February 19th, 2013
10:51 AM ET

How big is China's cyber threat?

A unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army has been tied to a location believed to be the source of “an overwhelming percentage of the attacks on American corporations, organizations and government agencies,” according to a report in the New York Times on Tuesday.

“An unusually detailed 60-page study, to be released Tuesday by Mandiant, an American computer security firm, tracks for the first time individual members of the most sophisticated of the Chinese hacking groups – known to many of its victims in the United States as ‘Comment Crew’ or ‘Shanghai Group’ – to the doorstep of the military unit’s headquarters,” the report says. “The firm was not able to place the hackers inside the 12-story building, but makes a case there is no other plausible explanation for why so many attacks come out of one comparatively small area.”

Over the past year, Global Public Square contributors have looked at a range of cyber issues, from the potential threat posed by Chinese firms to what the U.S. can do to improve its cyber defenses.

“Weak cybersecurity renders America less secure on a global strategic level,” wrote Katrina Timlin, a research assistant at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on GPS last February. “Around seventy countries are building cyber capabilities for their military or national defense infrastructure. Among the most capable countries are Russia and China, historical competitors with America.”

More from CNN: U.S. firm links China with hacking

“Although they are unlikely to launch a spontaneous cyber attack, it is understandable they are probing our vulnerabilities and testing the limits of cyber espionage. America’s competitors have clear incentives to seek economic and military advantage through these ‘illicit’ means, and America’s inability to properly defend its cyber infrastructure is only facilitating this nefarious behavior.”

How should the U.S. respond?

According to A. Greer Meisels and Mihoko Matsubara, the United States and its allies need to coordinate their response to these threats. “As countries pursue interoperability for the sake of military efficiency, they also face an increase in shared vulnerabilities. Washington should take advantage of its pre-existing alliance network and serve as a hub to synchronize such efforts,” the authors wrote in October. “This requires developing robust, actionable intelligence capabilities that can provide real-time information to decision-makers in the United States, to private companies, and to its allies.”

More from CNN: Have courage to deal with cyber war

But Jennifer Stisa Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, suggested that in the push to find solutions in the U.S., it’s worth asking whether more legislation is the answer.

“Bringing federal agencies up to par won’t…require new laws. President Obama could implement much of the Cybersecurity Act via executive order,” Granick wrote in August. “Further, government may be able to raise standards for critical infrastructure networks through regulation rather than legislation. In most critical industries, electricity, nuclear power, chemical plants and water safety are already heavily regulated by the government. So why, for example, did NASDAQ get hacked in 2011? When we, or Congress, understand this, we can apply the tool that would improve the situation, whether it’s Securities and Exchange Commission regulation or new laws.”

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Topics: China

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soundoff (89 Responses)
  1. Nate

    What is the point of this article? Who gives two hoots if China gets the secret ingredient to the coca-cola recipe or learns that we have a gps satellite where it shouldn't be. This still doesn't give a large news corporation the right to stir up American support for a anti-Chinese political action.

    Don't just write an article to hear yourself, give it some solid meaning.

    February 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • Wangchuk

      I think you missed the point. US companies & US investors do care if the Chinese Govt is spying on them. The PRC also spies on the US Govt and that endangers US national security. I am sure you would not want the Chinese Govt hacking into your computer, would you?

      February 21, 2013 at 10:25 am | Reply
  2. Kristina Krovane

    The U.S. is the most armed country in the world, with 90 guns to every 100 people. This statistic represents those with gun permits–it does not include those with guns that are not licensed. As of 2-21-2013, there are 315,366,068 people in the US. Do the math. Look at how advanced our country is. Now, do believe that China has a Chinese chance in Hell of invading the US? They may give it the ole college try so to say, but succeed? In their dreams. I am a woman who owns a Colt AR15. Am I a dead shot with it? Yes. Would I step up to defend my country? You better believe that I will–in a heartbeat.

    February 20, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Reply
    • Howard Markowitz

      Very John Wayne, and just as antiquated. What are you going to do when a cyber attack deletes all records of your bank account? Shoot the ATM machine?

      February 21, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  3. Coin pit

    How big it is? en I think it is as big as ONE foot long subway~or maybe tast even as well as subway~~
    Come on boy~who will attack the others, at their own home and using a stupid static IP address? it is way too stupid~~I cann't believe the report comes from a professional group of internet security~~it sounds like a military report , which is ask more budgets~~that's it

    February 21, 2013 at 6:13 am | Reply
  4. SCTEE

    So what will our "Dear Leader" do about it? NOTHING....

    February 21, 2013 at 10:10 am | Reply
  5. Wangchuk

    The PRC has been engaged in cyberespionage against the US for over decade. The US Govt had warnings but ignored them for the most part. Now we are slowly waking up to the cyber threat from the PRC. The PRC also engages in hacking & cyber warfare against Tibetan, Uighur, and Chinese dissidents. The PRC is a major threat to US national interests. It is hegemonistic and imperialistic. It wants to the new Middle Kingomd and dominate Asia. Asian nations must unite to stand up to the PRC.

