China and Russia are both taking advantage of the hack attacks against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the Ashley Madison adultery website, tasking experts to sift the data and see who’s cheating, who has security clearances and who’s vulnerable to blackmail.
The Los Angeles Times, citing sources, said operatives in both countries are aggressively scouring through the hacked data, checking to see if any names pop up as past security clearance applicants. They’re also cross-checking the hacked names with airline records and medical documents, searching for clues that might help identify undercover agents and other top U.S. intelligence officials, the newspaper said.
And two sources told the newspaper the aggressive search has already paid off. At least one undercover network of U.S. engineers and scientists has been compromised, they said, to the newspaper. The scientists had been working on the sly to provide assistance to U.S. agents stationed overseas, the sources said.
The White House has reacted to the breaches with vows to bolster the government’s cybersecurity. In the meantime, counterintelligence agents say America’s enemies have gone full steam ahead to try and take advantage.
“[Digital analysis can reveal] who is an intelligence officer, who travels where, when, who’s got financial difficulties, who’s got medical issues, [it can] put together a common picture,” said William Evanina, a top U.S. counterintelligence official, in the L.A. Times.
And asked if U.S. enemies had already used such information against U.S. undercover agents and operatives, Evanina said: “Absolutely.”
He wouldn’t give specifics, however.
The Pentagon is working to get ahead of the game, sifting through some of the same hacked information to find out who might be susceptible to blackmail, the newspaper said.
China was the suspected source of the recent OPM database hack which impacted an estimated 22 million past and present federal workers, along with their family members.
“A foreign spy agency now has the ability to cross-check who has a security clearance, via the OPM breach, with who was cheating on their wife via the Ashley Madison breach, and thus identify someone to target for blackmail,” said Peter Singer, a fellow with the New America Foundation and coauthor of the book, “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar,” the newspaper reported.