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Pentagon accuses China of cyberattacks on U.S military, business targets

Stolen data is used to ramp up China's military and high tech industries, Defense Department says in report to Congress

May 7, 2013 10:55 AM ET

Computerworld - Chinese cyber espionage activities are fueling a rapid modernization of the country's defense and high tech industries, the Pentagon said in an unusually candid assessment of China's military and security developments last year.

In a departure from the usually veiled suggestions of Chinese involvement in cyberattacks, the 92-page Department of Defense report, released Monday, openly accused the Asian giant of launching cyberattacks aimed at exfiltrating information from the U.S. government and military as well as from corporate entities.

The stolen information is supporting China's defense industrial base, helping Chinese policymakers and military planners build "a picture of U.S. defense networks, logistics and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis," the report said.

Importantly, the report cautioned, the espionage activities are helping the country build out a sophisticated electronic warfare capability aimed at neutralizing American technological superiority in traditional kinetic warfare and other areas.

"China's investments in advanced electronic warfare systems, counter-space weapons, and computer network operations ... reflect the emphasis and priority China's leaders place on building capability for information advantage," the Pentagon said. "Beijing is investing in military programs and weapons designed to improve extended-range power projection and operations in emerging domains such as cyber, space, and electronic warfare."

Allegations of Chinese involvement in cyberattacks against U.S. interests are certainly not new. Security vendors and private companies in the U.S. have long accused operatives in China of launching countless cyberattacks to steal secret military, government or corporate data.

Earlier this year, security firm Mandiant released a detailed report that said a unit of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China was behind a years-long systematic cyberespionage campaign against the U.S. and several other countries. Chinese cyberattackers have breached since 2006 over 140 large companies from 20 major industries considered as strategic by China, the Mandiant report said.

In April, a senior director of Microsoft's Institute for Advanced Technology accused hackers operating out of China of trying to infiltrate the IT vendor's computer systems in a bid to find accounts that were under surveillance by the FBI and other law enforcement authorities.

That effort was apparently part of an elaborate counter-intelligence operation carried out by operatives in China to find out if any of their U.S. based agents had been compromised or were under surveillance in this country.

U.S. lawmakers too have on numerous occasions voiced concerns about cyberattacks originating from China.

Despite the rising rhetoric elsewhere, the U.S. government has long stopped short of openly accusing the Chinese government of launching cyberattacks.

That restraint may finally be wearing thin after the release of the Mandiant report and the public acknowledgment of its accuracy by security experts, DoD officials, intelligence analysts and U.S. lawmakers, said Anup Ghosh, CEO and founder of security firm Invincea.

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