Hack Attack: China and the U.S. Trade Barbs on Cyberwarfare

On March 11, U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon said that Chinese hacking had become a “key point of concern” in bilateral relations

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CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS

Chinese pedestrians walk in front of the building housing the secretive Unit 61398 of the People's Liberation Army, on the outskirts of Shanghai on Feb, 19, 2013. The unit is believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks, a U.S. computer-security company said, prompting a strong denial by China and accusations that it was in fact the victim of U.S. hacking

The gloves are off. For years, the White House has danced around the sensitive topic of Chinese hacking into American computer systems that is believed to have compromised everything from electrical grids to the e-mail accounts of researchers focusing on China’s human-rights record. Public finger-pointing at Chinese hackers has been left largely to the American legislative branch or to private Western cybersecurity firms like Mandiant or McAfee, which have produced reports linking the Chinese military to online espionage. Even when U.S. President Barack Obama warned of the dangers of cyberwarfare in his State of the Union Address last month and then issued an executive order to protect America’s online borders, he declined to specifically name China as an offender.

No more. On March 11, U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon said that Chinese hacking had become a “key point of concern” in bilateral relations. “Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyberintrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale,” Donilon said in remarks to Asia Society, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. “The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country.”

(MORE: China’s Red Hackers: The Tale of One Patriotic Cyberwarrior)

For its part, China has consistently denied any state-sponsored hacking campaign. Only two days before Donilon’s speech, China’s outgoing Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi lashed out at the U.S. for the recent drumbeat of accusations blaming China for cyberattacks. “Anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve a political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others or whitewash themselves,” he said at a news conference during the National People’s Congress, the annual Chinese leadership confab currently underway in Beijing. Yang went on to call for increased regulation of this new frontier: “Cyberspace needs not war, but rules and cooperation. We oppose cyberspace becoming a new battlefield, and to using the Internet as a new tool to interfere in another country’s internal affairs.”

On Monday, Chinese newspapers, which are guided by propaganda directives from the government, launched their own incursion against Western accusers. “The American government should make a self-examination first before it accuses other countries of such behaviors,” the Global Times, a Beijing-based daily, wrote, citing a Chinese international-affairs expert. “No country can compete with America in terms of its hacking ability.” The Liberation Daily, the mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army, noted that between November 2012 and January 2013, “China suffered 5,792 hacker attacks launched from the U.S., making the U.S. the No. 1 country hacking China.”

(MORE: Putting China’s ‘Hacking Army’ into Perspective)

It’s unlikely that the U.S. has no interest in infiltrating Chinese government computer networks. Internet experts blame the U.S. and Israel for having created and unleashed the Stuxnet virus to debilitate Iran’s nuclear program. Nor is China considered the only perpetrator of aggression in American cyberspace. Security professionals also accuse Iran, Russia and even allies like France and Israel, among others, for forays into American government and corporate computer networks. “We suspect many countries,” says Murray Jennex, a cybersecurity expert at San Diego State University. “It’s not like the Chinese are the only ones.” Still the number and variety of attacks blamed on Chinese hackers is expanding so quickly that the White House may have felt compelled to finally respond, particularly given Beijing’s adamant denials of any nefarious activity. As Donilon noted, American businesses have become vocal about their concerns when dealing with China. “It’s common practice for [Silicon Valley] companies to reformat their computers any time they go to China,” says Jennex. “They don’t work that way in any other country.”

Meanwhile, in China, where more than half-a-billion wired citizens must contend with the so-called Great Firewall that filters online information the government considers sensitive, grim jokes circulated on local social-media sites. “The Great Firewall is very powerful,” went one. “Why cannot it stop the American hackers’ attacks?”

With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

MORE: Are Chinese Telecoms Firms Really Spying on Americans?

25 comments
BrHa11
BrHa11

RT %s: %s Attack: %s and the %s Trade Barbs on %s %sl6p

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

Americans should educate themselves about another Chinese export: the wumaodang, paid posters working for the government whose job it is to shape public opinion in China and the US by posting pro-CCP comments on forums such as time.

The 50 Cent Party are Internet commentators (网络评论员, 網絡評論員, wǎngluò pínglùn yuán) hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards.[1][2] The commentators are said to be paid fifty cent of RMB for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms,[3] or that advances the Communist party line.

jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

North Americans have forgotten that the brutal Chinese Communist Party is not their friend. It is the enemy of God and goodness everywhere on Earth. It brainwashes its people to hate Westerners and at the same time has murdered 100 million of its own people. People need to wake up to the atrocities being committed by the heinous CCP and quit being blinded by corporate greed. Thank you for your consideration.

necrotante
necrotante

“%s: %s Attack: China and the U.S. Trade Barbs on %s %sk%ssec”

TngYongLi
TngYongLi

“%s: Hacking row heats up between China and the U.S. | %sXkM (v%srld%sdia

Martinweru3
Martinweru3

@TIME @TIMEWorld cyber crime is a bust on one side and a plus on the development of better firewals by the exposed party

HannoPhoenicia
HannoPhoenicia

Arguing with the Chinese government is a waste of time. Have we fallen so far behind in education that we can't defend ourselves from hacking and do our own cyber warfare on their imperialist, expansionist empire?

abinash_d
abinash_d

%s %s row heats up between %s and the %s.S. | %shI1 v%sr%sare

GeorgiaMarsh13
GeorgiaMarsh13

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rorywong654
rorywong654

time for change and save the world by not buying or have anything to do with US

antonmarq
antonmarq

Don't blame China for having easy access to a technology we gave them. This technology was one of our pride and joy, and if we failed to properly control its framework, shame on us. Moreover, we're continuing to give them state-of-the-arts technologies as if it was candy, is it ever going to stop? Yes, when American realize that our businesses are the traitors to greed and power, and will sell the American soul for 30 pieces of silver. 

Ridehogz
Ridehogz

Time a for change in all operating systems.

oamuwtikcus
oamuwtikcus

@rorywong654 @HannoPhoenicia Rory is nothing but a cheap wumao  working for his CCP masters.

The 50 Cent Party are Internet commentators (网络评论员, 網絡評論員, wǎngluò pínglùn yuán) hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards.[1][2] The commentators are said to be paid fifty cent of RMB for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms,[3] or that advances the Communist party line.