News / USA

US Works to Head Off Cyber Threat

While a U.S. computer security company links China’s government to scores of cyber attacks in the United States, there are fears in Washington that the U.S. risks losing a cyber-war. Analysts say computer hackers are attacking more often, and in more sophisticated ways.

President Barack Obama has ordered government agencies to share information about cyber-threats with private companies, and Congress is considering new laws to increase protection for vulnerable firms.

Officials have been investigating and prosecuting computer hackers around the world for years.

On Tuesday, Mandiant, a U.S. cyber-security company, linked scores of attacks to a specific Shanghai building, the headquarters of a Chinese military unit blamed for cyber-spying. Mandiant says the group it calls APT1 has hundreds of hackers working within a few blocks of one another.

Taking action

Map of the APT1 hacking headquarters in Shanghai, China.Map of the APT1 hacking headquarters in Shanghai, China.
Map of the APT1 hacking headquarters in Shanghai, China.
Map of the APT1 hacking headquarters in Shanghai, China.
Even before the latest revelations, U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said it’s time to get tough.

“We are in a cyber-war. Most Americans don’t know it. Most folks in the world probably don’t know it. And, at this point, we are losing,” said Rogers.

The U.S. government warns that hackers could cause chaos by damaging the electrical grid, disrupting air traffic, fouling up the financial system or stealing trade secrets. Mandiant says that over the past few years, APT1 hackers increasingly have been probing those systems.

China’s Foreign Ministry rejects the accusations.

“We have stressed many times that hacking attacks are transnational and anonymous. Determining their origins is extremely difficult. We don't know how the evidence in this so-called report can be tenable,'' said Hong Lei, China's foreign ministry spokesman.

Congressman Rogers is sponsoring a bill to help U.S. companies protect their computer systems by cutting barriers to sharing information among companies and with the government.  

Key findings of Mandiant's report:

  • Links hacker group APT1 to secretive unit of the People's Liberation Army (PLA)
  • Says group is responsible for stealing data from at least 141 global organizations since 2006
  • Tracks dozens of cyber attacks to neighborhood surrounding PLA building in Shanghai
  • Says attackers commonly used emails containing malicious attachments to inflitrate networks
Privacy concerns

But Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union said this could allow companies to collect information that has nothing to do with security.

"Right now, [it] would eviscerate all the current privacy laws on the books, and allow companies that collect our very sensitive and personal information share with each other and with the government, without making any efforts to protect privacy or limitations on how it could be used,” said Richardson.

Charles Renert, vice president of the security company Websense, told VOA via Skype that it's possible to balance privacy and security.

“We have to scan the attacks. We have to understand the nature of the attacks, and those rarely compromise the privacy of the individual if properly executed," said Renert.

While Rogers’ bill failed to pass a previous Congress, there is growing concern in Washington about the threat of cyber attacks - both military and economic. So pressure may be building for action.

Key findings of Mandiant's report:

  • Links hacker group APT1 to secretive unit of the People's Liberation Army (PLA)
  • Says group is responsible for stealing data from at least 141 global organizations since 2006
  • Tracks dozens of cyber attacks to neighborhood surrounding PLA building in Shanghai
  • Says attackers commonly used emails containing malicious attachments to inflitrate networks

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Comment Sorting
by: Terrence Healy from: California
February 20, 2013 1:59 AM
The sleeping Giant, China has awoke. They are Hungry and stealing everything in sight and the Government is using Plausable Deniability. The US needs to fight back and do it now.
The Chinese Government Redirected all traffic going to the pentagon through China for 20 minutes and claimed it was an accident. I have to stop and wonder about the fact that China has let North Korea develop a Nuclear Weapon and the Soviet Union has Helped Iran develop Nuclear Weapons. America needs to wake up to the threat coming and should have 20 years ago. We should enlist an Agency of thousands of our best and brightest to deal with the Computer hacking problem and do it now. We have the technology, is someone in the Whitehouse ever going to wake up before a 911 happens due to lack of the will to block them through the Internet.
In Response

by: dan from: Vancouver
February 20, 2013 8:51 AM
"Over the past few years, China has been one of the biggest offenders. China alone has stolen information from American companies equivalent to 50 times the current print collection of the U.S. Library of Congress. In fact, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission highlights an incident from April 2010, when for 18 minutes nearly 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic was redirected through computer servers in China. Emails and Internet traffic to and from such vital government sites as the U.S. Senate, the Department of Commerce, NASA, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Departments of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force as well as commercial sites such as Dell, Yahoo, Microsoft and IBM were hijacked and manipulated by China Telecom, a state-controlled Internet carrier."

by: dan from: Vancouver
February 20, 2013 1:29 AM
Ask yourself:

When was the last time you remember China, their computer science academics, enterprise, whatever, contributing to uncovering vulnerabilities, uncovering potential exploits, zero-days, flaws, and the like?

All this sharing to make computing more secure comes from places OUTSIDE of China. The computing community in China is huge. Their programmers are second to none. Their budgets are mind-boggling. Yet they add nothing. Why do you think that is?

Because vulnerabilities are capital to be used, not exposed.

So please ask yourself next time there's a White Hat or Black Hat conference and everyone is talking about security: Where is China?

It is a question that never gets asked.

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