Reports Chinese hackers involved in US attack ‘irresponsible’, says Beijing

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing hopes the US would be “less suspicious and stop making any unverified allegations, but show more trust and participate more in cooperation.”

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BEIJING // China said that any allegations that it was involved in breaking into US government computers are irresponsible.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing that Beijing hopes the US would be “less suspicious and stop making any unverified allegations, but show more trust and participate more in cooperation.”

US officials said China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the US government personnel office and stealing identifying information of at least four million federal workers.

Beijing routinely dismisses any allegation of its official involvement in cyberattacks on foreign targets, while invariably noting that China is itself the target of hacking attacks and calling for greater international cooperation in combating hacking.

“We know that hacker attacks are conducted anonymously, across nations, and that it is hard to track the source,” Mr Hong said. “It’s irresponsible and unscientific to make conjectural, trumped-up allegations without deep investigation.”

The US government’s personnel department handles hundreds of thousands of sensitive security clearances and background investigations on prospective employees each year.

It was not immediately clear whether the hack affected President Barack Obama, other senior government officials or the intelligence community.

The Washington Post and other US media cited government officials as saying that Chinese hackers were behind the breach.

“We have seen a lot of media reports and opinions like this recently,” Mr Hong said.

The Chinese embassy in Washington countered that such attacks would not be allowed under Chinese law.

“Chinese laws prohibit cybercrimes of all forms. China has made great efforts to combat cyberattacks in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations,” embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are said to be leading an investigation into the attack. The FBI in a statement said it “will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”

The incident is the latest in a series of major breaches that have shown the vulnerability of the US federal government.

Last year Russian hackers are believed to have accessed unclassified computer systems at the White House and State Department. Hackers stole information on 100,000 US taxpayers from online computers of the US Internal Revenue Service.

The US has struck an increasingly strident tone about cyber attacks in recent months.

Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command, has said that future attacks could prompt a response with conventional weapons.

In February, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said a steady stream of low-level cyberattacks posed the most likely danger to the United States, rather than a potential digital “Armageddon.”

Mr Obama has ranked China and Russia’s cyberattack capabilities as “very good,” Iran’s as “good,” and North Korea’s as not “particularly good.”

* Agencies