Washington (AFP) - The personal data of thousands of US government workers was not compromised in a recently reported cyber attack, officials said Thursday amid fresh allegations that Chinese hackers accessed computers housing employee information.
The Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Homeland Security took steps to mitigate the possible breach as soon as they learned of it, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after The New York Times reported that Chinese perpetrators had penetrated computer networks containing personal information on all federal employees in March.
"We have no reason to believe that any personally identifiable information was compromised," she said, declining to directly confirm the account detailed in the Times.
The White House offered a similar message.
"We have systems in place to deal with these kinds of threats and intrusions, and I know that those systems responded to this incident," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
The paper quoted senior US officials as saying the hackers appeared to be targeting the files of people who had applied for top-security clearances.
It is not yet clear how far the hackers got into the agency's systems. In the databases, people seeking a security clearance list their foreign contacts, previous jobs and personal data such as past drug use.
The attack was reportedly traced to China, but it unclear if the hackers were connected to the Chinese government.
The report came just as US Secretary of State John Kerry concluded two days of high-stakes talks with Chinese officials in Beijing, where he warned that cyber theft was having a "chilling effect" on US businesses innovation and competitiveness.
China insists that it too is a victim of hacking, and accuses Washington of hypocrisy since it conducts sweeping surveillance around the world.
Washington and Beijing launched a cybersecurity working group last year to help manage and tamp down the rising international threat from cyber espionage.
But Beijing suspended the dialogue in May after the United States accused China of commercial spying and indicted five Chinese military officers for hacking into US companies.
The United States wants the dialogue jump-started.
"We are eager to re-engage through the cyber working group that we have recently established with the Chinese, and that's been long the case before today," Psaki told reporters.
"We hope that that is something that we can reconvene in the near future."