Cyberwarfare by China

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China is the world's second-largest economy, and a nuclear weapons state with the world's second-largest defence budget. Chinese Information Operations and Information Warfare includes the concept of “network warfare”, roughly analogous to the United States concept of cyberwarfare.[1] Foreign Policy magazine puts the size of China's "hacker army" at anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 individuals.[2]

Western countries have long accused China of aggressive espionage,[3][4][5] but although officials and organisations have traced various attacks on corporate and infrastructure computer systems in their countries to computers in China "It is nearly impossible to know whether or not an attack is government-sponsored because of the difficulty in tracking true identities in cyberspace"[6][7] and China has denied accusations of cyberwarfare,[8] and has accused the United States of engaging in cyberwarfare against it - which the US government in turn denies.[9][10][11][12][13]


While some details remain unconfirmed, it is understood that China organises its resources as follows:

  • “Specialized military network warfare forces” (Chinese: 军队专业网络战力量) - military units for carrying out network attack and defense
  • "PLA-authorized forces” (授权力量) - network warfare specialists in the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS)
  • “Non-governmental forces” (民间力量) - civilian and semi-civilian[definition needed] groups that spontaneously engage in network attack and defense.[14]

Chinese universities, businesses and politicians have been subjected to cyber espionage by the United States National Security Agency since 2009 according to Edward Snowden[15][16][17] and to defend their own networks, the PLA announced a cyber security squad in May 2011.[18]

Accusations of espionage[edit]

Organisations, companies and governments in a number of countries have alleged incidents of "hacking" or espionage by China.


In May 2013, ABC News claimed that China hacked plans for the headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.[19]


Officials in the Canadian government claim that Chinese hackers have compromised several departments within the federal government in early 2011, though the Chinese government has refused involvement.[20]

Canada's Chief Information Officer claims that Chinese hackers compromised computer systems within the National Research Council in 2014.[21]


Officials in the Indian government have alleged that attacks on Indian government networks, such as that of the Indian National Security Council, have originated in China. According to the government, Chinese hackers are experts in operating botnets.[22] Several instances have been reported about Chinese cyber attack against India.[23]

United States[edit]

The United States has accused China of cyberespionage against American interests, accessing the networks of important military, commercial, research, and industrial organisations. A Congress advisory group has declared China "the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies"[24] and that "there has been a marked increase in cyber intrusions originating in China and targeting U.S. government and defense-related computer systems".[24][25][26]

In January 2010, Google reported on targeted attacks on its corporate infrastructure originating from China "that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google". Apparently, the Gmail accounts of two human rights activists were compromised in the raid on Google's password system.[27] American security experts connected the Google attack to various other political and corporate espionage efforts originating from China, including espionage against military, commercial, research, and industrial corporations. Obama administration officials called the cyberattacks "an increasingly serious cyber threat to US critical industries".[25]

In addition to Google, at least 34 companies have been attacked. Reported cases include Northrop Grumman, Symantec, Yahoo, Dow Chemical, and Adobe Systems.[28] Cyberespionage has been aimed at both commercial and military interests[29][29]

Diplomatic cables highlight US concerns that China is using access to Microsoft source code to boost its offensive and defensive capabilities.[30]

A number of private computer security firms have stated that they have growing evidence of cyber-espionage efforts originating from China, including the "Comment Group".[31]

China has denied accusations of cyberwarfare,[8] and has accused the United States of engaging in cyberwarfare against it, accusations which the United States denies.[9] Wang Baodong of the Chinese Embassy in the United States responded that the accusations are a result of sinophobic paranoia.[8] He states that, "China would never do anything to harm sovereignty or security of other countries. In conformity with such national policies, the Chinese government has never employed, nor will it employ so-called civilian hackers in collecting information or intelligence of other countries. Allegations against China in this respect are totally unwarranted, which only reflect the dark mentality of certain people who always regard China as a threat."[8]

As of March 2013, high level discussions continued.[32]

In May 2014 a Federal Grand Jury in the United States indicted five PLA Unit 61398 officers on charges of theft of confidential business information from U.S. commercial firms and planting malware on their computers.[33][34]

In September 2014, a Senate Armed Services Committee probe found hackers associated with the Chinese government had repeatedly infiltrated the computer systems of U.S. airlines, technology companies and other contractors involved in the movement of U.S. troops and military equipment,[35] and in October 2014, The FBI said that hackers it believes to be backed by the Chinese government have recently launched attacks on U.S. companies.[36]

In 2015, the U.S Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that it had been the target of a data breach targeting the records of as many as 21.5 million people.[37] The Washington Post reported that the attack originated in China, citing unnamed government officials.[38] FBI director James Comey explained that "it is a very big deal from a national security perspective and from a counterintelligence perspective. It's a treasure trove of information about everybody who has worked for, tried to work for, or works for the United States government."[39]

IP hijacking[edit]

