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Top Chinese university linked to alleged military cybercrime unit

Reuters has turned up a research connection between Shanghai Jiaotong University and the People's Liberation Army unit suspected of participation in cyberattacks on the West.

Computer security

The People's Liberation Army unit (PLA) allegedly responsible for cyberspying on Western targets has collaborated with a top Chinese university on networking and security research papers.

In a finding uncovered by Reuters, Shanghai Jiaotong's School of Information Security Engineering (SISE) and the People's Liberation Army Unit 61398 have worked in partnership on at least three papers in recent years. PLA Unit 61398 is well-known for its alleged links to cyberattacks on the West, after a report was released by security firm Mandiant which stated that an "overwhelming" number of cyberattacks originate from the single unit in Shanghai.

The co-authors of these papers, including research on attack detection and computer security, come from both SISE and PLA Unit 61398. In one paper from 2007, PLA researcher Chen Yi-qun worked with Xue Zhi, who has been credited with developing China's leading cyberattack platform, according to the school's Web site.

However, it is important to note that there is no evidence to suggest that any of these academic parties are actively involved in cybercrime or military operations. An associate professor at the university, Fan Lei, also worked with Chen on research but insisted work was completed as a graduate student, and he has no links with the PLA unit.

When contacted by the news agency, Shanghai Jiaotong University declined to comment.

Chinese officials have vigorously denied Mandiant's claims, dismissing the report as "groundless," reiterating China's official stance that cybercrime is illegal, and stating that the Asian country has also been a target of such operations.

Concerns over cybersecurity have led to talks recently between the U.S. government and industry leaders.

While businesses may want a "light touch" and flexible approach to cybersecurity legislation, President Obama has stated that China's alleged involvement in cybercrime networks will be a "key" in future discussions between the two nations.