US is real hacking empire, says China

China rejects the first official US accusations of cyber espionage and brands the US the “real hacking empire”, accusing it of sowing discord

China has rejected the first official US accusations of cyber espionage, in turn branding the US the “real hacking empire” and accusing it of sowing discord between China and its neighbours.

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.

The report said China continues to use state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the technologies and expertise available to support military research and development.

The report said investigations had shown that China continues to engage in activities designed to support military procurement and modernisation. 

“These include economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, export control violations and technology transfer,” the report said.

The report claims that in 2012, US government computer systems were among those targeted for intrusions, which appear to be attributable to the Chinese government and military, and focused on exfiltrating information.

The People's Liberation Army Daily called the report a "gross interference” in China's internal affairs.

The paper said promoting the “China military threat theory” could sow discord between China and other countries and accused the US of using it to promote US interest groups and arms dealers.

Accusations and counter-accusations have been escalating since US security firm Mandiant published a report in February that said a branch of China's military in Shanghai was probably one of the world's "most prolific cyber espionage groups".

According to Mandiant, Unit 61398 had "systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data" from at least 141 organisations around the world, but mainly in the UK, US and Canada.

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 a commentary, according to Australian reports.

The article said that in recent years, the US has continued to strengthen its “network tools for political subversion against other countries".

"To establish military hegemony on the internet by repeatedly smearing other countries is a dangerous and wrong path to take and will ultimately end up in shooting themselves in the foot,” the paper said.

Despite revelations about the Shanghai unit, Mandiant said China was not the only country carrying out large-scale cyber espionage.

“We are seeing other countries carrying out similar activities,” the company’s chief Kevin Mandia told attendees of RSA Conference 2013 in San Francisco.

He denied that his company was picking on China. “We do not focus on anyone, we just go where the intrusions are,” he said.

However, Mandia rejected the assertion that the country of origin is irrelevant. “It does matter to business; they want to know who is attacking them, why, and what is being targeted,” he said.

Read more on Privacy and data protection