- White House confirmed the hack but downplayed it, saying no damage was done and it was unsuccessful
- Military Office targeted which controls the President’s travel, interoffice communications, and nuclear codes
PUBLISHED:08:16 EST, 1 October 2012| UPDATED:11:54 EST, 1 October 2012
The White House revealed today that cyber attackers linked to the Chinese government attempted to hack into a computer system in the White House Military Office.
While the official statement down played the attack, saying that it was aiming for an unclassified ‘isolated’ network, one report claimed that the hackers targeted the White House Military Office which safeguards sensitive data like the nuclear launch codes.
‘This was a spear phishing attack against an unclassified network. These types of attacks are not infrequent and we have mitigation measures in place,’ a White House official told MailOnline.
Spear phishing is a common form of hacking where a cyber attacker will send an email to it’s target and hope that the recipient clicks on the links of downloads the attachments enclosed in the email in order to allow their malicious software to infiltrate the recipient’s computer and data.
White House officials confirmed that a hackers did try to ‘phish’ into the Military Office server but said there was no damage done
‘In this instance the attack was identified, the system was isolated, and there is no indication whatsoever that any exfiltration of data took place. Moreover, there was never any impact or attempted breach of any classified system,’ the White House official continued.
A conservative newspaper that has been regularly critical of the Obama administration, called The Washington Free Beacon, first published the report on Sunday and said that the attackers were linked to the Chinese government.
They wrote that the attack, which allegedly occurred earlier in September, was yet another example of the ‘failure of the Obama administration to press China on its persistent cyber attacks’.
In response to the article, an unnamed White House official contacted Politico to clarify the story, saying that while the ‘attempted’ hack did take place, it did not cause any damage because the targeted system did not contain any sensitive data.
The breach occurred using a ‘spear phishing’ tactic, in which a hacker sends uses common phrases or inviting subject lines to draw the recipient in and attract their attention in hope of gaining access ot their computer.
Once those steps are taken- and it is unclear whether they were in this case- the links or attachments enable the hacker to download their malicious software, also known as malware.
HOW CHINESE CYBER-HACKERS ARE TARGETING AMERICA
While the attacks on government officials provides the greatest risk in the political realm, private American businesses have also been the target of Chinese hackers.
In November 2011, the National Counterintelligence Executive released a report detailing the extent of damage done by Chinese and Russian hackers on various companies.
One example was that of a paint company called Valspar Corportation, which had a number of its proprietary paint formulas stolen. The move cost the company $20million.
Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer that produces products sold in America including iPhones, was hacked in February by a group called Swagg Security which then obtained and released the email and credit card data for banking information for American companies including Apple and Microsoft.
The state-run Medicaid system in Utah was hacked last month, prompting calls for tightened security around any government health databases that would be implemented in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. Administrators claimed that no personal medical data was removed from the site but it was not operational for ten days.
Though the political slant of the Free Beacon reporting is clear, it is also true that this is not the first time that Chinese hackers have gotten unnervingly close to White House communications.
The New York Times reported that in June 2011, Google and FBI officials confirmed that a wide-ranging phishing attack had taken place after the hackers had directed malware towards the personal Gmail accounts of an unknown number of White House staffers.
The FBI never released the names, or even t he number of staffers who were thought to be targeted in the attack.
In the latest hacking, however, the target was much more clear and focused solely on the White House Military Office.
The Military Office is in charge of arranging the President’s travel, coordinating inter-office conference calls between top government officials, and most notably the security of the so-called ‘nuclear football’, the nickname for the suitcase that contains and controls all of the nuclear launch codes.
The Free Beacon, which Politico points out published a story about a Russian submarine trolling in North American waters which was flatly denied by numerous government agencies, says a breach in this office would be devastating to the country’s security. ‘This is the most sensitive office in the U.S. government,’ an unidentified former U.S. intelligence official told the paper.
‘A compromise there would cause grave strategic damage to the United States.’
The threat of a damaging cyber attack has raised the alarm in the highest levels of government, as President Obama penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last year pushing for more dedication to digital security.
‘So far, no one has managed to seriously damage or disrupt our critical infrastructure networks. But foreign governments, criminal syndicates and lone individuals are probing our financial, energy and public safety systems every day,’ he wrote
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