WH: Hackers accessed 'sensitive' data but nothing confidential

WH: Hackers accessed 'sensitive' data but nothing confidential

The White House on Wednesday acknowledged hackers had access to “sensitive” data during a breach in the fall but reiterated no confidential material was lifted, and the networks were never damaged.

Press secretary Josh Earnest also declined to confirm whether Russian hackers were behind the incident, as security experts widely believe.

A Tuesday report revealed that Russian hackers used a foothold in the State Department’s networks to infiltrate the White House in the fall, giving them a view of materials like President Obama’s private schedule.  


“Certainly, there is sensitive information that is transmitted on the White House network, and that’s one of the reasons that we describe the activity that we saw on the network as concerning,” Earnest said during a Wednesday briefing.

But he insisted several times that “there was no damage” to the network as a result of the hackers rooting around for months.

Still, six months after the digital assault was made public, the White House has not fully restored all functionality.

“There were some, essentially, capabilities or functions that were changed on the system to try to mitigate the impact of this activity of concern, or this intrusion that we detected,” Earnest said, declining to give specifics. “The vast majority of those capabilities or those changes have been restored.”

Several reporters pressed Earnest on whether the U.S. had tied the cyberattack to any country or specific hackers.

Based on technical evidence, security experts are united in their belief that Russia orchestrated the digital hit as both an act of espionage and to show the world it could penetrate the highest levels of the American government.

Earnest wouldn’t bite.

“Based on the amount of scrutiny that this has received by the White House and other national security agencies, I suspect that there are some well-developed theories about that, but I wouldn’t comment on that,” he said.

In December, following a massive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that wiped the film studio’s computers, the FBI took the unprecedented step of naming North Korea as the hack’s instigator.

“In that case, the FBI made the determination that we could be more effective in holding the North Koreans accountable for the cyber vandalism that some North Korean groups perpetrated against Sony by naming them,” Earnest said.

Doing the same following the White House hack is “not in our best interests,” he added.