China: “The Most Threatening Actor in Cyberspace”
A new government report concludes that China’s cyber security threat is increasing in sophistication and that its sheer volume “makes China the most threatening actor in cyberspace,”
Although still unknown who is actually exercising the threat, trackers are being helped by technical gains. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported to Congress that the culprits are:
1. The People’s Liberation Army
2. Three intelligence and security service ministries.
3. Patriotic hackers conducting espionage out of nationalist fervor.
4. Big IT companies and telecommunications firms.
5. Informal “cyber warfare militia” composed of workers with high-tech day jobs that focus on military communications, electronic warfare, and computer network operations.
6. Criminal hackers conducting industrial espionage for private, state-owned, or government clients.
The report continues “China’s cyber capabilities provide Beijing with an increasingly potent tool to achieve national objectives,” the congressional report states. “In a strategic framework that leans heavily on cyber espionage, a diverse set of Chinese hackers use pilfered information to advance political, economic, and security objectives.”
Chinese embassy officials in Washington routinely deny responsibility for cyber espionage against US targets. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy wrote in an e-mail responding to a government report last year on cyber spying. “China’s rapid development and prosperity are attributed to its sound national development strategy and the Chinese people’s hard work, as well as China’s ever enhanced economic and trade cooperation with other countries that benefits all, “Willfully making unwarranted accusations against China is irresponsible, and we are against such demonization efforts as firmly as our opposition to any forms of unlawful cyberspace activities.”
The report to Congress points to photos of China’s new J-20 stealth fighter jet and its similarities with Lockheed Martin’s F-22. The photos revived “concerns that human, cyber, or other forms of espionage may have played a role in the J-20’s development.”
The report cites other examples of “malicious Chinese cyber activity” in 2012, including successful attacks on NASA networks and spear phishing e-mails targeting the White House Military Office, which assists in presidential travel and communications.
Until recently, Chinese hackers have long appeared less sophisticated than those in Russia. However in January, a China-based attack targeted the “secure authentication” system of the Defense Department’s Common Access Card standard, one of the Pentagon’s most secure systems.
US military officials testified this year that infiltrating weapons systems, including missiles, aircraft, ships, and ground systems is a Chinese focus. In order to infiltrate computers belonging to India’s Eastern Naval Command, which had no connection to the Internet; Chinese hackers reportedly used compact discs along with thumb drives.
Within the Department of Defense, the US Cyber Command has become fully operational. Beyond that, the White House reportedly issued a secret policy document that outlines what actions the US military can take against cyber attacks.
John Bumgarner, research director for the US Cyber Consequences Unit, a nonprofit security think tank that advises government and industry, has advised “We’re all economic partners, but we’re all on this cyber espionage path where people are routinely breaking in to steal the latest and greatest fighter plane plans. At some point, it may cross the line and become an act of war. In the cyber world, that line is a very blurred line. It’s a path we need to get off.”