Federal government hacked: Assessing China's alleged role

As the U.S. government continues to investigate the security breach suspected to be the work Chinese hackers, the former head of the FBI's cyber security branch says based on the data collected, it would not surprise him if China is to blame.

"If in fact this is China and they're targeting the type of information that we hear about - information regarding government employees, past and present - it's indicative of collecting intelligence that would allow them to have some added value as they target human beings in the future, trying to collect information, perhaps trying to penetrate U.S. government agencies," Shawn Henry said Friday on "CBS This Morning."

FBI suspects China of government hack

Beijing says any allegations China was involved are irresponsible and unscientific. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington called the accusations "not responsible and counterproductive."

Henry, now president of the private Internet security firm CrowdStrike, said while there could be other actors, the government has long looked at China for targeting the commercial sector in search of intellectual property in research and development.

In a statement Thursday night, the Department of Homeland Security said data from the Office of Personnel Management -- the human resources department for the federal government -- and the Interior Department had been compromised. At least 4 million current and former federal workers' information has been affected.

The FBI is still assessing the impact of the breach that involves nearly every U.S. government agency. CBS News correspondent Major Garrett reports that one official said "This is bad. There is no way to put lipstick on this pig."

While the scope of this attack is unprecedented, Henry said it shines a light on a much larger problem.

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CBS News

"Our networks are all inherently insecure, and the very information that we rely on every day is susceptible to being stolen or, more importantly, being destroyed," he said.

Henry said this attack is of significant concern because in the past, hackers have destroyed entire networks.

"We've got to learn how to better detect these attacks because we're not going to prevent people from getting in all the time," he said.

Henry said it's a positive thing officials are already speaking openly about the issue.

"The U.S. government has been targeted for many years by a lot of different actors, but what we're seeing here, and the fact that the government is coming out as quickly as they are - they're alerting the public," Henry said.