US officials say hackers widely thought to be linked with China have accessed sensitive data on intelligence and military personnel. The information hacked is said to contain deeply personal employee details.
The officials said information on millions of US security-clearance holders, including from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and military special operations, had possibly been exposed in a second cyberattack, according to reports by The Washington Post and The Associated Press.
The White House said it could not confirm this. The reports said information on as many as 14 million current and former US government employees had been compromised in a second hacking attack at the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which handles security clearances and background checks on government employees.
Last week, the White House said that records of up to four million people had been breached in one hacking attack.
In the latest instance, authorities believe hackers accessed data taken from compulsory forms applicants fill out on mental illness, drug and alcohol use, past arrests and bankruptcies, the AP report said. The forms also required names of contacts and relatives to be listed, which would enable the coercion of foreign relatives of US intelligence employees.
In addition, applicants were obliged to give their Social Security number and that of their cohabitants.
One official, speaking to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity, said there were fears that the information could allow the unmasking of the identities of CIA staff. The personnel records would also potentially allow the blackmail or impersonation of federal employees.
The paper said that investigators were looking at two separate attacks, both believed to be from China. The database with the information was stored by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Last week, Beijing denied charges by US officials that the cybertheft originated in China and was part of an espionage operation.
The cyberbreaches also pose grave questions about the US government's ability to secure its own data.
Two years ago, an NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, managed to large amounts of sensitive material from the agency.
tj/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)