China and cybercrime

27 Apr

An American information-security firm – Mandiant – that was initially hired by the New York Times to investigate cyber attacks on businesses, stated that since 2006 it has observed attacks from a unit identified as unit 61398, against at least 141 companies across 20 major industries.

Last month US intelligence traced the ‘cyber attacks’ to an “anonymous looking tower block” in Shanghai, where it is believed the hackers have been working from.

In an attempt to discredit the claims made by the US over the ‘hacking’ of many US companies, China has called for international rules and cooperation on cyber espionage and has dismissed the above claims as a “smear campaign”. Foreign minister Jiechi, has claimed that China itself is often the victim of cyber attacks. Where in response to the hacking scandals, Chinese officials have claimed that coca-cola have been mapping areas of China illegally, working on behalf of the US military. A Chinese official related the ‘illegal’ activity back to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade which the US blamed on incorrect mapping, saying that “Some people are profiting from collecting information, including providing it to some foreign intelligence agencies”. He has warned that ‘cyberspace’ should not be turned into a battlefield.

According to analysts the US has mounted the most aggressive response so far to China over the ‘cyber attacks’. Obama stated in his state of union address that the US’ enemies are  “seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions and our air traffic control systems”.

This has urged Mr Donilon – Obama’s national security adviser – to reiterate Mr Obama’s intention to rebalance US foreign policy towards the Pacific following a decade of focus on military activity in the Middle East. – Could this be seen as a threat to China’s rising power? It certainly isn’t doing much for China’s global image as a “responsible great power”.

The Obama administration has created a Cyber Command, consisting of 13 teams of programmers and computer experts, where the Chief of Military told the New York Tmes, that the new section could carry out offensive cyberattacks on foreign nations if the US were hit with a major attack on its own networks.

In addition the Obama administration has said that it will confront Beijing over the cyber attacks and may resort to trade sanctions, diplomatic pressure and indictments of Chinese nationals in US courts.

Could this therefore turn into a cyberwar?

Although a recent visit to China by the US chief of staff has sought to overcome this problem and re-build military relations between the two great powers there was still a sense of mutual distrust.

China may feel suffocated by the US’ presence in the Pacific region as the US has made a string of military alliances in the region stretching from Japan to Australia.

American officials say raising the issue with the Chinese is a delicate balancing act at a time when the United States is seeking China’s cooperation in containing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and joining in sanctions on Iran. With the threat of North Korea dominating the headlines, cybercrime seems to have taken a back seat but for how long?



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