After conducting an “investigation”, the Chinese government has determined that cybercriminals rather than Chinese officials are the ones responsible for the major cyberhack that stole an enormous amount of data from the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) earlier this year. Essentially, the Chinese government dismissed the notion that it was in any way involved in the breach.
As reported by the state-run outlet, Xinhua News Agency, Chinese officials declared that the cyberattack was “a criminal case” rather than a state-sponsored attack as the United States government suspected. Interestingly, no additional details about the investigation were provided - including who conducted it.
The report was published after the first United States-China ministerial talks regarding combating cybercrimes were held Tuesday in Washington. At the meeting, government officials from both countries discussed “a number of cases” for possible future cybersecurity collaboration.
China’s State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun, U.S. Attorney-General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson co-chaired the dialogue. The discussion was prompted by a meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping which took place a few months ago.
At this week’s high-level meeting, Xinhua reported that both countries reached a “consensus on fighting cyber terrorism” as well as on initiatives to strengthen their abilities to battle cyber crimes.
The two cyber attacks on OPM affected more than 22.1 million people and resulted in the theft of their records - including social security numbers.
As recently as September, U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper said that the government was not sure exactly who conducted the cyberattack, referencing “differing degrees of confidence” about the true identity of the hackers. Many U.S. government officials had blamed China for the attack, but the Obama administration never publicly pointed the finger at China’s government.
At this week’s meeting, Guo said both countries should focus on establishing guidelines and consensus outlined by Obama and Xi. He added that China will work with the United States to establish enforcement mechanisms founded on the “principles of law-abiding, reciprocity, honest, and pragmatism.”
Both countries will meet again in Beijing next summer for the second cybersecurity ministerial dialogue.