By Elliot deBruyn
China’s Ministry of National Defense has flipped the most recent hacking quarrel on its head in a classic they-started-it move.
The Ministry posted a transcript on their website from a press conference where a reporter asked about US accusations of Chinese involvement in sustained cyber attacks on American private and government networks. Foreign media was denied entry to the press conference.
Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said that U.S. accusations were “not based in reality” and that China was the real victim. The Ministry also claims that they do not support international cyber espionage.
“According to the IP addresses, the Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites were, in 2012, hacked on average from overseas 144,000 times a month, of which attacks from the US accounted for 62.9 percent,” Geng continued.
Geng claimed that the U.S. has no interest in reigning in its cyber warfare efforts, and asked the US to “explain and clarify” these reports.
“We also note that the US media recently reported that the United States will adopt the policy of “pre-emptive” cyber attacks, large-scale expansion of network warfare units, and the development of network rules of engagement,” he said (note the use of “pre-emptive,” a word with biting connotations).
This report comes at a time when the US government (who also says they don’t sponsor cyber warfare/corporate espionage) sees itself as particularly vulnerable.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that the US deserves a shoulder to cry on.
“We get [hit] every single day by a whole series … of attacks, everything from criminals trying to get into your back account … to nation states like China who are investing billions and hiring thousands … We are losing.”
On February 19, US IT security company Mandiant released a report detailing activities by Chinese hacking super group Unit 61398. Since the report, both governments have accused the other of widespread cyber espionage and spook hunting.
Hacking is a delicate dance, however, and neither government should forget that it only takes one computer (or smartphone even) to break into a network. Al Jazeera reports that in March 2012, hactivist group Anonymous appeared to have hacked into a handful of Chinese websites and posted a message that read: “Dear Chinese government, you are not infallible, today websites are hacked, tomorrow it will be your vile regime that will fall.”
Just as the US and China aren’t the only ones with hacking capabilities, they’re also not the only ones in the crossfire. Media outlets like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have said recently that they have been victims of cyber attacks with direct links to the Chinese military. Private companies from other industries have also made similar claims.
Although both governments deny any involvement in cyber espionage, Mandiant’s founder and CEO remains skeptical of their innocence.
“Either [the attacks] are coming from inside Unit 61398, or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighborhood,” he said.
The Mandiant report can be read in full here (pdf).