Massive cyberattacks from China? Report claims to expose secret 'Unit 61398.' (+video)
A new report claims to have found the exact origin of a campaign of massive cyberattacks against the US, Canada, and Britain. The building in Shanghai is linked to the Chinese military.
China’s military is the silent hand behind a major cyberespionage organization located in Shanghai and blamed for stealing titanic volumes of intellectual property from more than 100 companies worldwide during the past seven years, concludes a new report by a leading US cybersecurity firm.Skip to next paragraph
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The report, issued by Mandiant of Alexandria, Va., is unusual in the degree to which it points the finger directly at China's military. For years, researchers have chronicled an “advanced persistent threat” against Western cyber networks and hinted that Chinese actors were the likely culprits, not outsiders coopting Chinese computers. But the Mandiant report, “APT1: Exposing One of China’s Cyber Espionage Units,” pulls no punches.
“It is time to acknowledge the threat is originating in China, and we wanted to do our part to arm and prepare security professionals to combat that threat effectively,” the Mandiant report said. “Without establishing a solid connection to China, there will always be room for observers to dismiss APT [advanced persistent threat] actions as uncoordinated, solely criminal in nature, or peripheral to larger national security and global economic concerns.”
Mandiant says it observed a group it dubbed “APT1” first infiltrating, then stealing data from computer networks of at least 141 companies spanning 20 major industries. Of the targeted companies, 115 were in the US, seven in Canada and Britain, and 17 of 19 others also conducting their business in English.
Targeted for theft were “broad categories of intellectual property, including technology blueprints, proprietary manufacturing processes, test results, business plans, pricing documents, partnership agreements, and emails and contact lists from victim organizations’ leadership.”
At just one company, Mandiant researchers discovered 6.5 terabytes of data were stolen over a 10 month period – all exfiltrated back to computers identified in the same block in Shanghai – where the Chinese military’s cyberespionage unit is located. Sometimes data was seen being stolen from dozens of victims at once, Mandiant reported.
APT1 generally established access through spear-phishing – the ploy of sending to someone in a targeted company an e-mail that is designed to look legitimate but carries malware in an attachment. Once they gained access to a system, the cyberspies periodically revisited the victim’s network over several months or years.