clock menu more-arrow no yes

Report: Chinese hackers took Social Security numbers for every federal employee

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
  • A federal employee union says hackers have obtained personnel records, including Social Security numbers, from every federal employee, according to the Associated Press.
  • The US government suspects Chinese hackers are responsible for the attack, which targeted the Office of Personnel Management, which operates as the human resources arm of the federal government.
  • According to J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the hackers also obtained "military records and veterans' status information, address, birth date, job and pay history, health insurance, life insurance, and pension information; age, gender, race data."

Chinese hackers have a history of attacking US targets

This is the second time Chinese hackers have targeted the US government's personnel agency in the last year. The first time came last July, and hackers were believed to be looking for information about people who had applied for security clearances.

Media reports don't indicate if these attacks were carried out by the Chinese government or by an independent Chinese group. But it wouldn't be surprising if the Chinese government was behind the hacks. Information about who is a US government employee can be valuable to foreign intelligence services. For example, personnel data could give clues about who is working for intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA. This might help foreign government identify Americans who are working under cover and better track US security activities.

The Chinese have also hacked numerous private targets. A retired NSA  director said in March that "the Chinese have penetrated every major corporation of any consequence in the United States."

One of the Chinese government's most famous targets was Google. The company discovered in 2010 that Chinese hackers had breached its systems. According to the Washington Post, the attack appeared to be "aimed at unearthing the identities of Chinese intelligence operatives in the United States who may have been under surveillance by American law enforcement agencies."