An Obama administration official said Monday that the White House Military Office (WHMO) was targeted last month by unknown hackers using Chinese servers who gained access to a system on the lower-level network through a “phishing” attack.
The initial report came by way of unnamed officials who spoke to The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that characterized the hack as a brazen attack on a system that controls America’s nuclear arsenal, saying it “highlights a failure of the Obama administration” in dealing with China.
An unnamed Obama administration official reached out to Politico within hours of the report, claiming that the WHMO as indeed targeted by hackers but cautioning that phishing emails are “not infrequent,” adding that hackers only gained access to an unclassified network before the threat was neutralized.
Phishing is a common threat on the Internet which usually springs from links in spam emails that point to websites designed to look exactly like someone else’s site. Hackers engaged in phishing typically rely upon tricking a user into giving up personal information, but there are many ways to protect against phishing as well.
The Beacon‘s report was initially questioned because unnamed sources previously told the publication that a Russian attack submarine paroled the Gulf of Mexico for weeks unbeknownst to the Obama administration. The Pentagon, along with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, denied that ever happened.
The Obama administration continues to insist that cybersecurity must be one of the nation’s highest defense priorities, but Congress has thus far failed to agree upon a set of common security standards that vital infrastructure and government agencies must adhere to. A debate in the Senate earlier this year fell apart when Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on whether security standards should be mandated or made voluntary and attached to incentives.
Due to the inaction of Congress, President Barack Obama is weighing an executive order that would create voluntary security standards for “critical systems” throughout the country. The order would place the civilian-run Department of Homeland Security in control of the nation’s cybersecurity. An earlier Republican proposal sought to couch America’s cyber defenses in the military-run National Security Agency.
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