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Chinese Hackers Breach Government Personnel Office Computers


There's news today of a major hack of government computers. The federal government says some 4 million current and former federal employees may have had their personal information hacked. NPR's Brian Naylor joins us in studio to talk about this. And Brian, this breach was revealed by the Office of Personnel Management. What more can you tell us about it?

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Melissa, OPM says it discovered the breach back in April. But it's not clear when it actually occurred, and they're still trying to determine just how widespread it is. But it says what it calls personally identifiable information, meaning names, addresses, Social Security numbers, may have been compromised, and OPM says it's since taken steps to tighten security in its computer systems.

BLOCK: And do we know who is behind the attack?

NAYLOR: Well, that's a good question. OPM's computers were attacked last summer, and then it was believed that China was responsible. And there are media reports that the U.S. suspects China was behind this attack as well. It should be noted that last time the OPM was hacked, the hackers seemed interested in people who may have had or applied for security clearances. That does not seem to be the case this time. The breach is much more widespread.

BLOCK: And what is the government saying about the investigation into the hack and what happened?

NAYLOR: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are both investigating this latest breach. Homeland Security says it's Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or CERT, helped detect the breach using a system called Einstein - lots of acronyms. The government says the system detected the OPM breach and an incident involving the Department of Interior's data center. The FBI, as I say, is also investigating. It says it will hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.

BLOCK: And Brian, this is a huge number - 4 million current and former federal employees. What are they being told about this?

NAYLOR: Well, OPM says it's offering those employees and former employees free credit report access and monitoring and identity theft insurance for 18 months - a year-and-a-half. The ID theft protection covers up to a million dollars. It's also telling those employees to monitor their bank accounts and their credit accounts. OPM administrator Katherine Archuleta in a statement said protecting federal employee data is of the highest priority, and the agency takes very seriously its responsibility to secure the information stored in its systems.

BLOCK: And Brian, you said this isn't the first time that the personal records of government workers have been breached. It's also not the first time that government computers have been hacked overall.

NAYLOR: Right. Just last week, the IRS said its computers had been hacked by what appears - the IRS said it's computers were hacked by what appears to have been an organized crime type of operation, and - which stole data including prior tax returns of up to or over 100,000 taxpayers. And you know, we know the White House and the State Department have been targets as well. Clearly government computers and the data they contain are inviting targets for everyone from other nations to organized crime. But of course, it's not just the government. You know, banks, retail stores, insurance companies have all had their computers breached, and this just illustrates how really difficult it is for these institutions to stay ahead of the people who are after this information. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.