China has denounced US hacking accusations as “groundless and irresponsible” after Washington blamed Beijing for stealing personnel data of millions of Americans.
On Thursday, US officials said hackers from China had broken into the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December, possibly compromising the personal data of approximately 4 million current and former federal employees.
The OPM, which conducts background checks for security clearances, declined to comment on who was behind the hack and FBI investigators were probing whether the culprits were based in China.
However, some US officials, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, claimed that hackers from China are behind the attack, according to the Washington Post.
On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry slammed the US for making unfounded accusations, saying that China is itself the target of hacking attacks.
It said that Beijing wanted to cooperate with other countries to build a peaceful and secure cyberspace.
“We wish the United States would not be full of suspicions, catching wind and shadows, but rather have a larger measure of trust and cooperation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing in Beijing.
“We know that cyber hacking attacks are anonymous and transnational, and it is hard to track the source,” Hong said.
“It’s irresponsible and unscientific to make groundless accusations without deep investigation and research,” he added.
One American official familiar with the matter described the attack as one of the largest thefts of US government data ever in recent years, and the second major breach of the OPM blamed on China in less than a year.
Washington has for years accused the Chinese government and military of conducting computer-based attacks against the US, including efforts to steal information from federal agencies.
It claims that the Chinese military has made cyber warfare capabilities a priority over a decade ago and often blames people linked to it for hacking into US companies’ computers to steal secrets.
Last year, the US Justice Department indicted five people, what it said were officers in the People's Liberation Army, for allegedly stealing American corporate secrets and engaged in espionage. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied such activity.
Beijing says Washington’s cyber attack accusations are hypocritical, since intelligence leaks have revealed that the US itself is most active perpetrator of cyber espionage against foreign countries, especially against China.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua said in an editorial on Friday that the latest allegations were still “waiting to be supported by proof,” and called it another case of “Washington’s habitual slander against Beijing on cyber security.”
The Xinhua article said that revelations by Edward Snowden had proved the US government has “long been engaged in large-scale, organized cyber theft, wiretapping and supervision of political figures, enterprises and individuals of other countries, including China.”
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, began leaking classified intelligence documents in June 2013, revealing the extent of the US agencies’ spying activities around the world.