News / Asia

    US-China Cyber Spying Case Turns Spotlight on Shadowy Unit 61398

    Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai, Feb. 19, 2013.
    Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai, Feb. 19, 2013.
    Reuters
    A tense stand-off between the United States and China over state-backed cyber espionage has dragged China's secretive hacking unit “61398” back into focus, after the military group was pinpointed last year for mounting cyber attacks on Western commercial targets.
     
    U.S. authorities on Monday charged five Chinese military officers at the unit, accusing them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar firms to steal trade secrets. China on Tuesday summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing and warned it would retaliate if Washington followed through with the charges. It said the affair would damage “mutual trust.”
     
    At the center of the argument is a nondescript tower block in the northern suburbs of China's financial capital Shanghai, home to Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398.
     
    The 12-story block houses as many as several thousand staff, according to Mandiant, a U.S. cyber security firm recently acquired by global network security company FireEye Inc. Mandiant identified the location as the source of a large number of espionage operations in a 70-page report last year.
     
    “This unit is one of the most prolific. The group is really active and very aggressive,” said Pierluigi Paganini, a cyber security expert and founder of Security Affairs, based in Italy.
     
    Unit 61398's Shanghai base is kitted out with specialist fiber optic lines, while staff are trained in areas from English linguistics to covert communications, network security and cyber attack strategy, according to the Mandiant report.
     
    The unit's operatives, working under code names such as “UglyGorilla”, “DOTA” and “SuperHard”, also have close research and recruitment ties with China's leading academic centers such as the prestigious Shanghai Jiaotong University.
     
    Publicly available academic reports, school registers, recruitment notices and local online community notice boards show a web of social, educational and academic networks spreading out from the cyber spying unit. Military units in China are often organized in this way with schools, sports clubs and social events organized communally for unit members.
     
    Tip of the iceberg

     
    However, unit 61398 - more formally known as General Staff Department (GSD), Third Department, Second Bureau - is just one of dozens of similar groups based in China, and far from the foremost, said Mandiant analyst Jen Weedon.
     
    “The unit is one of many and its tradecraft is not that great. They are one of the ones that doesn't seem to mind leaving traces behind,” she told Reuters.
     
    The unit, which started operating in or before 2006, saw activity drop sharply in the wake of the 2013 Mandiant report, but has since returned to “business as usual” after it overhauled some of its hacking techniques, Weedon added.
     
    The new allegations are that Chinese state-owned firms “hired” the unit, which used a range of cyber attack methods to illegally gather corporate information from mostly U.S. firms and help give Chinese companies a competitive edge.
     
    The unit “stole sensitive, internal communications”, using tactics such as “spear phishing” emails to gain access to employees' computers, after which it was able to collect internal data, according to the indictment document, posted on the United States Department of Justice website.
     
    Federal prosecutors said the suspects targeted companies including Alcoa Inc, Allegheny Technologies Inc., United States Steel Corp, Toshiba Corp unit Westinghouse Electric Co, the U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG , and a steel workers' union.
     
    Unit 61398 - or at least one very much like it - also stole data from at least one U.S. government agency in a hacking campaign named 'Byzantine Candor', according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.
     
    “Hackers based in Shanghai and linked to the PRC's People's Liberation Army [PLA] Third Department” stole data from at least one U.S. government agency, according to a leaked 2008 cable.
     
    Officials in Washington have argued for years that cyber espionage is a top national security concern, and the battle is heating up. Both sides have ramped up public and private confrontation, including at a summit last year between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
     
    China has denied the unit is involved in cyber espionage, and insists the country is more a victim than a perpetrator of cyber attacks.
     
    Paganini said he was not surprised at the latest turn of events, which he described as just the “tip of the iceberg”.
     
    “I believe there's an ongoing battle in the cyberspace. These countries are investing large amounts in cyber units that are able to create specific malware and have the ability to get into foreign networks and computers to steal trade secrets and intellectual properties,” he said.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.