For years Chinese hackers have been targeting high profile government targets like the Pentagon, but it appears they’ve turned to more obscure federal agencies. In March law enforcement and cybersecurity analysts detected intrusions on the computer networks of the Government Printing Office and the Government Accountability Office.
Both offices said in statements that the hackers had not been able to get their hands on any personal identification information. However, the accountability office said it had been forced to remove several servers that had been infected in the attacks and that it had taken additional steps to strengthen security.
The printing office catalogs and publishes information for the White House, Congress and many other federal departments and agencies. This department is also responsible for printing passports for the State Department. The accountability office, known as the congressional watchdog, investigates federal spending and the effectiveness of government programs.
The attacks happened around the same time that Chinese hackers breached the networks of the Office of Personnel Management, which keeps the personal information of all federal employees and more detailed information on employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances.
It isn’t clear whether the hackers were operating on behalf of the Chinese government but the sophisticated nature of the attacks some American officials believe that the government, which often conducts cyberattacks through the military or proxies, played a role.
Shawn Henry is an executive at the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike and a former top FBI cybersecurity official. Based on the information that was being seeked, Henry said the attacks were “indicative of a state-run intelligence agency” because that is one of the few groups that would want such information.
Government networks are attacked almost every day, but the intruders are rarely successful. The breaches in March were significant enough that FBI agents in Washington DC have opened an investigation into the attacks, which the agents say they believe are connected.
In May the Justice Department unsealed an indictment that charged five hackers who worked for the People’s Liberation Army with stealing corporate secrets in an attempt to deter the Chinese from attacks on American corporations. The Chinese have countered by saying that the Obama administration was hypocritical, citing disclosures from Edward Snowden.