China leads the world in computer espionage, according to an annual report that monitors the state of global cyber threats.
Ninety-six percent of cyber espionage cases targeting intellectual property and business trade secrets were attributed to “threat actors in China,” while the remaining four percent were unknown, according to the “2013 Data Breach Investigations Report
," which is issued by Verizon, a large U.S. telecom firm.
“This may mean that other threat groups perform their activities with greater stealth and subterfuge,” read the report. “But it could also mean that China is, in fact, the most active source of national and industrial espionage in the world today.”
While the numbers certainly seem clear, some security experts caution not to draw too many conclusions from the report.
“Verizon doesn't explain how they determine that an event is state-sponsored, nor how they distinguish between legitimate attacks originating from China and those which use compromised servers in Chinese IP space,” said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of Taia Group, a cyber-security firm. “Hence, any conclusion that they try to draw about the government of China has to be taken with a great degree of skepticism.”
Carr said he believes a lot of the espionage originating in China could “actually be the work of non-state actors working in the Chinese IP space.”
However, he said he welcomed recent discussions between the U.S. and Chinese official to collaborate on dealing with cyber attacks.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, discussed cybersecurity with his Chinese counterpart, Fang Fenghui, during his visit to China this week. Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry also discussed the topic with Chinese leaders during a visit to Beijing.
Banks and other financial institutions remain the most targeted among hackers, according to Verizon, but manufacturing companies, transportation organizations and utility companies were also targeted.
Verizon’s data was compiled from numerous sources, including U.S. and foreign incident response teams and companies that have engaged Verizon to perform cyber work.