Chinese hackers stealing private emails of top US officials

Chinese hackers stealing private emails of top US officials
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Chinese hackers have infiltrated the private email accounts for “many” top Obama administration officials, NBC News reports.

The espionage stretches back to at least April 2010, according to a secret briefing document and a senior official quoted by NBC.

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While the Beijing-backed digital spies have not been able to crack government email accounts, private email accounts hosted by companies including Google have been widely compromised.

The senior official told NBC News that "all top national security and trade officials" have been targeted in the email grab.

"In addition to pilfering potentially useful intelligence information, the hackers apparently also stole email address books to launch targeted cyberattacks on the officials’ contacts," the official said.

The revelation raises the question of whether former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLanny Davis says Nixon had more respect for the Constitution than Trump Clinton commemorates Sandy Hook anniversary: 'No child should have to fear violence' Sanders, Warren meet ahead of potential 2020 bids MORE’s private email account was among those compromised during this period.

The Democratic presidential front-runner has faced continued controversy since it was discovered that she used a private email service hosted on her own server during her time in the Obama administration.

The secret National Security Agency (NSA) briefing did not name the officials whose private emails were taken.

Security specialists have noted that Clinton’s server, registered to her Chappaqua, N.Y., home, did not follow several best practices for encrypting data. Critics of Clinton have said they believe foreign intelligence agencies almost certainly knew about and tried to exploit the setup.  

The attack on senior officials' private email accounts is a small part of a massive cyber espionage campaign the Chinese government is thought to be conducting on the U.S.

Beijing-backed hackers are suspected in the recent theft of more than 22 million people’s personal data from the Office of Personnel Management. Those same hackers have also been tied to mammoth breaches at multiple health insurers and possibly at two major airlines.

Intelligence officials say the Asian power is building a comprehensive database on U.S. government workers. Such detailed data could be used to launch targeted cyberattacks, imitate officials, conduct blackmail or recruit informants.