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04 March 2013, 15:39

Accusation ping pong: China and the US disagree about hacking attacks

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Zoom Malware figures for one day in February 2013 – but what does that say about cyber spying?
Source: Team Cymru
The Chinese government has pointed out hundreds of thousands of hacking attacks coming from the US as it continues to defend itself against an analysis conducted by security firm Mandiant. At the same time, Team Cymru, a security organisation from the US, has published a paper on hacker attacks around the world stating that over a terabyte of data is stolen by government-supported hacker groups every day – but the paper does not provide many details.

Mandiant discovered in mid-February that a large share of hacking activity targeting the US could be traced to an office building in Shanghai. With that information, the company was able to back up some of the otherwise unsupported accusations of the last few weeks and came to the conclusion that the hackers were most likely working for the government.

The Chinese government has denied the accusations, with the Defence Ministry producing some figures of its own. According to some media reports, the ministry's own web site and a military network, for example, faced as many as 144,000 cyber-attacks per month in 2012 – 62 per cent of them coming from IP addresses in the US. A press release from 20 February states that China's Defence Ministry and the military's web sites saw a total of 240,000 hacking attacks between January and March 2012. On 28 February, a military spokesperson added that no Chinese soldiers are engaged in cyberwarfare.

In light of this situation, the short report recently published by Team Cymru seems to be intended to confirm that well organised hacker groups get their hands on about one terabyte of data every day. Although Cymru writes that such groups' methods and equipment suggest that they are working for national governments, the organisation does not provide further details, instead presenting graphs depicting malware infections in Europe, Africa and Asia.

This back-and-forth of accusations will most likely continue, with opinions backed up by varying degrees of proof fanning the flames. The growing debate also seems to be encouraging more organisations to report cyber-attacks, with Focus just recently reporting that German intelligence had to defend computers at federal agencies from more than 1,000 attacks by Chinese hackers in 2012.


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