On the eve of President Barack Obama's high-level meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. intelligence officials have revealed that a slew of documents and e-mails were stolen during the 2008 presidential campaign from both the president and then GOP presidential candidate John McCain. Officials are accusing China's government for the hack.
According to NBC News, officials said that they first detected the major cyberattack in the summer of 2008 and were then able to trace the culprits back to China.
"Based on everything I know, this was a case of political cyberespionage by the Chinese government against the two American political parties," Dennis Blair, who served as President Obama's director of national intelligence in 2009 and 2010, told NBC News. "They were looking for positions on China, surprises that might be rolled out by campaigns against China."
The documents apparently included internal files and in one case a private letter between McCain and the president of Taiwan, according to NBC News. Before the letter was even sent, a Chinese diplomat contacted one of McCain's foreign policy advisers to complain about the correspondence.
The hackers reportedly infiltrated the campaigns' computers with phishing e-mails that inserted malware onto top staffers' laptops. The malware was then replicated throughout the entire campaigns' computer systems. This malicious software was "as sophisticated as anything we had seen," Alan Brill, senior managing director of Kroll Advisory Solutions, which was in charge of cleaning the Obama campaign's infected computers, told NBC News.
China has come under a barrage of cyberespionage accusations the past few months. After The New York Times admitted in January to being the victim of a lengthy hack that it believed was propagated by the Chinese government to spy on its journalists, The Wall Street Journal, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and dozens of other companies and news sources said their sites were hacked too, most likely by the same source.
In May, the Pentagon published a report claiming that the Chinese government and military have been engaged in widespread cyberespionage that has targeted U.S. government and business computer networks. And in the same month, a report by the Defense Science Board claimed that Chinese hackers accessed the designs for some of the most sensitive advanced U.S. weapons systems.
All along, however, the Chinese government has flatly denied it is involved in any hacking or cyberespionage.
During Xi's visit to the U.S., Obama is reportedly planning to discuss cyberespionage and China's alleged role in the dozens of hacks that have taken place against government agencies and U.S. companies over the last few years.