China cyber-espionage threatens U.S., advisory group warns

In its 2012 report, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission urges Congress to fully investigate China's cyber-espionage campaigns.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Congress needs to take action to deflect the growing threat of Chinese cyber-espionage against the U.S., a U.S. commission recommends in a new report.

Released today, the 500-page annual report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission details various security issues concerning China. But the commission expressed particular fear over the country's ongoing cyberwarfare efforts.

Calling China the "most threatening actor in cyberspace," the report found that in 2012, Chinese state-sponsored hackers continued to target computers systems run by the U.S. government and military as well those maintained in the private sector. Most of those campaigns used basic "hacking" techniques, but some showed a new level of sophistication. And even those employing basic tactics proved to be effective.

"Hackers in China have waged aggressive cyber espionage campaigns targeting a wide range of U.S. and international military, government, commercial, and other nongovernmental organizations," the report said. "These hackers seek to compromise targets ranging from smart phones to deployed military platforms, such as naval ships at sea."

The report also pointed a finger at various Chinese military departments as sources of cyberwarfare. One specific department of China's People's Liberation Army was singled out as potentially responsible for attacks against computer networks. China's intelligence and security services were also mentioned for their likely role in cyber espionage.

Nations targeted by China's cyberattacks respond by building up their own cyber skills, which the report said may "yield destabilizing consequences."

What can and should the U.S. do to deal with this growing threat?

The commission urged congressional committees to review China's cyber-espionage and to produce an unclassified report of findings.

Further, the group wants Congress to require the Department of Defense to explain its procurement procedures. The goal here is ensure that the DOD doesn't allow the purchase of any overseas-made equipment that could harbor secret cyber-vulnerabilities.

China, naturally, wasn't too happy with the report's findings, if comments by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei cited by Reuters are anything to go by.

Hong told reporters in Beijing that "the relevant commission has not let go of its Cold War mentality. We hope the relevant commission can discard its prejudice, respect facts, and cease its interference in China's internal politics and making of statements that are harmful to China-U.S. relations."

He added that "regarding Internet security, we have repeatedly pointed out that China resolutely opposes Internet attacks and has established relevant laws."

The House Intelligence Committee recently released its own report, warning of a potential threat posed by Chinese telecommunications equipment makers Huawei and ZTE. The report urged U.S. companies not to buy equipment from either vendor, expressing concerns over their relationships with the Chinese government. Both Huawei and ZTE denounced the report.

Established in 2000, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission analyzes security issues posed by U.S. trade relations with China. The commission produces a full report to Congress each year.