Cybersecurity

Report: China has arrested alleged OPM hackers

iStockPhoto / FCW

China claims to have arrested the hackers responsible for the gargantuan theft of personal information through the Office of Personnel Management breach and is asserting that the hack was a criminal rather than a state-sponsored act.

The Washington Post reported the arrests, which have not been verified, on Dec. 2. In a glowing account earlier that day, the official Chinese press agency Xinhua reported that Chinese Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun's Dec. 1 meeting with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had yielded agreements on how the world's two largest economies would fight cyber crime.

The meeting was a follow-up to the cyber accord reached when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the White House in September.

Xinhua also reported that the OPM hack "turned out to be a criminal case rather than a state-sponsored cyberattack as the U.S. side has previously suspected."

Throughout the developing revelations of the OPM breach -- which exposed the sensitive records of some 22 million current and former feds -- lawmakers, officials and pundits have said they suspected the Chinese government was responsible. The stolen data has not appeared on black-market sites, fueling speculation that the Chinese government exfiltrated the data as an act of espionage.

But Beijing has denied those claims, and the details of the alleged hackers' arrest, which are as yet unclear, could lend credence to that denial.

The Washington Post first reported on the arrests in October but said they were in response to American leaders' demands that China do more to halt cyberattacks on U.S. companies and might have been aimed at staving off American sanctions. At the time, the hackers were not being linked to the OPM hack.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and an OPM spokesman said he could not comment on the matter.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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