News / USA

Hacking: Not Just China

Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai, February 19, 2013.Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai, February 19, 2013.
x
Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai, February 19, 2013.
Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai, February 19, 2013.
Computer hacking by the Chinese has been causing a stir in recent weeks, but experts warn that focusing too much on Beijing could open the door to cyber spies from other countries the U.S. government is monitoring.

For example, the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, a classified document said to represent a consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, named Russia, Israel and France, in addition to China, as leading countries engaged in hacking against U.S. targets for economic gain.

“In my opinion, while China is getting, and may even deserve, the lion’s share of the attention, they are not the only ones dabbling in cyber mischief,” said Christopher Burgess, author of Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Economic Espionage and Intellectual Property Theft in the 21st Century.

Narrowly focusing on China can have negative consequences, says Jeffrey Carr, founder and CEO of Taia Group, a cybersecurity firm, who wrote a blog post critical of a recent, and oft-cited study by the computer security firm, Mandiant, that focused on China’s hacking capabilities.

Carr said always blaming China, could cause “unnecessary ramping up of tensions” between the two rivals. He also said a narrow focus on China gives an “inaccurate picture of the global threat landscape, which leads to poor defense planning.” Finally, he said, too much emphasis on China could give “companies a false sense of security when they operate in countries besides China.”

Russia, for example, reportedly pulled off two very high-profile cyber attacks in recent years. In 2007, after a row with Estonia, cyber attacks said to be from Russia shut down Estonian government, media and financial computers. In 2008, during the South Ossetia War, Georgian computers faced similar attacks. The two incidents were enough for the U.S. Army to commission a paper analyzing the Russian cyber threat.

Late last year, Iran was seen as the likely culprit in a cyber attack on the Saudi oil industry, which brought down computers and even affected some U.S. financial institutions. In the wake of the attack, U.S Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Iran also has been the victim of cyber attack. It is widely believed the U.S. and Israel were behind the so-called Stuxnet worm that damaged key components of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The U.S. also was accused of hacking into the Elysée Palace computers in May of last year just before François Hollande succeeded Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France. The U.S. denied the charges.

Massive, Noisy, Familiar

The cost of cybercrime is a hotly debated topic, but there’s no doubt it costs the U.S. economy billions. And while other countries may be more discreet in their hacking activities, China appears to be comfortable conducting at least some of their cyber espionage in what experts call a “noisy” manner, meaning they’re not careful to cover their footprints.

Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian, said the Chinese have operated over the past decade “as if they don't care who knows what they are doing,” which he says probably represents the mindset of the generals who run the cyber espionage programs.

“This may, in part, be a reflection of the enormous pressure the Chinese intelligence 'mandarins' have been under from their political masters in Beijing to produce all of the commercial data needed to push forward the Chinese economy and spot opportunities for growth outside of China,” he said. “The Chinese perhaps calculated that the U.S. and other western nations would not do anything about their spying activities because of China's enormous new economic power on the world stage and Washington's need for Chinese cooperation on global issues like North Korea and Iran.”

Because Chinese cyber espionage can be noisy and easily discovered, experts say at least some of China’s activities in cyberspace are easy to understand because they’re familiar and persistent.

“I think in terms of sheer volume [China’s threat] is not an exaggeration, but it’s too simplistic,” said Aid. “It’s easy to make the Chinese the bogeyman. We know a great deal more about them, but we know so much less about Russia, Israel, France and Iran.”

It’s possible, Aid added, that Russia in particular may be even more successful than the Chinese because “they’ve been able to remain secret and covert.”

And while China is certainly on everyone’s mind now, Burgess said governments and corporations need to realize that a cyber threat can come from anywhere.
 
“The prudent strategy is prepare for all who may attack your infrastructure and be pleasantly surprised when they don't, and prepared if they do,” he said.

He also added that China’s noise is likely masking more sophisticated, quiet efforts.

Badge of Honor

It used to be a stigma for a U.S. company to be hacked by China, but as China’s stature has risen, more and more companies are coming forward claiming they’ve been hacked by the Chinese as some kind of badge of honor.

Recently, many U.S. media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and the Washington Post, have all claimed to have been hacked by the Chinese.

Carr relates the story of a client whose company was hacked by the Chinese.

The company computers were infiltrated, he said, after an executive visited China and returned to the U.S. The hack was cleaned up, but the executive went back to China, this time with a clean laptop.

“That was breached when he was asleep in his hotel room,” Carr said. “One of the executives for the company later said ‘our work has never been in the limelight. We’ve gotten some kind of status. All of a sudden, we matter.’”

Carr said that kind of thinking struck him as “weird.”

“If you had your choice of being hacked by Slovakia or China, the latter is much more interesting,” he said.

Nothing new

China’s aims are nothing new, says Burgess, citing the 863 Program, created by China in March of 1986 with the goal of identifying needed technologies -- and either developing them domestically or, as a 2011 report by the National Counterintelligence Executive said, “to clandestinely acquire U.S. technology and sensitive economic information.”

Aid said China has become “reasonably good at producing on a Detroit-style mass production basis vast amounts of foreign economic intelligence information by exploiting weaknesses in computer software and security systems.”

”You cannot measure the success or failure of Chinese espionage by our standards,” he said. “You have to try to put yourself in the shoes of the Chinese political leadership in Beijing, who perhaps feel that they have a narrow window of opportunity to work with, and who still fear the U.S. is still a substantial military power in East Asia, and the recent trends of pivoting U.S. national security strategy away from South Asia towards East Asia.”

Cover, for Now

Not only does China engage in massive cyber espionage, but the scale of it could very well allow other states to conduct their own spying behind the Chinese flag. In the short term, China may very well be doing Israel, France, Russia and, to a lesser extent, Iran, a favor.

“China is the best cover there is in the world for acts of cyber espionage,” said Carr. “Every foreign intelligence service should set up a front business in Shanghai or Beijing for that very reason.”

According to Burgess, a would-be cyber thief would not even have to physically be in China.

“I can make that connection bounce all over the world and you’re not going to be able to pinpoint where I’m coming from,” he said. “I can be sitting in Munich and make it look like like I’m in Beijing.”

Carr wondered why other states active in cyber espionage are never caught.

“It's not because they do it less, or because China is incompetent at it,” he said. “It could be because they are using China for cover. It could be because the Chinese government isn't involved at all; that it is the work of professional hacker crews who are Chinese, Eastern European, Brazilian, etc. and who then sell the information to China and/or other nation states. How is it that they’ve never one time discovered Russia, France or Israel doing these things? How can that happen, statistically speaking. I don’t understand.”

Over the long term, there could, however, be a silver lining to the Chinese cyber espionage story.

“The Chinese have done us a great service by making plain the nature and extent of the cyber threat that the U.S. and its allies face from countries such as, but not limited to, China,” said Aid. “With recognition of the threat comes the inevitable move to strengthen our cyber defenses, which not only will inevitably strangle off many of the most productive cyber targets that the Chinese have been exploiting, but also in the process kill off many of the targets in the U.S., Europe and Japan that Russia, France, and Israel have been more secretly monitoring for their own intelligence purposes.

“In effect,” Carr concluded, “the Chinese have queered the pitch for all the other nations that were quietly using cyber espionage to gather needed economic and political intelligence on the U.S. and its allies.”

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: WoW from: USA
February 22, 2013 11:30 AM
Wow! One of very few intelligent views on the subject! China's information security and IT aren't as mature as more developed countries. The systems there can be hacked relatively simply. If you talk to the people there, you'd know how much they hate hacking and most of them have bad experiences with it. China has lots of college students with a lot of free time. It will definitely be a fertile ground for hacking.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More