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Chinese Government Won’t Deny It Was Behind Cyberattack

U.S. officials said Thursday they believe Chinese hackers were responsible for stealing the personal records of up to four million current and former federal employees.

The cyber attack against the Office of Personnel Management, which functions as the government’s human resources division, constitutes one of the most expansive thefts of government data in history, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The breach was first detected in April, investigators confirmed the loss of records in May, and China was identified as the suspected culprit this week, though the investigation is still ongoing. (RELATED: Cyberattack Map Shows US Continually Under Assault)

Intelligence officials told CNN Thursday night they believe the data is being added to a database of American citizens being compiled by the Chinese military, though they did not specify what China might plan to do with such a large trove of personal information.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the accusation indignantly during a press briefing Friday, but notably stopped short of actually denying that China was responsible for the hack.

“China itself is also a victim of cyberattacks,” said ministry spokesman Hong Lei, adding, “China resolutely tackles cyberattack activities in all forms.” (RELATED: Chinese Hackers Suspected of Infiltrating US Post Office, Stealing Data on 800,000 People)

“Cyberattacks are anonymous, cross-border and hard to trace,” Hong pointed out. “If you keep using the words ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ without making a thorough study, this is irresponsible and unscientific. We hope the U.S. side will shed its suspicions.”

The FBI, for its part, issued a statement saying that it “will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace,” but did not specifically mention China.

The OPM incident is merely the latest in a rash of cyberattacks targeting government agencies and private companies in the U.S., most of which have allegedly been carried out by Chinese and Russian hackers in pursuit of military and economic secrets.

OPM had previously suffered a separate cyberattack, and computer systems at the State Department, the U.S. Postal Service, and the White House have also been victimized, according to Reuters(RELATED: Russians Embarrass US, Steal Sensitive White House Info With Basic Cyberattack)

In a press release Thursday confirming the incident, the OPM said it is working with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to determine the exact nature and extent of the larceny, but warned that the data could be used to perpetrate identity theft or other types of financial fraud.

The agency said it would offer free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to individuals whose data may have been compromised, and that it would begin contacting potential victims next week.

Follow Peter Fricke on Twitter

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