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Report: Chinese Military Behind Google, Other Cyberattacks

Most attacks traced to Chinese island tourist attraction that also houses state-of-the-art military installation

A new report handed to Congress today concludes that the Chinese military -- the People's Liberation Army -- is behind most cyberattacks on the U.S., including the infamous Operation Aurora attacks that hit Google, Adobe, Intel, and other companies.

The "China, Cyber Espionage and U.S. National Security" white paper, authored by independent research group Medius Research and commissioned by political action organization Patriot Majority, says most cyberattacks out of China originate from Hainan Island, a tourist attraction with a massive high-tech military installation located on the South China Sea.

"Hainan Island is a pretty good showcase of military modernization. It combines several capabilities, including a space launch and a submarine [base]," says Richard Parker, lead researcher for the Medius report. And a recent study by Canadian researchers traced the IP addresses of cyberattacks to four command servers to Hainan Island, he notes.

The Medius report drew its findings from background interviews with government officials, as well as from previous research, such as the 2009 Canadian study that revealed the Hainan Island connection, and a report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Chinese officials have denied any government ties to Google and other cyberattacks. Aside from U.S. intelligence community and security industry theories that these attacks are typically state-sponsored, there also have been reports of civilian groups in China conducting their own hacking operations. The Medius report says the line between China's indie hacker culture and the government is blurred, and civilians are "informally contracted."

"The idea that the [Chinese] government is not involved seems a little ludicrous," Medius' Parker says. "I understand that there is an independent hacking culture in China," but the military is the main mechanism for this, he says. Hainan Island has a population of 8 million people; in addition to its underground submarine base and space launch facility, it houses an air force base. These elements "make the island key not only to force projection but also to intelligence gathering and high-technology warfare that combines cyber warfare, space warfare and electronic warfare," according to the report.

The report says the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report from last year provides key actions for Congress to take -- namely to hold hearings on the commission's recommendations and take any legislative action it can before the commission publishes its next report later this year.

Among the recommendations by the commission: that Congress assess its ability to meet the challenge of cyberattacks out of China and review the effectiveness of how law enforcement and the intelligence community trace the origins of cyberattacks.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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