Thursday, 14 March 2013

US to set up cyber warfare units to counter China hacking

Rhetoric between China and the US over cyber security is escalating, with the US military promising to establish "at least 13 units which would have offensive capabilities in cyberspace as part of efforts to protect US infrastructure". The Australian Associated Press story quotes President Obama as well as a military hawk, General Keith Alexander, who heads the US National Security Agency and Cyber Command.

The escalation has been building since the middle of February when a news story appeared that focused on a Shanghai building block ostensibly run by the People's Liberation Army for the purpose of conducting cyber attacks on US interests. On the Sydney Morning Herald website the story (which had been syndicated from a UK firm) has - for some unknown reason - been pulled down now, but there's a 19 February story still available on the Economist site, for example, that refers to Unit 61398 of the PLA.
AN AMERICAN information-security firm has identified a secretive Chinese military unit as the likely source of hacking attacks against more than a hundred companies around the world. In a report made public on Tuesday, the firm, Mandiant, based in Alexandria, Virginia, said it could now back up suspicions it first reported in more qualified form in 2010.
The AAP story that appeared today goes further, with a cybersecurity specialist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies noting that not all information about attacks had so far been publicly released.
"There is some intelligence which hasn't been made public that points toward China as the major actor in economic espionage," [the specialist] told [Agence France Presse].
Those original stories had been noted in Beijing. Last week, for example, China's ambassador to Australia,  Chen Yuming, published an op-ed piece in the Australian - the News Ltd flagship - in which he had this to say about the allegations coming out of the US as a result of the Mandiant research.
Cyber attack is a global issue. China is one of the main victims of such attacks.Last year, 14 million computers in China were controlled by 73,000 IP addresses from overseas. Coincidentally, most of the attackers were located in the country that has most frequently accused China of hacking. The Chinese government firmly opposes and has fought hard against cyber intrusions according to law. 
In recent years we have carried out bilateral law-enforcement co-operation with more than 30 countries, and tabled to the UN a draft International Code of Conduct for Information Security. 
China calls on the international community to work together to build, on this basis, a cyber space that is peaceful, safe, open and co-operative.
Yuming's promise is that China will advocate for "building a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity, which is the aspiration of people of all countries", and while he addresses the issue of cyber attacks he does not come out and say straight away that the PLA does not operate Unit 61398. Other Chinese leaders have commented on the issue, but these denials clearly do not give confidence to US officials, including the president, whom AAP quotes as saying to US network ABC News:
"What is absolutely true is that we have seen a steady ramping up of cyber security threats. Some are state sponsored. Some are just sponsored by criminals," Obama said in an interview with ABC News released on Wednesday. 
"We've made it very clear to China and some other state actors that, you know, we expect them to follow international norms and abide by international rules. 
"And we'll have some pretty tough talk with them. We already have," Obama said[.]
 Time magazine puts it another way: "The gloves are off."

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