The US government has admitted that it faces a serious and hard to handle threat after the huge hack on its current and former employees, but has drawn short of blaming China.
The attack, according to insiders, may have taken personal information that dates back as far as the mid-1980s. Reuters said that some 2.1 million current government workers are affected, and that critical information could be at risk.
"This is deep. The data goes back to 1985," said one insider. "This means that they potentially have information about retirees, and they could know what they did after leaving government."
The fallout from the attack on the US Office of Personnel Management is continuing, and the White House press team said in an official briefing that the same threats apply to all entities and that governments may not be able to tackle them through current provisions.
Press secretary Josh Earnest fielded questions on the hack this weekend, explaining that the incident is in the hands of the FBI and that all parties are taking it very seriously.
"The federal government, as well as state governments and private entities, including media organisations like yours, understand that we're confronting a persistent and dedicated adversary," he said.
"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."
Government defensive measures are a bit of a mixed bag. Elements of the Patriot Act have been dropped in the past few weeks, and the USA Freedom Act has come into power. The government is attempting to build an anti-threat armoury, but has yet to have a complete system.
The FBI mirrored the White House message. "We take all potential threats to public and private sector systems seriously and will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyber space," the agency said.
Reports have linked China to the attack, but the government has not made an official statement to this effect. Earnest said that this kind of information is likely to come from the FBI.
"No conclusions about the attribution of this particular attack have been reached at this point. As I mentioned, this is something that's still under investigation," he said.
"Obviously, even preliminary aspects of an investigation can steer you in one direction or another. But there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to get to the bottom of this particular incident.
"So, if and when any announcements are made in that regard, those are announcements that will come from the FBI that's leading this investigation."
China is often named as the source of these attacks, and Earnest said that the subject of hacking is popular when the countries get together.
"When it comes to China, you all know that the president has frequently - including in every single meeting that he's conducted with the current Chinese president - raised China's activities in cyber space as a significant source of concern," he added.
"Last year [the] Department of Justice announced the indictment of five Chinese military officials for cyber crimes.
"That's an indication that our law enforcement professionals certainly take the broader cyber threat very seriously and are aware of the threat that is emanating from China.
"And the president will continue to raise these concerns and ensure that the federal government has defences that reflect this threat."
The Chinese authorities have already spoken out about similar allegations, saying that it would prefer such statements to be based on proof.
"Cyber attacks conducted across countries are hard to track and therefore the source of attacks is difficult to identify. Jumping to conclusions and making hypothetical accusations is not responsible and counterproductive," said Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in the US.
"Cyber attack is a global threat which could only be addressed by international cooperation based on mutual trust and mutual respect. We hope all countries in the world can work constructively together to address cyber security issues and push forward the formulation of international rules and norms in cyber space in order to build a peaceful, secure, open and cooperative cyber space."
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