A new congressional report points to the Chinese government as the suspect behind the hacking of computers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The FDIC as a regulator is responsible for handling sensitive information about the U.S. banking system.

Employees at the federal agency, however, concealed information about the data breach to "avoid effecting the outcome" of FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg's confirmation in 2011, the report reveals.

Gruenberg was nominated to the post by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Cover-Up

The hacking incidents compromised 12 workstations and 10 servers at the FDIC, the report states.

But Russ Pittman, the FDIC's current technology head, ordered employees to stay silent on the breach since word of the attacks could impede Gruenberg's congressional approval, claims a witness who spoke to lawmakers compiling the report.

Incumbent FDIC officials, who have been asked to provide further information on the hacking, have deliberately covered up the incidents, according to the lawmakers. The report includes instances when FDIC employees, who were departing from the federal agency, took documents crucial to the investigation of other intrusions.

While Beijing is identified as the culprit behind the attacks, the congressional document itself does not provide explicit evidence directly linking the Chinese government to the FDIC hacking. Only a memorandum released in 2013 by the inspector general, which serves as the FDIC's internal watchdog, cites Beijing as the suspect.

An internal investigation at the banking regulator forms the basis of the lawmakers' claims, although the investigators have yet to identify the files taken by the intruders, according to a redacted version of the memo from the inspector general reviewed by Reuters.

'Economic Intelligence'

The Chinese embassy has kept mum over the issue, but a source familiar with the matter told Reuters the hackers were possibly mining "economic intelligence" from the federal agency.

In September, however, the U.S. and China signed a pact that the latter would stop performing commercial espionage through hacking. Despite Washington's belief that such intrusions allegedly undertaken by Beijing have decreased, the U.S. government is convinced China has penetrated deep into some of the most sensitive data files of federal agencies.

Cybersecurity has been one of the main challenges faced by the Obama administration.

In 2015, for instance, the personal data of 21.5 million current and former U.S. government employees, who underwent background checks with the Office of Personnel Management, were compromised. As in the case of the FDIC, China was believed to be the mastermind of the attack on the OPM. The break-in took hold of the victims' Social Security numbers and health and financial data.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration also proposed a budget of $19 billion to beef up cybersecurity and overhaul IT systems for the government and the general population.

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