China Holds the Advantage in Cyber Espionage Game

Thursday, April 14, 2011

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Reuters has published a fascinating special report examining the escalation in cyber-based espionage activities by both the U.S. and economic rival China.

The article concludes that China has gained the upper hand over western powers where electronic snooping is concerned.

According to the evidence presented in the Reuters' piece, China is known to have successfully harvested terabytes of classified information ranging from government network login credentials to designs for critical weapons systems.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese government maintains that they are not engaging in targeted data pilfering operations aimed at western governments. U. S. officials are convinced otherwise.

According to Reuters, when James A. Lewis, a former U.S. diplomat now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, met in 2009 with officials from the quasi-government China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations, a representatives asked him the question: "Why does the Western press always blame China (for cyber-attacks)?" Lewis said he replied: "Because it's true."

"They've identified innovation as crucial to future economic growth -- but they're not sure they can do it. The easiest way to innovate is to plagiarize," Lewis explained.

Cyber security experts privy to operational data that may not be available to the general public contend that the Chinese have stepped up efforts to breach public and private sector networks in recent years via state-sponsored cyber espionage operations.

"The attacks coming out of China are not only continuing, they are accelerating," said Alan Paller, the director of research at the SANS Institute in Washington, DC.

Recent reports link Chinese hackers to a multitude of operations directed at government and private enterprise targets, including:

The largest and perhaps most damaging operation in recent years were the Aurora attacks which targeted an unknown number of large firms, including Adobe, Northrop Grumman, Dow Chemical, Morgan Stanley, and most famously Google.

Joel Brenner, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's former counterintelligence chief, characterized the Aurora attacks as "an escalation of Chinese network operations against the U.S".

According to Brenner, thousands of U.S. companies were targeted in the Aurora attacks, a great deal more than the 34 companies publicly identified. Brenner says the scale of the operation demonstrates China's "heavy-handed use of state espionage against economic targets."

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