US Names China As Top Government Hack Suspect

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The top US intelligence official has gone on the record naming China as the likely culprit in a major hack of government personnel records

The US’ top intelligence official has named China as the “leading suspect” in the attacks on Government personnel databases announced earlier this month – the Government’s first official acknowledgement that it believes China was involved.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, reportedly told a Washington intelligence conference that given the sophistication of the hack, “You have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did.”

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Clapper said such attacks are likely to continue in the absence of a clear strategy for deterrence, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Until such time as we can create both the substance and the psychology of deterrence, this is going to go on,” he reportedly said, adding that the government has “struggled” with the issue due to “concerns about unintended consequences and other related policy issues”.

In the absence of such a strategy the government must focus more on “defence”, he said.

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing said it was “absurd” that the US is both naming China as the culprit while continuing to investigate the hack, according to Reuters. China has denied it was involved in the incident.

Some investigators have estimated that as many as 18 million people were affected by the hack.

New sanctions powers

An executive order signed by President Barack Obama gives the Treasury Department wider powers to impose sanctions against those conducting cyberattacks against the US Government or a US company, and the White House is considering whether to use those powers in this case, according to unnamed sources cited by the Journal.

On Thursday a White House spokesman said that the order gives the US Government “a whole set of new tools”, but he cautioned that “if there is a response, it’s probably not one we are likely to telegraph in advance”.

US Government officials had previously named China as the likely culprit in private conversations, while investigators said forensic evidence appears to link the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack to others conducted by a group believed to be linked to the Chinese government.

In December the White House accused North Korea of carrying out a hack on Sony Pictures and later acknowledged it had retaliated by disrupting the country’s Internet infrastructure.

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