Data breach is U.S. government’s biggest hack, but well short of country’s largest

The Homeland Security Department headquarters in northwest Washington, Friday, June 5, 2015. China-based hackers are suspected once again of breaking into U.S. government computer networks, and the entire federal workforce could be at risk this time. The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management _ the human resources department for the federal government _ and the Interior Department had been compromised. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(MEDIA GENERAL) – Approximately 4 million current and former U.S. federal employees may have had their personal information stolen – reportedly by Chinese hackers – first reported by The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal on Thursday, June 4, 2015.

Chinese authorities have strongly rebuked the American allegations.

Federal personnel discovered the data breach in April, using a detection system called EINSTEIN, according to CNN. The Department of Homeland Security learned in May sensitive material may have been compromised.

This latest attack is considered the largest breach of the U.S. government’s computer system in the country’s history, but several other hacks have affected more people. Here are some details on some of the biggest:


More than 110 million Target customer accounts were hacked around the Christmas holiday season in 2013. Hackers reportedly stole up to 40 million credit card numbers and accessed personal information of up to 70 million customers through online accounts.

Investigators revealed hackers gained access to Target’s payment system through login information from a company that used to conduct heating and air conditioning services for the retail chain.


HeartlandThe 2008 data breach at Heartland Payment Systems is hailed as one of the largest-ever criminal data extractions. Heartland, the fifth-largest payments processor in the United States, discovered more than 130 million credit card numbers and more than 650 financial services companies may have been compromised by hackers. Heartland hackers targeted, among other things, track data from a credit card’s magnetic strip so criminals could produce legitimate fakes.

The company paid more than $110 million in restitution to Visa, MasterCard and other card companies. The hack proved costly in other ways, too: the company’s stock plummeted 77.6 percent within two months of the announcement of the data breach, per Bloomberg.



In 2005, Hackers were able to access their way into the payment systems for TJX, a conglomerate that owns T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls. According to reports, over the course of several months, hackers stole credit card data for up to 94 million TJX customers.

Albert Gonzalez, alleged mastermind of the attack, was arrested in 2008 after an investigation into a separate hacking incident. Gonzalez was used as an FBI informant to capture other hackers and was given a reduced sentence. He was sentenced to serve 20 years in a medium security prison for his role in several data breaches, including the TJX and Heartland hacks.



Sony has been no stranger to data breaches. Although likely most known for the recent email hack that targeted Sony Pictures, the more notable data breach came in 2011. Sony Playstation services were shut down for several days in 2011 after hackers breached the Playstation network and its streaming service, Qriocity, to steal information on 77 million credit card accounts.

In 2014, Sony Pictures reportedly was targeted by hackers affiliated with North Korea angered over the upcoming release of “The Interview,” a movie by comedic actor Seth Rogen that depicted an assassination attempt of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The hack held up the theatrical debut of the movie, which later was released online, as well as a host of embarrassing emails and photos.




Early in 2015, Anthem insurance was the target of a data breach. According to reports, hackers gained access to up to 80 million customer records, including names, birthdays, medical IDs, social security numbers and other personal records.




Home Depot, the home improvement retail giant, was hit by hackers in 2014. The retailer announced hackers gained access to 56 million credit card accounts, as well as 53 million customer email addresses. Investigators discovered Home Depot fell victim to the same security loophole that hit Target, gaining access through login information from a refrigeration contractor’s account.

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