Russian hackers have reportedly accessed the Pentagon’s unclassified emails, causing a two-week shut down of the system.
U.S. officials confirmed to NBC that a “sophisticated cyber intrusion” on July 25 affected around 4,000 military and civilian personnel working the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advise the White House, Defense Secretary, and other national security agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.
The attack was launched through an automated system that gathers large chunks of data in less than a minute and disseminates it to online accounts, CNBC reported. It is also believed the hackers, who have not yet been officially acting on the Russian government’s behalf, used encrypted social media accounts to coordinate the attack. No classified information or email accounts were involved in the breach, and the Pentagon plans to restore the email system this week.
The attack comes after news earlier this summer that Chinese hackers stole 21.5 million background check records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in July. The attack happened more than a year earlier and China has held onto the seized employee data with no evidence of using it.
Previous attacks, including the North Korean-orchestrated cyberattack on Sony Pictures last year, haven’t spurred an official White House or military response (at least publicly). The Obama administration is currently considering retaliation strategies for the OPM attack, but hasn’t announced specifics. Criminal charges, however, are an unlikely recourse, the New York Times reported.
“One of the conclusions we’ve reached is that we need to be a bit more public about our responses, and one reason is deterrence,” a senior administration official involved in the debate told the New York Times. “We need to disrupt and deter what our adversaries are doing in cyberspace, and that means you need a full range of tools to tailor a response.”