Researchers Say Office of Personnel Management Hack Leads to Ransomware

In June, 2015, it was revealed by an anonymous source that the Office of Personnel Management was hacked. This office, which administers civil service, is believed to have been the target of the Chinese government. This is one of the largest hacks in history involving a federal organization.

Slowly, the motivation behind the hacking is being understood. At first, it seemed obvious, the stolen data being personally identifiable information, which is what was taken can be used for new account fraud. But in government breaches, they usually look for military plans, blueprints, and documents that deal with policy.

The question, of course, is why did the hackers focus on this information? Well, some of the data that was taken was used to launch other attackers against contractors, and this resulted in the access to several terabytes of data.

Now, those who have become victims of this attack have found themselves being the target of ransomware.

Security experts have recently noticed that the victims have been getting phishing emails, and these messages look like they are coming directly from the Office of Personnel Management. When these emails arrive, the body and subject of the message seem as if the email contains an important file. When the unsuspecting victim downloads the .ZIP file, however, they instead receive a type of ransomware called Locky.

These attacks are much more dangerous than the average phishing attack. This is mainly due to the fact that they are being received by those who have worked with the Office of Personnel Management before. Thus, they have seen the genuine emails from the office, which look remarkably similar to the fake ones. The only thing that set the two emails apart was a typo that said “king regards,” instead of “kind regards,” and a phone number that doesn’t work. These are details that many people overlook, which makes it easy for hackers to be successful with these schemes.

Who was Really Behind This Hack?

Though experts believe that the Chinese government is behind this hack, there are some facts that look a bit fishy. For instance, since personal data was taken and data has been taking hostage, this seems much more like a typical cybercrime operation instead of something that a nation would do. After all, why would China be looking for a few hundred dollars from people who want their files back?

Of course, this could be a smokescreen and someone could just be using this attack as a smokescreen…and while experts are focused on this, the real attack could be planned for the future.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

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