What local cyber attacks? US personnel data breach not isolated event

The massive cyber attack against the US government is not an unusual event. Such attacks happen all the time, but victims either don’t realise or refuse to share the valuable threat intelligence that is vital to the global fight against cyber attacks.

The massive cyber attack that has unfolded in the United States over the last two weeks is hugely damaging, both to the lives of many millions of current and former US government employees whose personal information was stolen and to their nation’s interests.

It now appears that basic personal details as well as more intimate and detailed information gleaned from security clearance applications going back 30 years has been stolen by the one group, in a serious of attacks that began in March, 2014. The attackers targeted the federal Office of Personnel Management and health insurance firms with government workers on their books, as well as two companies doing background checks for the Department of Homeland Security, first one and then its replacement.

All two million US government staff were affected and up to 12 million more who have worked for the government at some point, according to various reports. Other attacks in the same campaign could yet be launched, building on the previously stolen information, or could be underway already. But this is not some sort of unlikely, worst-case scenario that doesn’t come around very often, and it’s certainly not an isolated event. There are far more cyber attacks than most of us realise happening all the time, and a whole world of unwitting victims. “It’s not just enterprises … also government organisations that are relatively trivially broken into, for the most part.”

Network security firm FireEye has a better view than most, thanks to real-time data that many of its clients around the world agree to share with it, but even this is only a small sample of the full picture. To illustrate the point, FireEye’s Asia-Pacific chief technology officer, Bryce Boland, feels the need to confirm the “big data breach in the US” we’re referring to is the one he thinks it is. “There’s been a lot of them; there are a lot of them on a regular basis,” he says, speaking to The Mandarin from his Singapore office.

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