By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | FEBRUARY 20, 2013
As The Real Agenda informed yesterday, a new report issued by internet security company Mandiant has concluded that some of the most visible cyber attacks on U.S. based companies and government entities are coming from China. This wasn’t a secret at all, since much of the equipment used in American companies and institutions are either manufactured in China or have Chinese-made components. According to experts, it is precisely through this components that the Chinese hackers may be entering sensible systems in government and large corporations such as banks and media outlets.
The accusation made by Mandiant established that the Chinese military is responsible for hacking into government and private computer systems to steal data in an attempt to get its hands on trade secrets and information about infrastructure. Today, the Obama administration is said to be weighing a list of fines and commercial punishment to stop the Chinese and any other government-sponsored cyber attack.
Research conducted by Mandiant in the last three years, shows that attacks on American government agencies, and private companies are coming directly from a Chinese-based operation in Shanghai. The existence of this entity and the purpose of its operations are well-known by the Asian government, says Mandiant.
The Associated Press reports today that American officials familiar with the U.S. plans, the White House will present a report with preliminary proposals to address the Chinese threat. It is not clear whether this proposals are real actions that the U.S. government will take, has taken already or if it is only a way to publicly show concern about the attacks while privately maneuvering in a different direction. The U.S. report will speak again about the imminent cyber threat previously described by people like Leon Panetta, who earlier this year and late in 2012 spoke about the possibility of a possible ‘cyber Pearl Harbor’.
Mandiant’s report, which apparently was requested by a group of private companies reveal that more than 140 enterprises were attacked by the People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398. The attacks were carried out after the hackers breached security protocols in those companies which supposedly enabled them to steal sensible information about their operations as well as private data about their customers. Along with Mandiant’s report, military experts believe that the hackers are part of China’s cyber command which works directly under orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This would mean that the cyber attacks are authorized by people in important positions who work for China’s military.
“If the Chinese government flew planes into our airspace, our planes would escort them away. If it happened two, three or four times, the president would be on the phone and there would be threats of retaliation,” said former FBI executive assistant director Shawn Henry to AP. Both Mandiant’s report and the U.S. government’s recognition of the alleged Chinese threat, puts even more pressure on the Americans to show firmness in their actions. Simply talking about the threat will not solve anything. The Americans will have to retaliate strongly against the hackers and / or begin direct public talks with the Chinese military in order to sort out the details of the attacks.
According to Mandiant, this division of the Chinese Army employs thousands of people modern programming techniques and network management, which means that it counts with the support of important people and government organizations. The alleged Chinese military unit has stolen hundreds of terabytes of data since its activities were first registered in 2006?.
Although many of the alleged corporate victims are based in the United States, Canadian and British companies have also been attacked. In the case of the Canadians and British, hackers have accessed and stolen information about business transactions, mergers, acquisitions, and emails from senior managers.
“We believe APT1 can continue a campaign of cyber espionage in large part because it receives direct support from the Chinese government,” says Mandiant, identifying APT1 with Unit 61398. The same way that APT1 seems to be conducting cyber espionage activities on American, Canadian and British companies and government agencies, it is clear that American intelligence and spying agencies also conduct operations to learn about what other countries are up to.
“In a state that rigorously monitors Internet use, it is highly unlikely that the Chinese government is unaware of an attack group that operates from the Pudong New Area of Shanghai,” says the Mandiant report. APT1 “systematically stole hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations,” Mandiant said.
A report by the U.S. Congress last year said that increasingly dexterous entities backed by the Chinese government are trying to enter the U.S. systems, and called China “the most threatening player in cyberspace.” This means that the U.S. did not learn about the threat by reading Mandiant’s report, so it would be interesting to know why the Americans haven’t publicly demanded answers from the Chinese, if the threat is do evident.
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