China Also the Target of Cyber Attacks

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

We have become accustomed to reading of incursions by the Chinese cyber army into networks belonging to private companies and government institutions.

The Beijing government has been accused of pursuing a very aggressive cyber strategy responsible for serious damage to foreign companies. An emblematic case is Nortel, a company spied on for a decade by Chinese hackers that ended up in bankruptcy.

Of course, China is also a victim itself of cyber attacks, and many experts are in fact convinced that despite their aggressive cyber offense, Chinese cyber defense is not so efficient.

An official report produced by China claims that there are multiple attacks against public and private organizations coming from outside the country. The figures cite five million computers were affected in 2010 and more of 8.9 million in 2011.

The information was provided by the government’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team and Coordination Center, and has revealed a worrying scenario: more than 10,593 Chinese websites during 2011 have been attacked by 11,851 IP addresses from overseas.

The series of attacks is broad and is not unlike those China itself commits, and may be conducted by foreign governments: government web site defacing, cyber espionage, and DDoS attacks.

Objectives of the incursions by hackers are private companies and government agencies, and the reasons are mainly related to the desire to steal intellectual property relating to projects of a technological nature, or to steal sensitive information related to government policy in Beijing.

The Chinese infrastructure, contrary to what one might think, is extremely vulnerable to attack, said Wang Minghua, deputy director of the team's operation department:

“This shows that Chinese websites still face a serious problem from being maliciously attacked by foreign hackers or IP addresses."

US defense contractor Northrop Grumman recently revealed that the People’s Liberation Army is investing in the creation of advanced information warfare capabilities, and warned that Western security firms are helping to provide significant resources and knowledge.

Cyberspace is the new battleground in which all governments have to grapple. Governments such as China, Russia, U.S., UK and Israel are undoubtedly at the forefront of investment in the sector, however the scenario is really unstable due the presence of actors like North Korea and Iran that can complicate the situation.

Western governments, primarily U.S. and UK, are investing heavily in developing new methods of attack and definitions of cyber strategies to ensure the security of information infrastructures of these countries.

But who is responsible for the attacks on China?

Japan is alleged to be the main sources of cyber attacks against China, with 22.8 per cent of total incursions, followed by the US with 20.4 per cent and then the Republic of Korea with 7.1 per cent.

Frankly, I find it very strange the data provided here, especially the presence of Korea topping the list presented and for the absence of Russia. Until now, I have analyzed data only from the political and cyber warfare point of view, however, we must consider other factors that contribute to the numbers presented, such as the phenomena of hacktivism and cybercrime.

China is now the world's largest technology market, it is attractive to criminal organizations who see profitable business opportunities. Technological development and the rapid proliferation of electronic devices in the Asian sector has caused a significant increase in damages related to cyber threats of various kinds.

Another factor to be reckoned with is the growing interest by hacktivist groups that condemn the repressive policies of the Chinese government's censorship. Groups like Anonymous on more than one occasion has expressed to will to attack the government in Beijing with sensational operations, such as OPChina.

I believe that in the near future, those attacks will increase and the damages caused could really harm the structure of China with unpredictable effects in financial and social sectors.

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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