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SAN ANTONIO — Someone broke into the Air Force’s Assignment Management System and may have stolen the personal information of tens of thousands of officers.
On Aug. 18, personnel officials began notifying about 33,300 officers and 19 airmen that their records were accessed by a still-unidentified information burglar.
The breach occurred in the May-June time frame.
The information in the Assignment Management System could be a gold mine for an identity thief. Besides Social Security numbers, it includes other things protected under the Privacy Act, such as marital status, number of dependents, date of birth, race/ethnic origin (if declared), civilian educational degrees and major areas of study, school and year of graduation, and duty information for overseas assignments or for routinely sensitive units.
Web sites in China are being used heavily to target computer networks in the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies, successfully breaching hundreds of unclassified networks, according to several U.S. officials.
Classified systems have not been compromised, the officials added. But U.S. authorities remain concerned because, as one official said, even seemingly innocuous information, when pulled together from various sources, can yield useful intelligence to an adversary.
"The scope of this thing is surprisingly big," said one of four government officials who spoke separately about the incidents, which stretch back as far as two or three years and have been code-named Titan Rain by U.S. investigators. All officials insisted on anonymity, given the sensitivity of the matter.
Whether the attacks constitute a coordinated Chinese government campaign to penetrate U.S. networks and spy on government databanks has divided U.S. analysts. Some in the Pentagon are said to be convinced of official Chinese involvement; others see the electronic probing as the work of other hackers simply using Chinese networks to disguise the origins of the attacks.