Chinese government ‘hacks into White House office in charge of the nuclear launch codes’ (Oct 2012 Re-Post)

 Editors note: (Ralph Turchiano) Requested Re-Post from 2012

  • White House  confirmed the hack but downplayed it, saying no damage was done and it was  unsuccessful
  • Military  Office targeted which controls the President’s travel, interoffice  communications, and nuclear codes

By Meghan Keneally

PUBLISHED:08:16 EST, 1  October 2012| UPDATED:11:54 EST, 1 October 2012

The White House revealed today that cyber  attackers linked to the Chinese government attempted to hack into a computer  system in the White House Military Office.

While the official statement down played the  attack, saying that it was aiming for an unclassified ‘isolated’ network, one  report claimed that the hackers targeted the White House Military Office which  safeguards sensitive data like the nuclear launch codes.

‘This was a spear phishing attack against an  unclassified network. These types of attacks are not infrequent and we have  mitigation measures in place,’ a White House official told MailOnline.

Spear phishing is a common form of hacking  where a cyber attacker will send an email to it’s target and hope that the  recipient clicks on the links of downloads the attachments enclosed in the email  in order to allow their malicious software to infiltrate the recipient’s  computer and data.

White House officials confirmed that a hackers did try  to ‘phish’ into the Military Office server but said there was no damage done

‘In this instance the attack was  identified,  the system was isolated, and there is no indication  whatsoever that any  exfiltration of data took place. Moreover, there was never any impact or  attempted breach of any classified system,’ the  White House official  continued.

A conservative newspaper that has been  regularly critical of the Obama administration, called The Washington Free Beacon,  first published the report on Sunday and said that the attackers were linked to  the Chinese government.

They wrote that the attack, which allegedly  occurred earlier in September, was yet another example of the ‘failure of the  Obama administration to press China on its persistent cyber attacks’.

In response to the article, an unnamed White  House official contacted Politico to clarify the story, saying that  while the ‘attempted’ hack did take place, it did not cause any damage because  the targeted system did not contain any sensitive data.

The breach occurred using a ‘spear phishing’  tactic, in which a hacker sends uses common phrases or inviting subject lines to  draw the recipient in and attract their attention in hope of gaining access ot  their computer.

Sensitive: The Military Office, which was targeted in the attack, is in charge of securing the 'nuclear football' which is the black briefcase (pictured) that contains the nuclear launch codesSensitive: The Military Office, which was targeted in  the attack, is in charge of securing the ‘nuclear football’ which is the black  briefcase (pictured) that contains the nuclear launch codes

Once those steps are taken- and it is unclear  whether they were in this case- the links or attachments enable the hacker to  download their malicious software, also known as malware.


While the attacks on government officials  provides the greatest risk in the political realm, private American businesses  have also been the target of Chinese hackers.

In November 2011, the National  Counterintelligence Executive  released a report detailing the extent of damage done by Chinese and Russian  hackers on various companies.

One example was that of a paint company  called Valspar Corportation, which had a number of its proprietary paint  formulas stolen. The move cost the company $20million.

Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer  that produces products sold in America including iPhones, was hacked in February  by a group called Swagg Security which then obtained and released the email and  credit card data for banking information for American companies including Apple  and Microsoft.

The state-run Medicaid system in Utah was  hacked last month, prompting calls for tightened security around any government  health databases that would be implemented in accordance with the Affordable  Care Act. Administrators claimed that no personal medical data was removed from  the site but it was not operational for ten days.

Though the political slant of the Free  Beacon reporting is clear, it is also true that this is not the first  time  that Chinese hackers have gotten unnervingly close to White House  communications.

The New York  Times reported that in June 2011,  Google and FBI officials confirmed that a  wide-ranging phishing attack had  taken place after the hackers had  directed malware towards the personal Gmail  accounts of an unknown  number of White House staffers.

The FBI never released the names, or even t  he number of staffers who were thought to be targeted in the attack.

In the latest hacking, however, the target  was much more clear and focused solely on the White House Military Office.

The Military Office is in charge of arranging  the President’s travel, coordinating inter-office conference calls between top  government officials, and most notably the security of the so-called ‘nuclear  football’, the nickname for the suitcase that contains and controls all of the  nuclear launch codes.

The Free Beacon, which Politico points out  published a story about a Russian submarine trolling in North American waters  which was flatly denied by numerous government agencies, says a breach in this  office would be devastating to the country’s security.  ‘This is the most  sensitive office in the U.S. government,’ an unidentified former U.S.  intelligence official told the paper.

‘A compromise there would cause grave  strategic damage to the United States.’

The threat of a damaging cyber attack has  raised the alarm in the highest levels of government, as President Obama penned  an op-ed in the Wall Street  Journal last year pushing for more  dedication to digital security.

‘So far, no one has managed to seriously  damage or disrupt our critical infrastructure networks. But foreign governments,  criminal syndicates and lone individuals are probing our financial, energy and  public safety systems every day,’ he wrote

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Categories: Escalation / Destabilization Conflict, Security, Societal

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