China’s Response against U.S. Cyberespionage Indictment of PLA Staff

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As could be expected, Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that criminal charges concerning hacking would be brought against five PLA soldiers elicited an immediate and vehement Chinese response. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted the following reaction on its website (MFA translation):

On May 19, the US side announced indictment against five Chinese military officers on allegation of cyber theft. This US move, which is based on fabricated facts, grossly violates the basic norms governing international relations and jeopardizes China-US cooperation and mutual trust. China lodged protest with the US side right after the announcement, urging the US side to immediately correct its mistake and withdraw the “indictment”.

The position of the Chinese government on cyber security is consistent and clear-cut. China is steadfast in upholding cyber security. The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets. The US accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd.

It is a fact known to all that relevant US institutions have long been involved in large-scale and organized cyber theft as well as wiretapping and surveillance activities against foreign political leaders, companies and individuals. China is a victim of severe US cyber theft, wiretapping and surveillance activities. Large amounts of publicly disclosed information show that relevant US institutions have been conducting cyber intrusion, wiretapping and surveillance activities against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities and individuals. China has, on many occasions, made serious representations with the US side. We once again strongly urge the US side to make a clear explanation of what it has done and immediately stop such kind of activities.

Given the lack of sincerity on the part of the US to solve issues related to cyber security through dialogue and cooperation, China has decided to suspend activities of the China-US Cyber Working Group. China will react further to the US “indictment” as the situation evolves.

Soon after, both the Ministry of Defence and the State Internet Information Office posted their own rebuttals (My translations):

Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Geng Yansheng Issues Statement on the U.S. Department of Justice Indictment Against Chinese Soldiers

Beijing, 19 May. With so-called “theft of online commercial secrets”, the U.S. Department of Justice has indicted five Chinese soldiers. The Chinese side has expressed strong indignation and firm opposition to this, and has put forward stern representations to the U.S. side.

The Chinese side’s position on the issue of cybersecurity is consistent and clear. The Chinese side is a firm upholder of cybersecurity, the Chinese government and military have never engaged or participated in any activity of stealing commercial secrets through networks. The so-called “theft of online commercial secrets” and other statements from the U.S. side are fabricated out of nothing, they confuse public opinion, and have ulterior motives.

For a long time, relevant departments on the U.S. side have relied on the advanced technology and infrastructure they controlled to conduct large-scale and organized online secrecy theft, monitoring and surveillance activities against foreign government leaders, enterprises and individuals, this is a fact known to everyone in the world. From “WikiLeaks” to the “Snowden” affair, the U.S. side’s hypocrisy and double standards on the issue of cybersecurity have become abundantly clear. The Chinese military is a grave victim of this sort of actions by the U.S. side. According to statistics, the Chinese military’s user terminals accessing the international Internet have suffered large amounts of attacks from abroad in recent year, and IP addresses reveal that a considerable quantity of these attacks originate from the U.S. The Chinese side demands that the U.S. side provides a clear explanation concerning online theft of secrets, monitoring and surveillance activities against the Chinese side, and immediately ceases this kind of activity.

At present, the relationship between the Chinese and U.S. militaries is generally developing well, this move by the U.S. side runs counter to its commitments to “strive to build a healthy, stable and reliable relationship between both armies”, and gravely harms mutual trust between both sides. The U.S. side should realistically show good faith and move the healthy and stable development of relationships between the Chinese and U.S. armies forward with real actions.


State Internet Information Office Publishes Newest Statistics on U.S. Attacks Against Chinese Networks

On the 19th, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of five Chinese soldiers on the grounds of so-called online theft of secrets. On this matter, journalists interviewed a spokesperson of the State Internet Information Office. This spokesperson revealed the newest data on U.S. attacks against Chinese networks to these journalists, saying that it is the U.S. that is the largest online thief of secrets in the present world, and is the number one aggressor against Chinese networks.

This spokesperson said that the newest data of the Chinese National Internet Emergency Response Centre indicates that between 19 March and 18 May of this years, 2077 Trojans or zombie network control servers located in the U.S. directly controlled about 1.18 million hosts within our country’s borders.

