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US White House asks Congress for new hacking protection laws

The US White House has urged Congress to pass new cyber security rules after this week's revelation by the US government that the personal data of millions of current and former federal employees had been hacked.

The call from the White House came a day after the US government admitted on Thursday that computer hackers had accessed detailed personal information on at least four million current and former government employees.

"The fact is, we need the United States Congress to come out of the dark ages and come into the 21st century to make sure we have the kinds of defenses that are necessary to protect a modern computer system," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Friday.

The "New York Times" reported that the inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had warned in November that the office's database was vulnerable to cyber-attack. But suspected Chinese hackers were able to allegedly clean out tens of thousands of files on sensitive security clearances. Digital signatures from cyber-attacks were traced back to a building in Shanghai.

Earnest said, "It's not clear who the perpetrators are," but he noted that President Barack Obama and his aides regularly raise concerns about Chinese behavior in cyberspace.

The United States has repeatedly accused China of waging cyber warfare. China's government denies the accusations and on Friday described the current allegations as "irresponsible."

China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "Cyber-attacks are generally anonymous and conducted across borders and their origins are hard to trace."

Feinstein: Congress must take action

Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said "Congress must take action" to speed notifications on breaches and increase cooperation between the government and private companies.

"Trillions of dollars, the private data of every single American, even the security of critical infrastructure like our power grid, nuclear plants and drinking water are all at risk," Feinstein added.

The breach of the OPM system included records on 750,000 Department of Defense civilian personnel. According to a House of Representatives memo seen by Reuters, OPM knows what types of data were exposed to the hackers but not what data was taken.

The annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue is scheduled for June 22-24 in Washington, DC and cyber security is on the agenda.

jm/bk (AFP, Reuters)

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