China To America: You Hack Us, Too

Difference is China doesn't point fingers, says head of China's computer emergency response team, even though it has "mountains" of evidence that U.S. snoops.
Still, arguably every country with the capability to conduct online espionage operations against rival governments does so. What makes China's alleged hacking any different from operations that might be sanctioned by the U.S. government?

"China has been called out because it appears groups within China have been particularly aggressive about such acts, and also are indulging at intrusions and theft in a grand scale (perhaps a function of their large population)," information security expert Eugene Spafford, a professor of computer sciences at Purdue University and former member of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, recently told CNN.

"I've heard some officials refer to it as 'large scale hoovering of information.' I imagine that some U.S. officials hoped that the public condemnation might cause second-thoughts by the perpetrators and a lessening of the brazen intrusions, but that doesn't appear to have happened -- at least, news reports indicate that not much has changed," he said.

Apparently responding to that escalation in U.S. rhetoric, Huang said U.S. authorities have publicly aired accusations about the theft of secrets by Chinese hackers, rather than first attempting to work with his agency to launch an investigation. "Some cases can be addressed if they had talked to us, why not let us know? It is not a constructive train of thought to solve problems," he said.

Obviously, Huang's comments could be disingenuous, or reflect that he's not party to the Chinese government's alleged industrial espionage operations.

"The government of the PRC has firmly denied any such activity by their government," said Spafford. "However, I also don't know of any modern country that has admitted to large-scale espionage when accused of such. You may draw your own conclusions."

Either way, don't expect the back-and-forth accusations to stop anytime soon. "A year ago these things were being said behind closed doors and now the arguments are out in the open, which hopefully marks a step forward in achieving some level of detente with respect to cyber espionage," said ESET security researcher Stephen Cobb in a blog post. "Although that is probably a long way off."