Attacks/Breaches
2/21/2013
11:25 AM
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China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts

Mandiant report says that an elite Chinese military hacking unit is responsible for launching APT attacks against U.S. businesses. Chinese government cries foul.

The story further suggested that the report was little more than a "commercial stunt" by Mandiant CEO Kevin Mandia, and representative of a broader push by the U.S. cybersecurity lobby to sell more products and services. "Next time, the CEO could simply say: 'See the Chinese hackers? Hurry up, come and buy our cybersecurity services,'" according to the Xinhua commentary.

4. Security Expert: Mandiant Failed At Attribution

Criticism of Mandiant's conclusions has also come from information security circles. "My problem with this report is not that I don't believe that China engages in massive amounts of cyber-espionage. I know that they do -- especially when an executive that we worked with traveled to Beijing to meet with government officials with a clean laptop and came back with one that had been breached while he was asleep in his hotel room," said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of Taia Global, in a blog post.

Carr also recently criticized Mandiant's report that Chinese attackers hacked into The New York Times, and said that if the group's APT1 evidence had been submitted to a "professional intelligence analyst," for example at the CIA, a more rigorous analysis -- for example by using the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) vetting process -- would likely have failed to prove attribution.

"My problem is that Mandiant refuses to consider what everyone that I know in the intelligence community acknowledges -- that there are multiple states engaging in this activity; not just China," Carr said. "And that if you're going to make a claim for attribution, then you must be both fair and thorough in your analysis and, through the application of a scientific method like ACH, rule out competing hypotheses and then use estimative language in your finding. Mandiant simply did not succeed in proving that Unit 61398 is their designated APT1 aka Comment Crew."

5. U.S. Considers The Diplomacy Angle

After the Mandiant report went public, reporters began pressing U.S. government officials about what they planned to do about the perceived threat. On that front, the White House this week unveiled a new strategy aimed at combating the theft of U.S. trade secrets by hackers.

That strategy includes diplomatic efforts, which are already underway. "We've raised our concern at the highest level about cyberthreats from China, including the involvement of the military," said U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in a Tuesday media briefing, without commenting on whether the government sees the Chinese government as being behind the APT1 attacks. "Without getting too deeply into the details of private diplomatic discussions we're having, what we have been involved with is making clear that we consider this kind of activity a threat not only to our national security but also to our economic interests, and laying out our concerns specifically so that we can see if there's a path forward."

6. Follow The Money

Mandiant said that APT1 alone has stolen terabytes of data from at least 140 different businesses. But to what end? Furthermore, some commentators have asked why this potentially incendiary information security data is coming from a firm that sells information security services, rather than from the U.S. government? "Shouldn't a military intelligence report about APT1 come from the government instead of an IT consultancy? Dodgy," tweeted Australia-based security engineer Vitaly Osipov.

Likewise, others have questioned whether a Chinese military agency would commit the sorts of sloppy mistakes that allowed Mandiant to trace the attacks back to their supposed origin.

"Perhaps the question we should be asking isn't 'Who did it?' but rather 'Who benefits?'" said John Artman, a presenter and producer at China Radio International in Beijing, in a blog post. "So far, it appears to be U.S. policymakers bent on beefing up cybersecurity legislation using China as the go-to bogeyman. Naturally, lots of media have fallen in step, regurgitating a tired, not-at-all subtle narrative that we should know better than to accept at face value."

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Lee Hu
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Lee Hu,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/25/2013 | 12:05:04 PM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
The Chinese government would steal your wallet right in front of you, then say, "we didn't do that." Of course they are not going to admit it, what else would they say? One after another, Internet security groups are finding the same thing: the Chinese government, through the PLA, is behind the shameless theft and rampant espionage.
burn0050bb
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burn0050bb,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/26/2013 | 4:09:57 PM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
Guess who else engages in massive cyber espionage? Perhaps the government that created the internet? While I have no doubt that the Chinese government is participating (as is the US government, and the UK, and...) - saying that you have pinpointed an attack is ludicrous. With the proliferation of botnets these days, there's just no way to know who's behind what attacks.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/24/2013 | 2:45:22 AM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
One of the things that comes into play here with the deployment of "poison pills" is that if it gets revealed that you really are going after a military or governmental organization, that could have diplomatic ramifications. Although, you'd have to think that someone at one of those Federal agencies that doesn't exist would have come up with the idea of watching all traffic leaving the country through a PoP destined for China by now.

A site that I'm familiar with has been noticing that they were getting scraped by 61398 every morning in the wee earlies (EST), by bots sending random HTTP requests. While it's possible to drop all of the traffic to that IP block, they decided to throttle everything down to 1kbps of throughput so that everything could be documented in the event that there was ever a need to take further action.

I'm somewhat surprised that you get good response from China and Russia - back when I was in a position to report offenders to ISPs, the worst response that I got came from the African region, followed by China and Russia.

What's making this more "interesting" is the different tools that these organizations are using. Sure, it's great to take over someone's PC and use it as part of a Botnet, but what about taking over their mobile phone? Drive up their data costs while waging war and being a mobile target at the same time - talk about a serious misdirection play, and something that very few people would ever have the skills to catch on their own. Yet another reason why I'm against BYOD, but that's an entirely different story.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
MarkSitkowski
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MarkSitkowski,
User Rank: Moderator
2/23/2013 | 8:24:04 AM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
Don't think that it hadn't crossed my mind, but you can't do that. Among the zombies was a server at an airport, another at a hospital, and several in education networks. It might have been very dangerous.
We just report the IP address to the ISP, who then disinfects the server. For what it's worth, we've had good cooperation from ISP's in China, Romania, Russia, Brazil and everywhere except Turkey.
garye
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garye,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/22/2013 | 7:21:24 PM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
Shouldn't be that hard send a program back with the information that will take out everyone involved. Send it with the information they are accessing. When they open the file there goes every computer connected. Seems simple enough and if it's not them it will take out the one who is doing it.
MarkSitkowski
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MarkSitkowski,
User Rank: Moderator
2/22/2013 | 12:06:37 AM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
We've been fighting a botnet since December 2012. We get hack attempts, using a limited number of identical scripts, from servers in (so far) 25 countries, including China. It should be fairly obvious that, as mentioned in the last paragraph, the attacks are not coming from those individual countries, but from the creep controlling the botnet. Get real, Mandiant. (Or, maybe, you'd like to help us out, here - we've destroyed 1350 zombies so far, but they keep on coming...)
lgarey@techweb.com
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lgarey@techweb.com,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2013 | 5:29:17 PM
re: China Denies U.S. Hacking Accusations: 6 Facts
The report essentially implying "how "elite" can this Unit 61398 military hacking unit be if it doesn't know not to let Mandiant trace all the "IP addresses used in attacks to a specific, 12-story, beige building in the Pudong district of Shanghai" raises more questions than it answers. Seems like Mandiant should have spent more time on firm attribution. Lorna Garey, IW Reports
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