The Chinese government has arrested a number of hackers following an investigation into the data breach at the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) earlier this year.
The arrests were made prior to the much-publicised state visit to the US by Chinese president Xi Jinping in September to help calm heightened tensions between the two nations, according to The Washington Post.
Sources within the US government continue to point at China as being responsible for the breach, but Chinese state media has denied allegations of espionage by calling the matter a “criminal case”.
Dialogue between China and the US has continued as part of an agreement made in September that both countries will curb state-sponsored espionage against large firms and critical infrastructure.
Senior officials from the US government, including US attorney general Loretta Lynch and secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson, met Chinese state councillors this week for the first ‘US-China High-Level Joint Dialogue on Cybercrime and Related Issues’.
The meeting discussed the OPM hack, which China has blamed on “Chinese hackers” despite some suggesting the Chinese government itself was to blame.
Furthermore, the two nations reportedly reached an agreement on the guidelines covering a joint China-US fight against cyber crime and the establishment of a ‘cyber hot line’.
“Among the cases discussed included the one related to the alleged theft of data of the US OPM by Chinese hackers. Through investigation, the case turned out to be a criminal case rather than a state-sponsored cyber attack as the US side has previously suspected,” reported China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
It remains unclear who carried out the investigation or what is in store for those accused of the hack on the OPM. The names of the arrested suspects have not been released, and it is not known whether they have any ties to the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, national security advisor Susan Rice and assistant to the president for homeland security Lisa Monaco met Chinese state councillor Guo Shengkun in a separate meeting to discuss the cyber pact, along with the terrorist threat from Islamic State and human rights abuses.
“The US and Chinese delegations agreed on the importance of expanding practical bilateral cooperation while also dealing directly with our differences in order to continue developing the US-China relationship,” reported the White House.
The OPM has launched a Cybersecurity Resource Centre to allow people to verify whether their personal information was compromised in the breach.
The government department is still in the process of sending notification letters to affected staff, and is posting up to 800,000 letters a day, according to acting OPM director Beth Cobert.
“We are on schedule to finish the mailing in the next two weeks. This resource centre will help those who believe their data may have been taken but have not received a notification letter from the government,” Cobert said.
“The centre will also assist individuals who have received a letter letting them know they were affected by the background investigation records intrusion, but who have lost the PIN that allows them to sign up for the free services that the federal government is providing.”
The OPM hack was only one of several high-profile breaches this year after Target, Ashley Madison and TalkTalk were hit by cyber attacks and data theft.
Former NSA cyber expert and US Air Force veteran Cedric Leighton told V3 that he believes the cyber war is already underway.
“It’s very important for all organisations, whether they be governmental, NGO-type or private sector, to realise one salient thing: we are really all at war,” he said.
“Whether you like it or not you have been enlisted in this effort to secure your networks and to secure your digital infrastructure.”