U.S. authorities are conducting an investigation on a possible breach of the computer systems at the federal Office of Personnel Management, as reported by an official from the Department of Homeland Security.
Hackers from China broke into the systems in March, which contain the personal information of all United States government employees.
The hackers were able to gain access to the databases before authorities detected and blocked the attack. However, it is not yet determined how deep the hackers were able to get into the systems of the agency.
It seemed that the hackers were targeting information on the employees that have filed applications for top-secret security clearances. These employees listed their foreign contacts, past employments and personal data in their applications.
The Department of Homeland Security official confirmed the cyber-attack, but said that neither the Office of Personnel Management nor Homeland Security has "identified any loss of personally identifiable information."
Another senior government official reported that the attempted hack was traced back to China, but added that it was not determined whether the hackers were connected to the country's government.
Reports on the attack add to the tension between the two countries over computer intrusions. China was one of the targets of the surveillance of the National Security Agency, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Evidence revealed by Snowden showed that the NSA was able to penetrate deep into the systems of major computer network equipment manufacturer Huawei, along with running several programs that intercepted conversations between the country's leaders and military.
The United States, on the other hand, has recently filed charges against five Chinese military officers, with accusations of hacking attacks against U.S. companies that aimed to extract trade secrets. In response to the allegations, China expressed its dissent by closing down a bilateral working group focused on cyber security.
Security firm CrowdStrike recently reported that Deep Panda, one of the top hacker groups in China, is moving away from its focus on think tanks in the United States that monitor political issues in Asia and onto the involvement of the United States in the Middle East.
Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike co-founder and chief technology officer, believes that the group's change of focus to the Middle East is linked to the rise to power of the Islamic State in Iraq. Iraq is also the fifth-largest source for crude oil imports of the country, with China being the biggest foreign investor in Iraq's oil industry, so knowing more about the involvement of the United States will help protect China's investments in Iraq's oil business.