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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs