not publicly blamed Beijing at a time when tensions are high over Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The first breach has been linked to earlier thefts of personal data from millions of records at Anthem Inc, the second largest US health insurer, an attack also blamed on Chinese hackers, and Premera Blue Cross, a health care services provider. “It’s a different form of Cold War at this point,” said Rob Eggebrecht, co-founder and chief executive of Denver-based InteliSecure, a private cybersecurity firm. He added, though that it had “all the hallmarks of a nation-state attack.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he couldn’t divulge much while the case was under investigation. Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a cyber conference at West Point military academy last month that US adversaries like China and Russia were rapidly increasing their assaults on military networks. “We’re hemorrhaging information at a dizzying rate, evidenced by the uncanny similarity of some of our potential adversaries’ new platforms to those we’ve been developing,” said Winnefeld, one of a growing number of US officials who argue for striking back at attackers to create more of a deterrent. China has in recent years introduced two new stealth fighters that analysts say bear a striking resemblance to the F-22 and F-35 built by Lockheed Martin Corp. Lockheed redoubled security efforts focused on suppliers after a “significant and tenacious” attack on its computer networks in 2011 that was enabled by lax security at a supplier.

Although most Americans think of identity thieves stealing from credit card or bank accounts, the information about civilian federal workers has other value for spies. “They’re able to identify people who are in positions with access to significant national security information and can use personal data to target those individuals,” said Payne, the counterintelligence official. Federal employees who think they’re opening an email from co-workers or family members might infect their computers with a program that would steal more information or install spy software. Kevin Mitnick, a former hacker who now runs Mitnick Security Consulting of Las Vegas, called confidential details about federal employees “a gold mine.” The hackers may have made off with even more information about workers who undergo security clearance background checks. John Hultquist, head of cyberespionage intelligence at iSight, said the Dallas-based security firm had found evidence linking the insurance and government attacks, but declined to say whom they suspect. “We think they are creating a database they can leverage for follow-on espionage,” Hultquist said.

A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence declined to discuss whether there was evidence against China or whether intelligence agency employees were among those whose information was compromised. The Homeland Security Department noted that the Einstein defenses were just one part of the government’s cybersecurity, and said it was used to confirm the breach. But that’s like a smoke alarm sounding after the house burned down. “It didn’t fare so well,” said James Lewis, a leading cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. “It’s only a victory if you defeat the opponent, and we didn’t.”

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