October 25, 2014

Chinese hackers reportedly breached White House systems used for nuclear commands

(LiveHacking.Com) – The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that hackers with connections to the Chinese government have breached one of the U.S. government’s computer systems used for nuclear commands. The hack, which is said to have taken place earlier this month, used servers in China to access the computer network used by the White House Military Office (WHMO).

The WHMO is the president’s military office which handles not only presidential communications and inter-government teleconferences, but also communications relating to strategic nuclear commands. The so-called “nuclear football” is the nuclear command and control suitcase used by the president which enables him to be in constant communication with the USA’s strategic nuclear forces.

According to an unidentified national security official the instant the attack was identified, the system was isolated, and there are no indications that any data was copied. It is thought that since the WHMO handles such important communications it is likely the work of Chinese military cyber warfare specialists under the direction of a unit called the 4th Department of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, or 4PLA.

“The White House network would be the crown jewel of that campaign so it is hardly surprising that they would try their hardest to compromise it,” said Former McAffee cyber threat researcher Dmitri Alperovitc who now works for Crowdstrike.

The revelation of the attack comes only days after Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, The U.S. Cyber Command’s top intelligence officer, accused China of persistent efforts to pierce Pentagon computer networks. He also said a proposal was moving forward to boost the cyber command in the U.S. military hierarchy.

The White House have so far given no comment on the cyber attack, or on whether President Obama was notified of the incident.

However, there are questions being raised over the validity of the claims made by The Washington Free Beacon. In the original report an Obama administration national security official is reported to have said “This was a spear phishing attack against an unclassified network.” This is interesting for two reasons:

  1. A spear phishing attack isn’t really a hack, but rather a targeted email which tries to solicit information from the recipient.
  2. The unclassified network mentioned means a normal non-secret network rather than a classified or “high side” encrypted network.