    February 21, 2013 at 10:23 am | Reply
  6. Adventure49

    Much of this is industrial espionage. China doesn't want a military confrontation with us, they prefer to win on the economic battlefield. They want the Citizens Against Government Waste ad "Now they work for us" to become a reality.

    February 21, 2013 at 10:50 am | Reply
  7. Reverse

    Gives us an opportunity to see their capabilities.

    February 21, 2013 at 11:18 am | Reply
  8. Lakatu

    We are no different. Do you really think that we have no cyber soldiers out there? Do you think that your web experience is not controlled by the government? Try to register the domain newrevolution and see what happens.

    February 21, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  9. Johnna

    First of all when we hack into their systems all we get back is what the chinese stole from everyone else. Do you really think that the chinese can innovate on their own under such restricted conditions! Besides where would china be if it weren't for American technology. They would all still be using rickshaws for transportation. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times "NEVER TRUST A G00K!".

    February 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  10. cybercmdr

    Consider this. Most of the computers here are made with parts from China. Do we know if these components only do what we bought them to do, or do they provide a "back door" to those who designed the circuit firmware? Who checks whether these cards and boards have exploits built in?

    February 21, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  11. Martin

    "How big is China's cyber threat?"

    China is a massive threat to the rest of the world. Period. If you've every been to China you know that if they ever did take the world over that humankind might as well hang it up and let some other species take over. The quality of life there is very poor for most people and any attempt to protest most likely puts you in prison. The communist elite steal whatever land they want from everyone else, and send those that complain to black prisons that are not even part of the official legal machinery there.

    February 21, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • ^ Ignorant Bigot R.a.c.i.s.t!

      Like the US is any better? Let see no real health care, crazies with guns, lobbyist in control of your congress, a useless congress and the media which keeps the masses i.e. sheep ignorant and hateful like yourself..... And that's just the beginning... 16 TRILLION+ national debt and more to come!

      February 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  12. Goober

    China is the next war.

    February 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  13. mike

    We are all being "played" by the media, left and right. There really are no "truths", just "positions" and "interests". Not so long, historically speaking, after the old Soviet was put to bed, we look to our next "boogy-man" so we can all be herded into following our masters wishes.

    February 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
  14. Cnn_is_a_Joke

    USA has the largest and most advanced hacking organization in the whole entire universe, Period. Agree? Every once in awhile, we just have to bring up this bad dude, which's CHINA in the neighborhood, so everyone will scare of him and not do business with him, instead do business with USA.

    February 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  15. tonyinlargo

    China will deny it until they are blue in the face, but they are doing it. In fact, about two years ago, it was in the news that they hacked into something really important, and before Chinese officials could get to them, their Cyber Geeks boasted that they were able to hack into any computer system in the world. i.e. they tipped their hand. Their geeks stated that there was literally no system in the world that could defend against their hacks. Immediately after that, there was complete silence from their side, as would be expected. The Geeks were obviously told to shut-up. After that, there have been several reports pointing the finger at them, but they deny it every time. Seriously, would anyone really expect them to admit to it ??? This is obviously of the utmost importance at this time. We should spare no resources to address the issue.

    February 22, 2013 at 12:22 am | Reply
  16. 12 storey buiding

    OK so you have traced the problem to one single 12 storey buidling in China. If the PLA was really spying on US using this location they would immediately shut it down and shift their attacks to anohter adress.

    If this does not happen, then this is a decoy and they want to be caught.

    I really don't think they are stupid enough to be tracebale – it is much more plasuible that they have several levels of decoys and outsource the job to somepne else:

    Meantime, the Scare Mongers have their day.

    February 22, 2013 at 12:45 am | Reply
  17. jeff forsythe

    Just because the brutal Chinese Communist Party is helping a few rich, greedy Americans get richer, don't imagine that they like Westerners or are not brainwashing their people about how evil Americans are. Even though on the outside, they smile and shake our hands, and they try to dress and be like us, one would be quite surprised if he or she could read Chinese schoolbooks and learn exactly what the evil Party teaches its children about us. Americans have been mislead by their Government and media into trading with the enemy, and I mean the enemy. The cruel Party has murdered one hundred million of its own people since 1949, imagine what it would do to us given half a chance. This is just my understanding, thank you.

    February 22, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
    • maersk

      jeff forsythe, the Chinese do not consider you evil at all. They just think you are a typical kwok zucking kwok zucker who loves zucking lama's kwok.

      February 23, 2013 at 5:05 am | Reply
  18. TOMG


    February 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  19. Rick McDaniel

    Countries are all doing it to each other. Don't be naive.

    February 24, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Reply
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