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U.S. won't confirm report of Chinese hacking

  • Story Highlights
  • News service reports investigation into possible copying of U.S. government laptop
  • Incident reportedly happened when Commerce secretary visited China
  • Various government agencies decline to confirm there is an investigation
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Government officials are not confirming a report that Chinese officials may have secretly copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a December visit to China by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

The Associated Press said an investigation into the suspected incident also involved whether China used the information to try to hack into Commerce computers.

The AP cited officials and industry experts as sources for the story, which said the surreptitious copying is believed to have occurred when a laptop belonging to someone in the U.S. trade delegation was left unattended.

When asked whether the Commerce Department is looking into the matter, spokesman Richard Mills said, "We take security seriously, and as we learn of concerns about security, we look into them."

The AP account says that when it asked the Commerce secretary about this alleged breach, he said, "because there is an investigation going on, I would rather not comment on that. To the extent that there is an investigation going on, those are the things being looked at; those are the questions being asked. I don't think I should provide any speculative answers."

The Commerce spokesman said this comment was taken out of context but would not elaborate.

The FBI does not confirm or deny investigations, but a government official said the agency is not conducting one.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said, "It's unclear to me who the AP is citing as conducting an investigation. The DHS at this time is not undertaking an investigation. There is nothing to substantiate an actual compromise at this time."

Knocke said that US-CERT, a DHS entity charged with analyzing and reducing cyberthreats and vulnerabilities, has visited the Commerce Department "roughly eight times" since Guttierez's December trip but that the visits had "nothing to do with laptops or these allegations." At some agencies, laptops and other electronic devices officials take abroad are routinely "scrubbed" upon return.

CNN also tried to reach the Chinese Embassy and the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China, but messages were not returned.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve, Kelli Arena and Adam Levine contributed to this report.

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