Hackers who breached White House network allegedly accessed sensitive data

Hackers who broke in to both the White House's and State Department's networks last year were able to gain nonpublic details of the president's schedule, says a report.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read

Hackers allegedly exploited a security breach at the State Department to attack the White House's computer network. CNET

Russian-government hackers who reportedly breached the White House's computer systems late last year gained access to sensitive information, though US officials said at the time that they hadn't, according to a story published Tuesday by CNN.

Officials had previously said the White House breach, in October, had affected only an unclassified network, but sources told CNN that hackers were able to gain access to real-time nonpublic details of the president's schedule. Sources told CNN that the hackers are believed to be the same ones behind a damaging cyberattack on the US Department of State around the same time last year, which forced the department to shut down its email system for an extended period.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes maintained Tuesday that the breached White House system did not contain sensitive data.

"We have an unclassified system and then we have a classified system, a top secret system," Rhodes told CNN. "We do not believe that our classified systems were compromised."

And a White House spokesperson sought to downplay the Tuesday report, saying it was based on a security breach already revealed to the public.

"This report is not referring to a new incident," spokesman Mark Stroh said in a statement to the media. "Any such activity is something we take very seriously. In this case, as we made clear at the time, we took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity." Stroh said, as officials did last year, that the US would not comment on who might be behind the attacks.

The FBI, Secret Service and US intelligence agencies are all investigating the security breaches, which CNN's sources say were the result of one of the most sophisticated cyberattacks ever directed at US government agencies.

Tuesday's report emerges amid an uptick in hacker thefts of private data concerning governments, corporations and individuals -- from sensitive emails to medical records to financial information. Possession of such data could be very valuable, whether it's to enable criminal acts or assist in government espionage.

In the State Department breach, none of the department's classified email system was affected, a senior department official said at the time. But the hackers used that breach to break in to the White House's network, CNN reported Tuesday. After the White House security breach was revealed in October, suspicions arose among security researchers that hackers working for the Russian government were behind both attacks, said a Washington Post story at the time.

Despite efforts by the State Department to shore up its security, hackers have been able to reenter the system, resulting in the network being "owned" for months by Russian hackers, sources told CNN.

The State Department has shut down parts of its computer network twice since the breach on its system, with, according to an ABC News report, the goal of ferreting out malicious software tucked into the department's unclassified email system by Russian hackers.