Chinese hackers have “penetrated the White House computer network on multiple occasions, and obtained e-mails between government officials”, said a senior US official to the Financial Times:
On each occasion, the cyber attackers accessed the White House computer system for brief periods, allowing them enough time to steal information before US computer experts patched the system.
US government cyber intelligence experts suspect the attacks were sponsored by the Chinese government because of their targeted nature. But they concede that it is extremely difficult to trace the exact source of an attack beyond a server in a particular country.
”We are getting very targeted Chinese attacks so it stretches credulity that these are not directed by government-related organisations,” said the official.
The official said the Chinese cyber attacks had the hallmarks of the “grain of sands” approach taken by Chinese intelligence, which involves obtaining and pouring through lots of – often low-level – information to find a few nuggets.
In what appears to be a separate attack, hackers have also penetrated the Obama and McCain campaign computer networks starting from early summer. Early speculation was that the hackers were based in either China or Russia, but US government officials say they are sure now sure it wasn’t Russia:
The cyber attackers successfully downloaded large quantities of information from the campaign networks, which security agencies believed was an attempt to learn more about the contenders’ policy positions.
The official said investigators had determined that the attacks originated from China, but cautioned that they had not ascertained whether they were government-sponsored, or just unaffiliated hackers.