China and Russia have been behind some of the biggest cyber attacks in the United States. And now the two countries are actively aggregating and cross-indexing their hacked U.S. databases to identify American spies. According to the U.S. counterintelligence officials, the Obama administration is scrambling to strengthen cyber defenses for federal agencies.
How China and Russia can exploit the stolen data troves
In the past few years, hackers traced back to Russia and China have penetrated into the U.S. government email systems and websites. Foreign-based hackers have also stolen financial information, medical records, social security numbers, and personal details of millions of Americans.
William Evanina, a counterintelligence official at the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said China and Russia had combined their immense data files. Beijing and Moscow employ sophisticated software to spot clues that can be used to identify, blackmail, and even recruit U.S. spies. Over the years, Chinese and Russian hackers have stolen data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), United Airlines, Anthem, the White House, Pentagon, American Airlines, Sabre, and others.
Now they have the ability to cross-check Americans who have security clearances, with those cheating on their spouse (via Ashley Madison breach), and identify a specific target for blackmail. The stolen data troves can also reveal health issues, financial problems, marital issues, etc. that adversaries can exploit.
Obama mulls sanctions against China
China works with criminal hackers to steal the files, and then gives these files to private software companies for analysis. So, it is difficult to trace an attack back to the Chinese government. Russia’s Federal Security Service also has strong connections with hacking rings in Russia.
Bloomberg reports that the Obama administration is currently drafting sanctions that could be imposed on China and other countries over cyber attacks. Washington believes that China is the “most pervasive and persistent hacker,” but Russian criminals are more sophisticated. However, the drafting comes at a sensitive time as Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Washington next month.