The Biggest Cyberattack Against the US in Recent History Just Keeps Getting Worse

US officials say the fingerprints of about 5.6 million US workers were stolen during the hack.

Howard Bartrop/Zuma

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


On the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to Washington, DC, the Obama administration released alarming new numbers about one of the biggest computer hacks in American history—traceable, officials say, to China—a move that could potentially heighten tension ahead of the historic meeting.

The Office of Personnel Management announced that it had substantially underestimated the number of people whose fingerprints were stolen during the attack earlier this year. About 5.6 million of 21.5 million federal employees, contractors, applicants, and others had their fingerprints stolen during a hack of the OPM’s background check databases, the agency reported Wednesday morning. That figure is higher than the 1.1 million previously reported.

An interagency group including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense are reviewing how the fingerprint information could be used in nefarious ways, but it downplayed the immediate impact. “Federal experts believe that, as of now, the ability to misuse fingerprint data is limited,” the agency said in a statement issued Wednesday morning, as President Barack Obama and a host of dignitaries hosted Pope Francis at the White House. “However, this probability could change over time as technology evolves.”

Obama is expected to discuss cybersecurity with Xi during this week’s visit. As the New York Times points out, the hacks are thought to have originated in China, but it’s unclear who exactly was behind the theft. The information known to have been stolen includes Social Security numbers and other secrets, like information gathered during background checks that could be used for blackmail. Fingerprints could also help identify government employees or contractors working overseas, potentially exposing millions of Americans.

China and the United States have been attempting to hammer out a cybersecurity treaty ahead of Xi’s visit. The Chinese president used a speech in Seattle on Tuesday to paint himself as an ardent defender of cybersecurity.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate