Print options

March 19, 2013

China Says It is Victim of Cyberattacks, Not Perpetrator

by Jim Randle

China is complaining it is the victim, not the perpetrator, of cyber attacks that steal military and trade secrets from computers in foreign lands.  But, U.S. experts say Chinese attacks on U.S.-based computers are a growing threat to the economy.  

A Chinese report says the country is under “severe” cyber attacks, aimed at government websites or at trying to defraud ordinary people.

Chinese cyber experts are quoted in state-controlled media as saying most of the attacks are traced to computer addresses in the United States.

Chinese officials have long denied U.S. allegations that Beijing’s military is behind a flood of sophisticated cyber attacks targeting security and economic targets in America and elsewhere.  

The cyber attack issue is so important that it was a key topic in talks in Beijing between China’s new president, Xi Jinping, and new U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.  

Cyber security expert Jessica Herrera-Flanigan of the Monument Policy Group tells VOA’s Encounter Program that Washington is stepping up its rhetoric and diplomatic efforts against cyber attacks because it perceives them as a threat to the economy.  

“What we are seeing are threats against critical infrastructure," said Flanigan. "So, we are talking about threats against our energy sector, the banking sector, telecommunications, smart grids, oil and gas - basically, all the critical assets that we have that operate our day-to-day living are being impacted.  At the same time, we are seeing an increased economic threat.”

Another cyber expert is Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council.  On VOA’s Encounter Program, he said the attacks have not yet cut economic growth measurably, but the loss of intellectual property, could hurt the economy in the future. 
 
These experts say nations, including the United States, China, and Russia are actively honing their cyber skills for offense and defense.  Healey says Beijing does not tightly control cyber operations.

“When we talk to the Chinese ... the PLA [China’s army] is off in one corner," said Healey. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not clued in on what anybody is doing.  You have state-owned enterprises that have at least as much power as some Cabinet ministers.  You have regional military commands.  And, very few of the people at the top of the Chinese party have any background in foreign affairs, much less cyber.”

He says the goal of the stepped-up U.S. rhetoric is to encourage Beijing to watch cyber activities by China’s military and state-owned enterprises more closely.