Looks like the Russian hackers responsible for so much mayhem sat this one out, as suspicions for the massive U.S. Postal Service data breach are falling upon the Chinese government. Which is kind of awkward, because President Obama is currently in China, running around dressed like an extra from “Star Trek” for some reason. He also managed to alienate the entire population of Beijing by popping out of his limousine chewing gum, which they interpreted as rude and childish, referring to the President as an “idler” on social media.
But anyway, yeah, it looks like the Chinese hacked the Post Office, for purposes as yet unknown. While the USPS characterizes the breach as “limited in scope,” it affected eight hundred thousand Postal Service employees, raiding personal data including name, data of birth, address, and Social Security number. The hackers got the data for every single employee, right up to the Postmaster General.
The Washington Post floats some theories about why the USPS was targeted:
For one thing, the Chinese may be assuming that the postal service is more like theirs — a state-owned entity that has vast amounts of data on its citizens, said James A. Lewis, a cyber-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Second, he said, China would be interested in amassing large sets of data that can be analyzed for previously unknown links or insights.
“They’re just looking for big pots of data on government employees,” Lewis said. “For the Chinese, this is probably a way of building their inventory on U.S. persons for counterintelligence and recruitment purposes.”
Such data may also be helpful in non-cyber espionage, said Steven Chabinsky, a former FBI official and now chief risk officer for CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm. “It’s not all about hackers. Having information about real live people could help them with on-the-ground operations.”
Although the Postal Service stated that customer data wasn’t compromised in the breach, way down toward the end of the WaPo article, we learn that it kind of, um, was:
The breach also affected the data of customers who contacted the Postal Service Customer Care Center via phone or e-mail between Jan. 1 and Aug. 16, officials said. The data affected included names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, but not social security numbers, they said. Officials said they did not believe customers needed to take any action as a result of that.
However, FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell said any suspected instances of identity theft should be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
The breach actually occurred in mid-September, but it was kept under wraps until now, ostensibly because making it public or taking dramatic steps to improve security would alert the hackers they had been discovered, which might have caused them to do something rash. This explanation is not sitting well with House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been a longtime advocate of dramatic Postal Service reforms. He also seems to think the severity of the attack is being underplayed. From a statement released by Issa and Subcommittee on Postal Service Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-TX):
This is a serious security breach that has put the personal information of Americans at risk. The committee is deeply concerned about this cyber attack, and will continue to press the Postal Service for answers about how hackers were able to pierce the agency’s security protocols.”
Furthermore, the committee understands the Postal Service has known about this attack since September and presented this information to Congress several weeks ago, but did so as a classified matter. The committee will also be seeking information about why the Administration waited two months before making the news of this attack public and preventing victims from taking proactive measures to secure their own information. We have not been told why the agency no longer considers the information classified.
It’s so unlike the Obama Administration to keep Americans in the dark, isn’t it?