During this same period, the Centre’s monitoring discovered that 135 hosts located in the U.S. contained 563 phishing pages aimed at websites within our country’s borders, resulting in 14.000 instances of online fraud and infringement, which mainly includes fake websites, fraud involving personal location information, personal data information, password information, etc. This sort of activities includes theft of commercial secrets as well as online fraud, resulting in huge harm suffered by Chinese netizens.

The Chinese National Internet Emergency Response Centre also discovered that between 19 March and 18 April, 2016 IPs located in the U.S. implanted backdoors in 1754 websites within our borders, and the number of incidents involving backdoor attacks is about 57.000. In data from the same period last year, the U.S. was equally placed first, these are undisguised acts of cybercrime.

The spokesperson pointed out that against this background, the U.S. indictment of five Chinese soldiers on the grounds of so-called online theft of secrets is purely utter nonsense, it is purely an unfounded counter charge, like a thief crying to stop the thief.

As verified by relevant departments within our country, the U.S. has conducted large-scale surveillance, offensive and invasive activities against Chinese government departments, bodies, enterprises, universities and telecommunications backbone networks for a long time, U.S. monitoring activities involve Chinese leaders, common netizens, the broad mobile telephone users, etc. China has repeatedly raised stern representations with the U.S., demanding that the U.S. side ceases this sort of mistaken act. Hitherto, the U.S. has never apologised in any way for its illegal activities to the Chinese people, and has not restrained itself in the slightest. Even after Snowden exposed the U.S. National Security Agency’s “Prism” and other such surveillance plans, and the U.S. was condemned throughout the world, it not only failed to engage in critical self-examination, but instead, it accused others, which truly made it an object of universal ridicule.

The spokesperson said that China is a firm upholder of cybersecurity, the Chinese government opposes acts of cybercrime of whatever form, and firmly opposes baseless criticism of China. If the U.S. side continues to insist on doing things its own way, China will adopt measures towards a determined counterattack.

Furthermore, the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, Max Baucus, was summoned to the MFA. Also, in a move widely seen as a further response to the indictment, China’s Central State Agencies’ Government Procurement Centre issued supplementary regulations to tendering standards concerning energy-saving information products (computers, tablets and printers), which may not contain Windows 8 software. Chinese computers still mainly run Windows XP, and its reliance on foreign operating software has been an increasing concern for cybersecurity. Efforts to develop home-grown alternatives have strengthened, and a first mobile OS, China Operating System, was presented in January.

Personally, I believe this move is deeply problematic. First, while China has not quite been a responsible international citizen with regards to hacking, the Snowden revelations have cost the U.S. the international support and moral position it needs to make a convincing case. Second, a state-initiated criminal case is not conducive to the argument the U.S. Government is trying to make, which claims that national security-related hacking (permitted) and commercial hacking (naughty) are separated. A corporate-initiated civil suit against a Chinese company using hacked information might have more effect. It might hit Chinese companies in their (international) wallets, raising the costs of engaging in hacking, and maintain enough distance between corporate and government to ensure that intergovernmental dialogue could continue. As it stands, China gets to make easy points on Snowden and the NSA, while it is not clear to me what the estimate of an acceptable exit strategy or endgame on the U.S. side is. Yes, we need rules of the roads in cyberspace, which will require mutual restraint and well-understood self-interests from all involved sides. Shoot-from-the-hip criminal lawsuits will not foster that.

This story will develop over the days to come, and this blog will follow Chinese editorials and reactions as they come out. In the mean time, a ChinaFile conversation (in which I participate) is developing, and the following online resources provide useful insights:

With Spy Charges, U.S. Draws a Line That Few Others Recognize (NY Times)

For U.S. Companies That Challenge China, the Risk of Digital Reprisal (NY Times)

More Thoughts on the DOJ China Indictment (Lawfare Blog)

One thought on “China’s Response against U.S. Cyberespionage Indictment of PLA Staff

    […] But to analysts, the US surprise is meant mostly for domestic consumption because US State department analysts have known for centuries how the Chinese view the world.  To China, there is no significant division between government and private endeavors, so when a government official is attacked as in the case of the US indictments, reprisal against supposedly private enterprises simply follows as a matter of routine Chinese government.… […]

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