Russian hackers breach computer systems of US State Department, White House

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 April, 2015, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 8:36pm

Less than a week after US president Barack Obama declared cybersecurity a "national emergency", Russian hackers have reportedly breached the White House computer system, gaining access to potentially sensitive information.

The White House said on Tuesday that the intruders only gained access to an unclassified system.

"We do not believe that our classified systems were compromised," Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told CNN.

"We're constantly updating our security measures on our unclassified system, but we're frankly told to act as if we need not put information that's sensitive on that system."

However, although the breached system did not contain classified data, the hackers still gained access to sensitive information. Sources told CNN that the hackers were able to gain access to real-time private details of the president's schedule.

Even worse for the government, the hackers appear to have entered the White House computer system via that of the State Department, investigators said.

“One official says the Russian hackers have ‘owned’ the State Department system for months and it is not clear the hackers have been fully eradicated from the system,” CNN reported.

The FBI, Secret Service, and US intelligence agencies are working to investigate this breach, which they consider to be one of the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against American government systems.

This is not the first time high profile business and government computer systems have been targeted by overseas hackers.

In February, a Chinese espionage team hacked the Forbes website, which they then used to attack defence contractors, financial firms and others who visited the site.

Codoso Team, the group believed to be behind the attack, has been linked to previous cyber spying campaigns against the US government, military and defence sites, think tanks covering foreign affairs, financial services companies, energy firms and political dissidents, according to security researchers.

Also in February, Chinese hackers were suspected to have launched a massive cyberattack on the second largest US health insurer, Anthem Inc.

Anthem told reporters that unknown hackers had penetrated a database with some 80 million records. The insurer said it suspected the information of tens of millions of current and former customers and employees had been stolen.

In May 2014, the US justice department indicted five high ranking members of China's People's Liberation Army who they said were linked to a Shanghai-based hacking team which had broken into the computer systems of US-based companies.