Snowden: US has been hacking Hong Kong and China for years
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has prompted a change of direction in the debate that has been going on for months around China's alleged hacker attacks on the US. The former Booz Allen Hamilton employee and contractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA) told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper that the intelligence agency has been launching hacking attacks on targets in Hong Kong as well as mainland China.
Apparently, there have been several hundred attacks since 2009. More than 61,000 hacker attacks have been carried out worldwide, said the newspaper. According to Snowden, the NSA mainly hacks large network nodes to access the communication of several thousand computers at a time, rather than attacking each one individually. In Hong Kong and China, the attacks have focused on universities, government officials, companies and students, the whistleblower said.
In the US, the head of the NSA, General Keith B. Alexander, has addressed questions raised by Congress representatives. The New York Times reports that Alexander defended the NSA's data collection practices; the newspaper quoted him as saying that "dozens" of terrorism threats had been halted by the agency’s evaluation of telephone logs. Senator Dianne Feinstein noted that the data is destroyed after five years and is only examined if a connection with Al Qaeda or Iran is suspected. Apparently, no phone call can be examined without a warrant.
If Snowden's reports are accurate, the US will need to put into perspective its ongoing accusations against the Chinese government. The US government had launched an PR offensive backed up by security firm Mandiant's report on cyber attacks from China; the report proved the existence of a professional, government-supported group of hackers that attacks targets in the US. The two countries entered into a public ping pong of accusations, with the US Secretary of Defense and the US Secretary of State exerting public pressure on the Chinese government to admit to and stop the attacks, and the Chinese government defending itself against the accusations, pointing out that it had also been the victim of hacker attacks – probably originating in the US.