Chinese hackers are being suspected of exploiting a vulnerability of software made by SolarWinds that enabled the threat actors to break into US government computers last year, as stated by five people familiar with the cyberattacks. This marks another angle on the cybersecurity breach trail that United States Lawmakers labelled ‘national security emergency’.
Two people who were briefed by FBI investigators regarding the case have just found out that the National Finance Center, a payroll agency inside the federal US Department of Agriculture is one of the affected organizations. This raises the fears on the probability of leaked compromised data that belongs to thousands of employees and government staffs.
The software vulnerability that the suspected Chinese hacking group exploited is not the same as the one that the US government accused Russian government operatives of that have compromised 18,000 SolarWinds clients and customers, including sensitive federal agencies and organizations.
Cybersecurity researchers had previously mentioned a ‘second group of hackers’ identified to abuse the SolarWinds’ software vulnerability during the same period as the Russian group hackers, but the connection to China was not yet observed ensuing the US government breach.
The number of victims and affected organizations compromised has not been established in the current Chinese operation. Still, the sources who spoke on anonymity divulge some ongoing investigations and say that the threat actors used hacking tools infrastructure previously deployed by the government-backed Chinese cyberspies.
China’s foreign ministry stated that the attributing of cyberattacks is a ‘complex technical issue’ and any allegations need to be supported by evidence. The ministry stated that the Chinese government opposes and combats any forms of cyber-attacks and cyber-theft.
Still, what information the cyber attacker has stolen from the National Finance Center (NFC) or how deep they have got into the system is not yet determined. The potential impact can be massive. NFC is the agency responsible for handling several government agencies’ payroll documents, including organizations involved in national security such as FBI, Homeland Security, Treasury Department and the State Department.
The data records being held by the National Finance Center includes government employees and staffs’ social security information, contact numbers, personal emails as well as banking information.
According to NFC’s website, they serve more than 160 diverse agencies and provide payroll management services to more than 600,000 Federal employees.