News

Shanghai cyber hacking unit back in business, says US

Warwick Ashford

China’s military cyber espionage Unit 61398 is back in business, deploying different techniques, just three months after being exposed in a report by US security firm Mandiant.

US officials say the Shanghai-based unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) went quiet after it was linked to data theft from at least 141 organisations around the world, mainly in the UK, US and Canada.

However, they said the unit appears to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to the Seattle Times.

Mandiant said the attacks had resumed, but would not identify the targets, saying only that the victims included many of the same ones the unit had attacked before.

In the report published in February, Mandiant described Unit 61398 as one of the world's "most prolific cyber espionage groups” and said it had systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data.

Targets included product blueprints, manufacturing plans, clinical-trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information.

Chinese cyber espionage attacks are expected to feature during a coming visit to China by President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon.

Donilon has said that dealing with China’s actions in cyber space is moving to the centre of the complex security and economic relationship between the two countries.

But in May, China's foreign ministry dismissed as groundless a US Department of Defense (DoD) report to Congress that accuses China for the first time of trying to break into US defence computer networks.

China has said repeatedly that it does not condone hacking and is the victim of hacking attacks – most of which it claims come from the US.

"As we all know, the United States is the real hacking empire and has an extensive espionage network," the People's Daily said in response to the DoD report.

US officials and corporate executives are trying to persuade Chinese authorities that a pattern of theft by the military will damage China’s growth prospects.

However, the Seattle Times said their longer-term concern is that China may be trying to establish a new set of rules for internet commerce, with more censorship and fewer penalties for the theft of intellectual property.


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