The White House confirmed that a cyberattack was launched to infiltrate one of the government’s most sensitive computer networks, but the attempt was prevented, and no harm has been done, according to a report from The Washington Free Beacon.
According to the report, a White House official familiar with the incident said, the hacking incident occurred last month, and unidentified hackers allegedly used computer servers located in China. The hackers tried to access the White House Military Office (WHMO) computer networks, with the most sensitive communications including strategic nuclear commands.
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A national security official for the Obama Administration said the hackers were using a “spear phishing attack against the unclassified network.” A spear phishing attack was previously associated to hackers in China and other countries with high-tech warfare capabilities. Hackers used e-mails to encourage recipients within the target organization to provide sensitive information in a spear phishing attack.
The White House national security official said, “In this instance the attack was identified; the system was isolated, and there is no indication whatsoever that any exfiltration of data took place.” The official emphasized that there was no impact or attempted breach on the WHMO classified systems.
The Washington Free Beacon also cited a comment from a former senior intelligence officer regarding the cyberattack. According to him, the WHMO is the most sensitive office of the government, a compromise in the network system would cause severe damage to the United States.
Security Officials are currently investigating the cyberattack. Government officials were tight lipped on the details of the investigation, including the extent of damage, and whether the incident was connected to China.
The report cited speculations, expressed by some military officials, of the possibility that the perpetrators of the cyberattack were Chinese military cyber warfare specialists, under the command of the 4th Department of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (4PLA).
Dmitri Alperovitch, a former McAffee cyber threat researcher, who is now working at Crowdstrike commented that the Chinese government has an aggressive goal to infiltrate all levels of networks of the United States government, including private sectors. He said, “The White House network would be the crown jewel of that campaign, so it is hardly surprising that they would try their hardest to compromise it.”
On the other hand, during an interview with Reuters, Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, Director of Intelligence for the U.S. Cyber Command said the level of cyberattacks and cyber espionage from China against the Department of Defense is constant, and the level of attempts to steal economic secrets is accelerating.
During his latest visit in China, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussed the issue on cyberattacks from Chinese hackers against the American companies and government.