Chinese cyberspies have been reading the private emails of Obama administration officials and “all top national security and trade officials” since 2010, according to a senior administration official and a top secret NSA document obtained by NBC.
The email espionage — codenamed “Dancing Panda” by the US before being dubbed “Legion Amethyst” — was detected in April 2010.
“The intrusion into personal emails was still active at the time of the briefing and, according to the senior official, is still going on,” NBC reported.
“Dancing Panda” has successfully attacked at least 600 targets over the last five years, according to NBC.
Interestingly, the period overlaps with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for work-related correspondences while she served as Secretary of State from 2009-2013. Neither the official nor the document identified the specific targets of the cyberspying, however.
Clinton’s private server is currently under investigation by the FBI.
One of Clinton’s excuses for not using a government email address was that the state department’s server was often subject to security breaches. But the administration official told NBC that the officials’ government email addresses were not hacked precisely because they are more secure than private servers.
The email correspondences of top US officials have been the target of Chinese cyberespionage since at least 2008, when spies targeted the email accounts of then-Senator Obama’s and Senator McCain’s presidential campaigns.
In 2010, NBC notes, the Chinese hacked the private email accounts of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead.
More than 21 million people had their sensitive background and security clearance information stolen when Chinese hackers breached Office of Personnel Management (OPM) databases in early 2014.
“The Chinese are what I would call the bullies of cyberspace: Everybody knows what they’re doing, but nobody can stop them,” Tony Lawrence, chief executive officer of VOR Technology, a Columbia, Maryland-based cybersecurity firm that works with U.S. defence agencies, told Bloomberg.
“These state actors, their job is to gather intelligence on other nations.”
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