[ISN] Hacking reports raise concerns about cyberthreat from China

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Fri Sep 07 2007 - 01:24:31 PDT


By David Lague
September 6, 2007

BEIJING: Reports that Chinese military hackers have attacked the 
computer systems of Western governments have renewed uncertainty about 
the control China's civilian leaders exert over the country's 
increasingly powerful armed forces, defense experts say.

The accusations have exposed top Chinese leaders, including President Hu 
Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, to diplomatic embarrassment and 
have the potential to undermine Beijing's efforts to reassure the United 
States and other Asian powers that they have nothing to fear from the 
rise of China.

President George W. Bush said Wednesday that he might raise concerns 
about the hacking with Hu when the two were scheduled to meet Thursday 
in Sydney on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 
summit meeting.

He declined Thursday to say whether the topic had been brought up.

"It looks pretty messy for Hu," said Allan Behm, a Canberra-based 
security analyst and former senior Australian defense department 

"He may not have even known about it."

He added: "It seems that at the top level, the Chinese leadership is 
fragmented in coordinating these major issues."

The Pentagon said Tuesday that U.S. military computers had been 
penetrated earlier this year but declined to comment on a report in the 
Financial Times that the Chinese military was behind the hacking.

China strongly denied the report.

"China is a responsible country and we never do these kind of despicable 
things," said Yang Yi, a researcher at China's National Defense 
University quoted Thursday in the official China Daily.

Earlier, other senior U.S. defense officials said that China had 
conducted surveillance of official and private computer networks in the 
United States as part of a concerted effort to gather intelligence.

Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned at a joint news 
conference with Wen in Beijing that the two countries should observe "a 
set of game rules," referring to reports that hackers linked to the 
Chinese military had attacked computers in her Berlin office and other 
German government departments.

Wen did not dispute that the reported hacking took place but attempted 
to distance the Chinese government from the accusations and promised to 
cooperate with international efforts to combat computer crime.

There have also been reports that Chinese hackers have attacked 
government departments in Britain.

Outside the secretive party and government bureaucracy in China, little 
is known about the ties between the civilian leadership and the 
sprawling, 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army.

As Hu attempts to consolidate his power ahead of the important 17th 
Party Congress expected to be held in October, doubts remain that he 
exercises the same control over the military as earlier Communist 

These doubts were heightened when the Chinese military shot down an 
obsolete weather satellite in January, seemingly without informing the 
civilian bureaucracy in advance of what was clearly a provocative move 
that drew widespread international protest.

Some foreign analysts suspect that it is difficult for the civilian 
leadership to keep track of cyber warfare research and development 
because it is not centralized under a single military or intelligence 

In addition, Behm said that circumstantial evidence suggested that China 
tolerated individuals or organizations outside the government attempting 
to hack into foreign computers.

"If an 18-year-old hacker sitting in a two-bedroom apartment in Shanghai 
is able to get into a Pentagon mainframe, he gets a big prize," Behm 

Western military analysts say that Chinese military thinkers have been 
open about the potential importance of cyber warfare in any future 
conflict with advanced military powers including the United States.

In journals and military publications, Chinese defense analysts have 
noted that computers are a crucial link in military command, control and 
intelligence networks.

Computers relay communications, control guidance and navigation systems 
and even form the backbone of complex logistics systems supplying food, 
fuel and ammunition to military forces.

These networks are even more important to militaries like that of the 
United States, with bases and facilities spread all over the globe.

In a conflict, attacking these systems with viruses, false information 
or intelligence-gathering software could partially offset the 
considerable U.S. advantage in technology and firepower, Chinese 
analysts say.

They also argue that the U.S. military's reliance on civilian computing 
and communication networks heightens the vulnerability of these systems 
to attack.

"Chinese strategists claim that computer network attacks are likely to 
have a high degree of success in disrupting U.S. military operations, in 
part because military information systems are connected to commercial 
lines," said a recent Rand Corporation study on Chinese military 

But, some analysts note that clumsy or ill-timed efforts to hack into 
foreign computer networks could be counter-productive.

Foreign powers including the United States could tighten computer 
security and intensify efforts to develop countermeasures, including 
attacks on Chinese networks.

And it could deepen suspicion about the reasons for China's prolonged 
and rapid military build-up.

Double-digit increases in annual military spending over most of the past 
15 years have allowed China to deploy increasingly advanced missiles, 
tanks, warships and strike aircraft while improving the professionalism 
and training of troops in the world's biggest standing military.

Defense spending this year increased by 17.8 percent to about $45 
billion, Beijing announced in March, but some foreign military analysts 
estimate that real military outlays could be three times higher.

In what appears to be a response to widespread complaints about a lack 
of transparency in China's military, Beijing this month allowed two 
senior visiting U.S. officials what they said was unprecedented access 
to the Chinese military.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the U.S. chief of naval operations, said he was 
allowed a revealing tour of defense facilities and exercises ahead of a 
visit by Representative Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat who chairs the 
House Armed Services Committee.

Skelton said that China had been candid about its military capabilities.

On Sunday, China announced that it would provide the United Nations with 
information on its defense spending for the first time in a decade.

© 2007 The International Herald Tribune

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