Smaller U.S. Agencies Holding No Classified Data Curiously Become Targets of Chinese Hackers

Thursday, July 17, 2014
(Graphic: CBS/AP)

It’s not just the Pentagon and other high profile U.S. agencies that have to worry about Chinese hackers going after their computer networks. These days, even the little guys in Washington are coming under attack.


Lower profile parts of the Executive Branch, like the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), have experienced infiltrations from hackers believed to be in China and presumably working for the Beijing government. Congress’s watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has also been victimized.


In the case of OPM, hackers may have accessed the personal information of all federal employees. But for the most part, going after these smaller agencies isn’t likely to yield much in the way of important or classified data, experts say. The GAO and GPO each released statements saying the hackers were able to get no personal information.


Shawn Henry, an executive at the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, told The New York Times that hackers may have just been curious to know what these offices do and what information they house. “Along the way you’re going to shake a lot of doorknobs,” he said. “You may not spend a lot of time in that place, but if the door is unlocked, why not look in?”


Center for Strategic and International Studies cybersecurity expert James A. Lewis said the GPO intrusion was probably a mistake. “Is it just them not understanding how things work or not understanding what it stands for? They could have found a way in, and these were the agencies that came up,” Lewis said. “This is some guy sitting in an office in China who doesn’t have a sophisticated understanding of how the U.S. government works and doesn’t have a lot of direction.”


The hacking revelations came as the U.S. and Chinese governments traded accusations of spying by the other.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Chinese Hackers Extending Reach to Smaller U.S. Agencies, Officials Say (by Michael Schmidt, New York Times)

Chinese Hackers Pursue Key Data on U.S. Workers (by Michael Schmidt, David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, New York Times)

U.S. Charges Chinese Military with Hacking…Rest of the World Snickers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Massive Chinese Hacking Attack on FEC Computers Exposes Deep Agency Dysfunction (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Chinese Hackers Obtained Designs of Advanced Weapons Systems Critical to U.S. Missile Defense (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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