White House staffers targeted in Gmail attack

White House staffers were among those targeted in the recent phishing attack on Gmail users, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

Google said Wednesday that hundreds of Gmail users had been targeted in a phishing scheme that obtained their usernames and passwords, including journalists, Chinese political activists and senior U.S. government officials.

The search giant said the attack originated in Jinan, China, which was reportedly the point of origin of an attack on Google's systems last year. Chinese officials rejected the accusation as a fabrication on Thursday.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that President Obama is aware of the reports of the attack, noting the president has made cybersecurity one of this top priorities. Carney said there is no reason to believe at this point that any official government email accounts were accessed.

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The White House declined to comment further on Friday, referring all questions to the FBI, which did not respond to a request for comment. Google is cooperating with the FBI on an investigation, and declined to comment for this article.

Carney clarified that the administration's policy is to conduct all official business on work email accounts as mandated by the Presidential Records Act. He said staffers are allowed to have Gmail accounts for private use.

"If you’re talking about private use that’s just different from work use. We are definitely instructed that we need to conduct all of our work on our government accounts as part of the Presidential Records Act," Carney said. 

"I’m not aware of any law or rule that suggests that government workers cannot have separate private email accounts."

The issue of White House staffers using private email accounts for official business has been raised during both the Bush and Obama administrations, with lawmakers from the opposition party arguing officials are circumventing the PRA.

“The fact that hackers targeted the private accounts of senior White House officials is alarming but not surprising. If all White House officials were following rules prohibiting the use of personal email for official business, there would simply be no sensitive information to find," said House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

"Unfortunately, we know that not everyone at the White House follows those rules and that creates an unnecessary risk.”

Google emphasized the attack was not targeted at its systems but directly at Gmail users, and that none of the firm's systems have been compromised. Similar attacks reportedly targeted Hotmail and Yahoo's free email service this week as well.