CHINA responded yesterday to allegations it was involved in a hacking attack on US government computers by saying the claims were unproven and irresponsible – and it wanted America to trust it more.
President Barack Obama’s administration has increasingly pressed China on the issue of hacking.
On Thursday US officials said China-based hackers were suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the US government personnel office and stealing information on at least four million workers.
US senator Susan Collins said the attack amounted to a foreign power seeking information on employees who have security clearances for access to sensitive information. Beijing generally does not explicitly deny specific hacking accusations but seeks to dismiss them as unproven and irresponsible.
It invariably notes that China is itself the target of attacks and calls for greater international co-operation in combating hacking. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday that Beijing hopes the US would be “less suspicious and stop making any unverified allegations, but show more trust and participate more in co-operation”.
He added: “We know that hacker attacks are conducted anonymously, across nations, and that it is hard to track the source. It’s irresponsible and unscientific to make conjectural, trumped-up allegations without deep investigation.”
Cybersecurity analysts who study hacking attacks believed to originate in China have cited evidence suggesting they are state-sponsored rather than independent actions, including that they seem to be highly organised teams that focus on the same kinds of targets, sometimes for years, and tend to work regular hours excluding weekends.
The Virginia-based cybersecurity organisation Mandiant concluded in a report in early 2013 that a massive hacking campaign on US business could be traced to an office building in Shanghai run by the Chinese military.
China’s military is believed to have made cyber warfare capabilities a priority more than a decade ago. One of the few public announcements of the capabilities came on 25 May, 2011, by a defence ministry spokesman, in which he spoke of developing China’s “online” army.
Beijing also acknowledged its cyber military force in May in a Defence Ministry white paper on military strategy. The ministry called cyberspace a “critical security domain” and said the force is primarily defensive and a response to increasingly fierce competition in cyberspace.
In China some expressed scepticism that Beijing was responsible for the attack on the US office of personnel management and the interior department computers, saying even if an attack originated in China, it may not have been sanctioned by the government.
Even if the attack were state-sanctioned, some said, Beijing would be doing nothing more devious than America’s National Security Agency, whose secret data collection efforts were exposed by Edward Snowden.
“Just don’t pretend America is the only victim, America also victimises others,” said Shen Dingli, the director of Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies in Shanghai. “The US government will target the Chinese government. If they happen to see the information of a few million Chinese government workers, would they not download it? I think they would.”
He said Washington should have quietly contacted Beijing to find a joint solution.