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US Slams Chinese 'Government-sponsored' Cyber Attacks

The U.S. national flag is pictured at the Office of Personnel Management building in Washington, June 5, 2015.
The U.S. national flag is pictured at the Office of Personnel Management building in Washington, June 5, 2015.

The United States has criticized China for carrying out state-sponsored cyberattacks - a blunt accusation that comes as authorities in Washington continue to investigate a massive hack into federal employee data.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made the comment Tuesday during the second day of high-level security and economic talks with Chinese officials.

"We remain deeply concerned about Chinese government-sponsored cyber-enabled theft," he said.

In his public comments, Lew did not specifically mention the series of attacks revealed earlier this month during which hackers accessed or stole the sensitive personnel info of millions of current and former U.S. government employees.

The Obama administration has not openly accused the Chinese government of being behind the digital attack on the Office of Personnel Management, but various officials have said they are increasingly convinced this is the case.

Ahead of this week's annual talks with Beijing officials in Washington, a senior State Department official promised the hacking incident would be discussed "in very direct terms." No details of those conversations have been released.

Details continue to emerge about the scale of the hack into OPM computers. FBI Director James Comey now believes as many as 18 million current, former, and prospective federal employees were affected, according to U.S. lawmakers briefed on the matter who spoke to CNN.

That figure is much higher than the 4.2 million employees that the OPM has said were affected by the breach. Reports have also suggested the hackers gained access to extremely sensitive information found in federal employee background checks.

The Chinese government has strongly denied it is behind the cyber intrusion, and has blasted U.S. officials and media for speculating about the identity of the hackers.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi said China is prepared to work closer with the U.S. on the issue of cybercrime and said Beijing supports an "international code of conduct for cyber information sharing."

The U.S. last year charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into and stealing trade secrets from the computers of several large American nuclear, metal and solar companies.

China angrily denounced the indictment and suspended a series of discussions with the U.S. to combat cybercrimes. That dialogue has not yet resumed.

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