During an 18-minute stretch on April 8th, 2010, state-owned China Telecom advertised erroneous network routes that instructed "massive volumes" of U.S. and other foreign Internet traffic to go through Chinese servers. A US Defense Department spokesman, told reporters that he did not know if "we've determined whether that particular incident ... was done with some malicious intent or not" and China Telecom denied the charge that it "hijacked" U.S. Internet traffic.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "China’s Evolving Perspectives on Network Warfare: Lessons from the Science of Military Strategy", April 16, 2015, Joe McReynolds,
  2. ^ "China's Hacker Army". Foreign Policy.
  3. ^ Gorman, Siobhan (8 April 2009). "Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  4. ^ Power Grid Penetrated?. Fox News Channel. 22 December 2009. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  5. ^ Krekel, Bryan (2009), Capability of the People's Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation (PDF), Northrop Grumman, archived from the original (PDF) on February 3, 2011
  6. ^ Gorman, Siobhan (April 8, 2009). "Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 2, 2010.
  7. ^ "Power Grid Penetrated?". Fox News.
  8. ^ a b c d "China's Response to BusinessWeek". BusinessWeek. April 10, 2008. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  9. ^ a b Zetter, Kim (January 25, 2010). "China Accuses US of Cyberwarfare". Wired. Retrieved October 23, 2010.
  10. ^ Nakashima, Ellen, "Report on ‘Operation Shady RAT’ identifies widespread cyber-spying", Washington Post, August 3, 2011.
  11. ^ Anderlini, Jamil (January 15, 2010). "The Chinese dissident's 'unknown visitors'". Financial Times.
  12. ^ Barnes, Julian E. (March 4, 2008). "China's computer hacking worries Pentagon". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 10, 2008. Retrieved March 4, 2008.
  13. ^ Brookes, Peter (March 13, 2008). "Flashpoint: The Cyber Challenge: Cyber attacks are growing in number and sophistication". Family Security Matters. Archived from the original on March 29, 2008. Retrieved April 7, 2008.
  14. ^ Elegant, Simon (November 18, 2009). "Cyberwarfare: The Issue China Won't Touch". Time Magazine. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  15. ^ Warren, Lydia (June 12, 2013). "NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says U.S. government has been hacking Chinese universities, businesses and politicians for FOUR YEARS as he finally breaks cover". Daily Mail. London.
  16. ^[dead link]
  17. ^ "Snowden says U.S. hacking targets China; NSA points to thwarted attacks". The Japan Times.
  18. ^ Beech, Hannah. "Meet China's Newest Soldiers: An Online Blue Army." Time, 27 May 2011.
  19. ^ "George Brandis briefed by ASIO on claims China stole classified blueprints of Canberra headquarters". ABC News.
  20. ^ "Foreign hackers attack Canadian government". CBC. February 16, 2011. Retrieved February 17, 2011.
  21. ^ "Chinese cyberattack hits Canada's National Research Council". CBC. July 29, 2014. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  22. ^ "China mounts cyber attacks on Indian sites". Times of India. India. May 5, 2008. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  23. ^ "'നിശബ്ദ യുദ്ധ'ത്തിന് പിന്നിൽ ചൈന; ടാർഗറ്റ് ഇന്ത്യയും അമേരിക്കയും". ManoramaOnline. Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  24. ^ a b Claburn, Thomas. "China Cyber Espionage Threatens U.S., Report Says". InformationWeek. Archived from the original on February 27, 2010. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  25. ^ a b Cha, Ariana Eunjung and Ellen Nakashima, "Google China cyberattack part of vast espionage campaign, experts say," The Washington Post, January 14, 2010.
  26. ^ McMillan, Robert. "Report Says China Ready for Cyber-war, Espionage". PC World. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  27. ^ "Google cyberattack hit password system" NY Times, Reuters, April 19, 2010.
  28. ^ Jacobs, Andrew; Helft, Miguel (January 12, 2010). "Google, Citing Attack, Threatens to Exit China". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  29. ^ a b Zetter, Kim (January 13, 2010). "Google Hackers Targeted Source Code of More Than 30 Companies". Wired. Archived from the original on September 18, 2010. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  30. ^ "US embassy cables: China uses access to Microsoft source code to help plot cyber warfare, US fears". The Guardian. London. December 4, 2010. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
  31. ^ Riley, Michael, and Dune Lawrence, "Hackers Linked to China’s Army Seen From EU to D.C.", Bloomberg L.P., 27 July 2012
  32. ^ U.S. Presses on Cyberthreats; In Beijing, Treasury Secretary Frames Issue as a Top Priority in Ties With China March 20, 2013 Wall Street Journal
  33. ^ Finkle, J., Menn, J., Viswanatha, J. U.S. accuses China of cyber spying on American companies. Reuters, Mon May 19, 2014 6:04pm EDT.
  34. ^ Clayton, M. US indicts five in China's secret 'Unit 61398' for cyber-spying. Archived May 20, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 2014
  35. ^ Chinese hacked U.S. military contractors, Senate panel finds September 18, 2014 Reuters
  36. ^ FBI warns U.S. businesses of cyber attacks, blames Beijing October 16, 2014 Reuters
  37. ^ Peterson, Andrea (2015-09-24). "OPM says 5.6 million fingerprints stolen in biggest cyber attack in US history. America doesn't have anything together this is why this happened". Independent.
  38. ^ Sanders, Sam (4 June 2015). "Massive Data Breach Puts 4 Million Federal Employees' Records At Risk". NPR.
  39. ^ "Hacks of OPM databases compromised 22.1 million people, federal authorities say". The Washington Post. July 9, 2015.
  40. ^ Wolf, Jim (November 19, 2010). "Pentagon says "aware" of China Internet rerouting". Reuters. Retrieved November 26, 2010.