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US Routinely Hacks Defense Ministry Websites: China

Thursday, 28 Feb 2013 | 9:03 AM ET
A soldier mans his post in front of the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing.
Federic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images
A soldier mans his post in front of the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing.

Two major Chinese military websites, including that of the Defense Ministry, were subject to about 144,000 hacking attacks a month last year, almost two-thirds of which came from the United States, the ministry said on Thursday.

This month a U.S. computer security company said that a secretive Chinese military unit was likely behind a series of hacking attacks mostly targeting the United States, setting off a war of words between Washington and Beijing.

China denied the allegations and said it was the victim.

(Read More: Is Washington to Blame for Chinese Cyberterrorism?)


"The Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites have faced a serious threat from hacking attacks since they were established, and the number of hacks has risen steadily in recent years," said ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng.

"According to the IP addresses, the Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites were, in 2012, hacked on average from overseas 144,000 times a month, of which attacks from the U.S. accounted for 62.9 percent," he said.

The comments were made at a monthly news conference, which foreign reporters are not allowed to attend, and posted on the ministry's website.

(Read More: A New Cold War, in Cyberspace, Tests US Ties to China)

Geng said he had noted reports that the United States planned to expand its cyber-warfare capability but that they were unhelpful to increasing international cooperation towards fighting hacking.

"We hope that the U.S. side can explain and clarify this."

The U.S. security company, Mandiant, identified the People's Liberation Army's Shanghai-based Unit 61398 as the most likely driving force behind the hacking. Mandiant said it believed the unit had carried out "sustained" attacks on a wide range of industries.

The hacking dispute adds to diplomatic tension between China and the United States, already strained by Chinese suspicion about Washington's "pivot" back to Asia and arguments over issues from trade to human rights.

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Investigations Inc.: Cyber Espionage

  • When a person enters information on a website, like an email or credit card, it gets stored in that company’s data base. Those web-based forms are a simple tool for users, but they are also another way hackers can exploit a company’s system. Instead of inputting a name into the website, cyber spies can put in a specially crafted text that may cause the database to execute the code instead of simply storing it, Alperovitch said. The result is a “malicious takeover of the system,” he said.

    By attacking business computer networks, hackers are accessing company secrets and confidential strategies and creating huge losses for the overall economy.

  • China is working feverishly to counteract its slowest GDP growth in recent years, and one of the ways it’s doing so, say U.S. officials, is through the theft of American corporate secrets.

  • US businesses are enduring an unprecedented onslaught of cyber invasions from foreign governments, organized crime syndicates, and hacker collectives, all seeking to steal information and disrupt services, cybersecurity experts say.

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