US believes China behind cybersecurity breach affecting at least 4M federal employees

June 5, 2015

Hackers based in China are believed to be behind a massive data breach that could have compromised the personal data of at least 4 million current and former federal employees, U.S. officials said late Thursday.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Associated Press that investigators suspect the cyberattack was carried out by the Chinese. She said the breach was "yet another indication of a foreign power probing successfully and focusing on what appears to be data that would identify people with security clearances."

If confirmed, the incident would be the second major breach by Beijing in less than a year. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington called such accusations "not responsible and counterproductive."

"Cyber attack is a global threat which could [sic] only be addressed by international cooperation based on mutual trust and mutual respect," Zhu Haiquan said in a statement late Thursday. "We hope all countries in the world can work constructively together to address cyber security issues, push forward the formulation of international rules and norms in ... cyberspace, in order to build a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyberspace."

On Friday, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry said the allegations were "irresponsible and unscientific." Hong Lei said at a regularly scheduled news briefing that Beijing hoped that the U.S. would be "less suspicious and stop making any unverified allegations, but show more trust and participate more in cooperation."

China routinely dismisses any allegation of its official involvement in cyberattacks on foreign targets, while invariably noting that it is often the target of hacking attacks and calling for greater international cooperation in combating cybercrime.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a statement confirming the breach Thursday, saying that it had concluded at the beginning of May that data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Interior Department had been compromised.

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