Motive for Historic Hack: Blackmail?

Beijing may now have lists of US officials' contacts
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2015 3:28 AM CDT
Motive for Huge Federal Hack: Blackmail?
Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Hackers made off with information on around 4 million past and present federal employees in what could be the biggest-ever breach of government data—but experts suspect they may only be interested in their Chinese contacts. The Office of Personnel Management data breach involved security clearances and background checks going back 30 years, and investigators believe the hackers also obtained lists of US government officials' foreign contacts, who could now be blackmailed or punished if they didn't fully disclose their relationship with the Americans to authorities in Beijing, the New York Times reports.

"They are pumping this through their databases just as the NSA pumps telephone data through their databases," an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies tells the Times. "It gives the Chinese the ability to exploit who is listed as a foreign contact. And if you are a Chinese person who didn't report your contacts or relationships with an American, you may have a problem." Experts say the leak could be as damaging as the WikiLeaks or Snowden breaches, from which the OPM apparently learned nothing, the Times notes. Ars Technica takes a detailed look into how the breach happened and blames it on "inertia, a lack of internal expertise, and a decade of neglect." (The hack may be part of an effort to build a huge database of Americans’ personal information.)

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