No one expected China to change its cyber espionage ways overnight -- if at all -- in the wake of the historic agreement last month between President Obama and China's president Xi Jinping not to conduct cyberspying attacks for economic gain. So not surprisingly, researchers say they've spotted continued hacking by Chinese groups aiming to steal intellectual property from seven US firms in the technology and pharmaceutical industries.
The pact announced on September 25 by Obama and Xi specifically applies to the theft of trade secrets and stops short of banning traditional espionage via hacking. While the no-hack pact has been met with skepticism, given China's massive cyber espionage machine and strategy of stealing intellectual property for economic gain and competitive advancement, industry experts including Kevin Mandia, founder of Mandiant and president of FireEye, say it's a significant step by the two nations. Mandia -- who says the pact is better than no pact at all -- believes it will ultimately lead the two nations teaming up against cybercrime in the interest of a global economy.
Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO and co-founder of CrowdStrike, blogged today that his firm over the past three weeks had detected and blocked attacks against its customers by Chinese APTs, including the so-called Deep Panda gang.
"The very first intrusion conducted by China-affiliated actors after the joint Xi-Obama announcement at the White House took place the very next day – Saturday September 26th. We detected and stopped the actors, so no exfiltration of customer data actually took place, but the very fact that these attempts occurred highlights the need to remain vigilant despite the newly minted Cyber agreement," he wrote.
"We assess with a high degree of confidence that these intrusions were undertaken by a variety of different Chinese actors, including DEEP PANDA, which CrowdStrike has tracked for many years breaking into national-security targets of strategic importance to China, as well as commercial industries such as Agriculture, Chemical, Financial, Healthcare, Insurance, Legal, Technology and many others," he wrote.
Alperovitch admits a delay between the agreement and any curtailment of this type of hacking by China is "not entirely unexpected."
He says he is "encouraged" by the US's success in getting China to publicly distinguish between hacking for commercial benefit versus national security-related cyber espionage. "Call me an optimist, but I continue to have hope that meaningful progress can be made to turn the corner and establish norms of behavior for nation-states in cyberspace," he said in his blog post.