Federal investigators are looking into possible Chinese military involvement in a cyber hack at Register.com which manages more than 1.4 million website addresses for businesses around the world.
Hackers are suspected of stealing passwords after breaking into Register’s network for about a year, the Financial Times reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the investigation.
But the breach, which the company reported to the FBI but not to customers or investors, is not known to have caused disruptions or resulted in any theft of client data.
That led investigators believe the hackers are state-sponsored rather than criminals trying to make money from credit card data or social security information.
Although the trail points to possible Chinese military involvement, it is unclear what China would want to accomplish by hacking the site.
Some current and former law enforcement officials said, however, that the hack could be aimed at obtaining the ability to undermine large parts of internet infrastructure.
That would enable hackers to redirect traffic to unintended websites, steal data, access email accounts associated with those sites, or cause web pages to crash, among other consequences.
The Chinese defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The Register.com threat reflects the growing danger of state-sponsored cyber hacks, which are more difficult to prosecute than criminal attacks.
In an unprecedented move, the Justice Department last year indicted five members of the Chinese military for hacking into several US companies to steal trade secrets but it is doubtful that they will ever be apprehended.
Register.com is a unit of Web.com, whose companies cater to businesses as well as doctors’ practices.
In addition to managing web addresses, known as domain names, they also host websites and provide ecommerce and email services, so they have access to a site’s files, credit card data and other information.
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