Jun 08 2011

In cyberspy vs cyberspy, China has the edge

Category: cyber securityDISC @ 12:11 pm

Image via Wikipedia

By Brian Grow and Mark Hosenb

WASHINGTON: As America and China grow more economically and financially intertwined, the two nations have also stepped up spying on each other. Today, most of that is done electronically, with computers rather than listening devices in chandeliers or human moles in tuxedos.And at the moment, many experts believe China may have gained the upper hand.

Though it is difficult to ascertain the true extent of America`s own capabilities and activities in this arena, a series of secret diplomatic cables as well as interviews with experts suggest that when it comes to cyber-espionage, China has leaped ahead of the United States.

According to US investigators, China has stolen terabytes of sensitive data — from usernames and passwords for State Department computers to designs for multi-billion dollar weapons systems. And Chinese hackers show no signs of letting up.

“The attacks coming out of China are not only continuing, they are accelerating,” says Alan Paller, director of research at information-security training group SANS Institute in Washington, DC.

Secret US State Department cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to Reuters by a third party, trace systems breaches — colourfully code-named “Byzantine Hades” by US investigators — to the Chinese military. An April 2009 cable even pinpoints the attacks to a specific unit of China`s People`s Liberation Army.

Privately, US officials have long suspected that the Chinese government and in particular the military was behind the cyber-attacks. What was never disclosed publicly, until now, was evidence.

US efforts to halt Byzantine Hades hacks are ongoing, according to four sources familiar with investigations. In the April 2009 cable, officials in the State Department`s Cyber Threat Analysis Division noted that several Chinese-registered websites were “involved in Byzantine Hades intrusion activity in 2006.”

The sites were registered in the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in central China, according to the cable. A person named Chen Xingpeng set up the sites using the “precise” postal code in Chengdu used by the People`s Liberation Army Chengdu Province First Technical Reconnaissance Bureau (TRB), an electronic espionage unit of the Chinese military. “Much of the intrusion activity traced to Chengdu is similar in tactics, techniques and procedures to (Byzantine Hades) activity attributed to other” electronic spying units of the People`s Liberation Army, the cable says.

Reconnaissance bureaus are part of the People`s Liberation Army`s Third Department, which oversees China`s electronic eavesdropping, according to an October 2009 report by the US-China Economic and Security Commission, a panel created by Congress to monitor potential national security issues related to US-China relations.

Staffed with linguists and technicians, the Third Department monitors communications systems in China and abroad. At least six Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus, including the Chengdu unit, “are likely focused on defence or exploitation of foreign networks,” the commission report states.—Reuters

Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It

Tags: Chengdu, china, People's Liberation Army, SANS Institute, Sichuan, Sino-American relations, United States, WikiLeaks

4 Responses to “In cyberspy vs cyberspy, China has the edge”

  1. disc7 says:

    More R&D funding from the Govt is needed to stay ahead of the curve

  2. disc7 says:

    Without international laws, cyberspace is a wild wild west.

  3. disc7 says:

    With the ongoing increase threat to critical infrastructure cyberwar has to be a national priorty

  4. disc7 says:

    “With ever hack, one of the first thing that people want to know is where did it come from – they dont want to hear that the Chinese IP it appears to come from could be spoofed, they want to hear the drone of rockets being launched at Beijing.”  Bruce Schneier

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