Gatecrashers Potentially Exploited Data of US Government Officials' Chinese Contacts
Gatecrashers and Spies Jeopardize Government Systems
Washington — Investigators revealed that Chinese hackers who breached massive U.S. government databases, which was one of the largest hacks in history, may have gained access to the names of the Chinese relatives, friends, and frequent contacts of U.S. government officials, including diplomats. Beijing could use this information for extortion and retaliation.
Deep insight investigations have exposed a growing statistic of Chinese espionage into U.S. systems and government facilities.
Microsoft announced that a breach of government data came after hackers stole data from a Microsoft engineer, media reports stated on September 7.
The hackers, called “gatecrashers” snuck onto sensitive U.S. military bases at Fort Wainwright, missile ranges in New Mexico, and the NASA Kennedy Space Center, The Wall Street Journal reported.
For decades federal employees responsible for handling national security information have been required to list some or all (depending on the agency) of their foreign contacts in order to obtain high-level clearance for accessing classified information. An example of this was detailed in former President Bill Clinton's executive order on August 4, 1995.
Investigators have stated that the hackers obtained a significant number of these lists, and they are currently working to determine the extent of the leaked information among the millions of names.
Intelligence officials briefed members of Congress at a recent classified briefing, highlighting that this appears to be a systemic effort by China to establish a database for understanding the inner workings of the U.S. government.
The information compromised includes the contacts of U.S. diplomats, White House officials, nuclear experts, and trade negotiators, among others, scattered across the world.
"They are getting this data from their own databases, like how the National Security Agency (NSA) gets phone data from its own database," James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, explained to media.
"This allows China to exploit those individuals who are listed as foreign contacts. If you're Chinese and you're not reporting your contact with an American, you may find yourself under pressure,” Lewis explained.
This latest breach comes as a further blow to the U.S. government's cybersecurity efforts, which have been under scrutiny after multiple high-profile attacks in recent years.
Last year, it was revealed that hackers connected to the Chinese government had stolen the personal information of around 22 million federal employees and contractors from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) database, in the historic breach of the organization in 2015.
While the Chinese government has denied any involvement in cyber espionage activities, U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have repeatedly pointed to China as one of the primary threats in this realm.
The Chinese government has been accused of hacking into various U.S. organizations in order to steal intellectual property and gain a competitive advantage in technology and defense industries.
The ongoing investigation into the extent of this breach and the potential consequences for the targeted individuals is of significant concern to U.S. national security.
The compromised personal information of government officials' contacts could potentially be used for blackmail or coercion, posing a threat to both the affected individuals and broader U.S. interests.
As cybersecurity remains a top priority for the U.S. government, efforts to strengthen defenses and deter future attacks will continue.