February 19, 2013
A secretive Chinese military unit is believed to be behind a series of hacking attacks, a U.S. computer security company said, prompting a strong denial by China and accusations that it was in fact the victim of U.S. hacking.
The company, Mandiant, identified the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398 as the most likely driving force behind the hacking. Mandiant said it believed the unit had carried out “sustained” attacks on a wide range of industries.
“The nature of ‘Unit 61398’s’ work is considered by China to be a state secret; however, we believe it engages in harmful ‘Computer Network Operations’,” Mandiant said in a report released in the United States on Monday.
“It is time to acknowledge the threat is originating in China, and we wanted to do our part to arm and prepare security professionals to combat that threat effectively,” it said.
China’s Defence Ministry issued a flat denial of the accusations and called them “unprofessional”. It said hacking attacks are a global problem and that China is one of world’s biggest victims of cyber assaults.
“The Chinese army has never supported any hacking activity,” the Defence Ministry said in a brief faxed statement to Reuters. “Statements about the Chinese army engaging in cyber attacks are unprofessional and not in line with facts.”
Unit 61398 is located in Shanghai’s Pudong district, China’s financial and banking hub, and is staffed by perhaps thousands of people proficient in English as well as computer programming and network operations, Mandiant said in its report.
The unit had stolen “hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organisations across a diverse set of industries beginning as early as 2006”, it said.
Most of the victims were located in the United States, with smaller numbers in Canada and Britain. The information stolen ranged from details on mergers and acquisitions to the emails of senior employees, the company said.