While the Russian government in general, and Putin in particular, supposedly has a grudge on US voters and, according to the ‘serious’ press, orchestrated the hacking of the US elections, China’s interests appear to be focused on America’s money.
In the latest such breach, according to Reuters, the FBI is investigating how Chinese military hackers infiltrated computers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for several years beginning in 2010.
The FDIC, officially the organization backstopping the insurance of US bank deposits, is one of three federal agencies that regulate commercial banks in the United States. It oversees confidential plans for how big banks would handle bankruptcy and has access to records on millions of individual American deposits. In other words, taken to an extreme, the Chinese military mayhave detailed knowledge of US deposits data; assuming of course there is evidence to back up this particular hack unlike the entertaining, if unvalidated, story of Putin costing Hillary her election.
As part of the hack, the Chinese are said to have gained access to dozens of computers including the workstation for former FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair. It is now the target of a probe by a congressional committee.
More from Reuters:
Last month, the banking regulator allowed congressional staff to view internal communications between senior FDIC officials related to the hacking, two people who took part in the review said. In the exchanges, the officials referred to the attacks as having been carried out by Chinese military-sponsored hackers, they said. The staff was not allowed to keep copies of the exchanges, which did not explain why the FDIC officials believe the Chinese military was behind the breach.
It wasn’t just the Chinese:
An annual report by the regulator said there were 159 incidents of unauthorized computer access during fiscal year 2015, according to a redacted copy obtained by Reuters under a Freedom of Information Act request. Rather than major breaches by hackers, however, these incidents included security lapses such as employees copying sensitive data to thumb drives and leaving the agency.
Twenty of the incidents were confirmed data breaches, according to an FDIC document provided to Reuters by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. That represents a higher number than was previously reported by the regulator under reporting guidelines for major incidents. Throughout the lapses, the FDIC has said it is stiffening information security standards, including a ban on thumb drives and more coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to prevent hacks.
Cited by Reuters, FDIC spokeswoman Barbara Hagenbaugh declined to comment on the previously unreported FBI investigation, or the hack’s suspected sponsorship by the Chinese military, but said the regulator took “immediate steps” to root out the hackers when it became aware of the security breach.
After FDIC staff discovered the hack in 2010, it persisted into the next year and possibly later, with staff working at least through 2012 to verify the hackers were expunged, according to a 2013 internal probe conducted by the FDIC’s inspector general, an internal watchdog.
One can hope that China no longer has access to Americans’ deposit information.
Meanwhile, there is the touchy topic of US retaliation, coming at a time when Sino-US relations are… sensitive. Reuters said that “it was not clear whether the FBI probe of the FDIC hack would result in any action against China or whether the issue would be taken up by President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to confront China on trade issues.”
We are confident, however, that upon learning of the alleged breach, Trump will tweet something which will likely lead to an further escalation of tensions between the two countries.
Here Reuters amusingly adds, “the Obama administration has struggled to develop a clear strategy for responding to cyber attacks, due to the difficulty of identifying hackers and fears of escalation.” And yet, it had no problem identifying not only the Russian government, but Putin himself, as the perpetrator behind the US election hack (albeit indeed unable to formulate a response).
The White House had no comment on the FDIC hack. Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment. Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an agreement to avoid economic cyber espionage on one another.