According to a report issued by the Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday, the number of fingerprints stolen in the U.S. largest data breach is five times larger than initial estimates – about 5.6 million.
The breach, which affected 21.5 million federal officials, may have been carried out by state-sponsored Chinese hackers. Security experts are now concerned that China’s intelligence agencies may now easily identify U.S. spies in their territory.
Thousands of spies from hostile territories had to be called home as their safety is now compromised. Although their names and personal details may change, their fingerprints cannot be altered, security experts explained.
And the U.S. intelligence agencies are concerned that China may track down U.S. spies by using the hacked fingerprints. Rumors have it that the U.S. government and military are already working on a database containing all personal info on federal officials.
“The theft could give Chinese intelligence a huge leg up in recruiting informants inside the U.S. government,”
one of the experts noted in a recent interview.
The leaked data also contains sensitive information that may expose other people connected with federal officials including friends, family members, and neighbors. This could make Chinese intelligence’s life a lot easier because it takes years to gather all these info on a single person.
Nevertheless, the White House declined to put the blame on Chinese government. Yet, the US national security advisor urged Beijing on Monday to stop governmental spying and state-backed cyber espionage.
The US national security advisor noted that cyber espionage is not a minor nuisance. Its implications are huge and can lead to irreversible economic and social damages. The federal officials also said that cyber spying between the two countries places a heavy burden on their political and economic ties, and may significantly influence how these ties would develop in the future.
The announcements were made days before the Chinese President’s first official visit on U.S. territory. President Xi Jinping’ plans to discuss with Obama on Thursday global warming and human rights outreach in the Asian country.
But despite the national security advisor’s statements, the White House declined Wednesday to disclose who or how many people were involved in the governmental hack.
Intelligence officers initially underestimated the significance of the cyber attack on OPM servers which now is considered to be the largest in the history of the United States. The data breach led to the resignation of the agency’s head.
Federal investigators initially thought that only 4 million federal employees were affected by the OPM hack but the number grew larger as investigation progressed. Intelligence agencies say that the damage inflicted by the breach may be even more severe, but the public may never learn how bad it really is.
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