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US cybersecurity report points accusing finger at China

An annual report to Congress says China is the biggest threat to US cybersecurity, spelling out in some detail who might be doing the cyberspying.

By Staff writer / November 14, 2012

A congressional report released Wednesday suggests that cybertheft might have helped the Chinese military copy aspects of the Lockheed Martin F-22 stealth fighter (top) in its J-20 stealth fighter (bottom).

Kyodo News/AP/File (bottom); Yuriko Nakao/REUTERS/File (top)

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The sheer volume of Chinese cyberespionage directed against the United States, together with its increasing sophistication, "make China the most threatening actor in cyberspace," concludes a new government report released Wednesday.

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While it is still unknown who in China, specifically, is doing the hacking, technical gains are helping trackers trace cyberespionage "campaigns" back to the country. Among the culprits, according to the annual report to Congress of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission:

  • The People's Liberation Army.
  • Informal "cyber warfare militia" composed of workers with high-tech day jobs that focus on military communications, electronic warfare, and computer network operations.
  • Three intelligence and security service ministries.
  • Patriotic hackers conducting espionage out of nationalist fervor.
  • Criminal hackers conducting industrial espionage for private, state-owned, or government clients.
  • Big IT companies and telecommunications firms.

"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."

The report cites China’s new J-20 stealth fighter jet as an example. Photos of the J-20 show similarities with the Lockheed Martin 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 says.

The report also notes 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 communications and travel.

Chinese hackers have long appeared less sophisticated than those in Russia. But there are signs that is changing. 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.

Moreover, Chinese hackers reportedly used thumb drives and compact discs to infiltrate computers belonging to India's Eastern Naval Command, which had no connection to the Internet. Infiltrating weapons systems, including missiles, aircraft, ships, and ground systems is a Chinese focus, US military officials testified this year.

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