Remember when hackers accessed files from US health insurance firms Anthem and Premera last year? According to the New York Times, it was the same Chinese hackers suspected of breaching the US Office of Personnel Management’s files.
These data breaches yielded an enormous amount of personal information. For the OPM, at least four million former and current former US federal employees may have been affected. With Anthem and Premera, 78 million and 11 million. So far, the hackers aren’t doing normal hacker stuff like selling the giant swathes of information they stole for personal gain, reports the Times:
There is no evidence that the data collected was used for criminal purposes like faking identities to make credit card purchases. Instead, the attackers seem to be amassing huge databases of personal information about Americans.
“Amassing huge database of personal information about Americans” sounds even more malevolent than just stealing data for immediately mercenary purposes, so that’s not very comforting.
Of course, no one has offered any actual evidence Chinese hackers are to blame. Indeed, forensic evidence suggests that the health care and, according to the Times, OPM hacks are not the work of any of China’s known state-sponsored hacking groups:
Based on forensics, security experts believe the attackers are not one of the hacking units of the People’s Liberation Army, which were named in a federal indictment last year that focused on the theft of intellectual property. Researchers say these hackers used different tools than those utilised by the Liberation Army’s Third Department, which oversees cyberintelligence gathering. But that does not exclude another state-sponsored group, or the adoption of new technologies that are harder to trace.
China strenuously denies responsibility for these attacks, as the Times reported:
Beijing dismissed the United States allegations that China was the source of an attack on federal workers’ data as “unscientific and irresponsible”.
This is not to say that China is innocent here, by any means. Xi Jinping may have directly ordered each and every one of these attacks. Prior cyberattacks from China have been traced back to the government, but with the most recent data breaches, these reports amount to a pile of pointed fingers sitting on a foundation of suspicion and rumour.
Image via Flickr / Dan Hankins