MOSCOW, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Chinese and Russian intelligence services have been collecting personally identifiable information in order to target American government workers for counterintelligence.
CNN and the Los Angeles Times reported this week that Russia and China – whose leaders are meeting in Beijing for two days to discuss bilateral negotiations – have used a massive database analysis to combine and cross-reference information obtained from cyberattacks on targets that range from the Office of Personnel Management to Ashley Madison to identify and potentially compromise operatives.
"Individually, the OPM breach and the Ashley Madison breach present significant dangers to U.S. personnel, including intelligence personnel, but taken together, they really ratchet up the level of harm," Marc Zwillinger, a lawyer handling data breach and privacy cases, told CNN. "It provides a lot of leverage that could be used to blackmail and possibly influence U.S. personnel."
Both Russia and China use nongovernment entities, including hacking groups and private companies, to infiltrate U.S. systems and analyze the collected data. The intention is to hide the true source of the attacks, as both governments also carry out cyberattacks using their own assets and attempt to cover their tracks using other methods.
"We're confronting a persistent and dedicated adversary. The threat is ever-evolving. And it is critically important for us to make sure that our defensive measures that are intended to prevent these kinds of intrusions reflect that ever-evolving risk," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in June.
Counterintelligence officials said the hackers combine big data files and employ sophisticated software to try to isolate clues that can be used to identify U.S. intelligence officers, the Times reported.
Three weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he assumes hackers, particularly from China and Russia, are reading his emails.
"It's very likely," Kerry said. "Unfortunately, we're living in a world where a number of countries, China and Russia included, have consistently been engaged in cyberattacks against American interests, against American government. [It is of] enormous concern." The secretary of state said he writes emails in a special way "with that awareness."
According to a separate report this week released by Wisconsin's Hold Security, Russian-speaking hackers have breached 97 websites, mostly dating-related, during July and August and have stolen credentials pertaining to potentially hundreds of thousands of users. A cyberattack launched from Russia last month successfully hacked into a non-classified Pentagon email system used by personnel of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.