China is building massive databases of Americans’ personal information by hacking government agencies and U.S. health-care companies, using a high-tech tactic to achieve an age-old goal of espionage: recruiting spies or gaining more information on an adversary, U.S. officials and analysts say.
Groups of hackers working for the Chinese government have compromised the networks of the Office of Personnel Management, which holds data on millions of current and former federal employees, as well as the health insurance giant Anthem, among other targets, the officials and researchers said.
“They’re definitely going after quite a bit of personnel information,” said Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer of ThreatConnect, a Northern Virginia cybersecurity firm. “We suspect they’re using it to understand more about who to target [for espionage], whether electronically or via human recruitment.”
“This is part of their strategic goal — to increase their intelligence collection via big-data theft and big-data aggregation,” said a U.S. government official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. “It’s part of a strategic plan.”
One hack of OPM, which was disclosed by the government Thursday, dates at least to December, officials said. Earlier last year, OPM discovered a separate intrusion into a highly sensitive database that contains information on employees seeking or renewing security clearances and on their background investigations.
Once harvested, the data can be used to glean details about key government personnel and potential spy recruits, or to gain information useful for counterintelligence. Records in OPM’s database of background investigations, for instance, could contain a complete history of where an individual has lived and all of his or her foreign contacts in, say, China. “So now the Chinese counterintelligence authorities know which American officials are meeting with which Chinese,” a China cyber and intelligence expert said.
The data could help Chinese analysts do more effective targeting of individuals, said a former National Security Agency official. “They can find specific individuals they want to go after, family members,” he said.
The Chinese government, he said, is making use of Chinese companies that specialize in aggregating large sets of data “to help them in sifting through” the information for useful details. “The analogy would be one of our intelligence organizations using Google, Yahoo, Accenture to aggregate data that we collected.”
Full article: With a series of major hacks, China builds a database on Americans (Washington Post)