China denies role in recent U.S. government security hack

China has rejected claims by unnamed U.S. officials that its agents hacked federal government computers, compromising the personal data of at least 4 million current and former federal employees.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called the allegations “irresponsible” and urged U.S. officials to step up cooperation on stopping hacking, a problem both countries share, he said.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeatedly said the United States does not know if China was behind the attack, saying that the FBI continues to investigate.

“No conclusions about the attribution of this particular attack have been reached at this point,” Earnest told reporters at his daily briefing. “This is something that’s still under investigation. Obviously, even preliminary aspects of an investigation can steer you in one direction or another. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to get to the bottom of this particular incident.”

The hack at the Office of Personnel Management, which the OPM revealed Thursday, is the second serious breach of federal agency data revealed over the last three months. In April it was learned that hackers, thought to be from Russia, had compromised White House and State Department email systems.

Staffers for Congressman Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said they received word Friday that OPM would notify departments whose employees were affected by the breach starting Monday, a process that could take up to two weeks.

“There’s no way to really know (if any local employees were affected) until they notify us,” said Matt Rice, Bost’s district director.

According to Shimkus spokesman Doug Bugger, the message received from OPM stated that it appeared only employees who have worked within the executive branch were affected by the breach.

A year ago, the Justice Department indicted five members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, accusing them of stealing data from U.S. businesses to benefit Chinese companies. The indictments spiked tensions between the two countries and have effectively ended talks on reducing cyberespionage.

Federal officials say the most recent breach is one of the largest ever involving personal information of government workers.