US And China Share A Common Interest: Cyber Spying

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Shannon Tiezzi of The Diplomat,

A recent report released by U.S. computer security firm FireEye revealed that Chinese hackers had accessed computers at the foreign ministries of five European countries. The New York Times identified the five countries as the Czech Republic, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Hungary. As Nart Villeneuve, a researcher for FireEye, also told the Times, Chinese hacking attempts have in the past targeted Japanese and Indian firms, Tibetan activists, and even the finance ministers of G20 nations. According to James A. Lewis, a senior fellow and director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Chinese hackers have also tapped the foreign ministries of Australia, Britain, Germany, France, India, and Canada. FireEye reported that these disparate hacking jobs all used similar code, which was written in Chinese and tested on Chinese-language computers. The report concluded that these “seemingly unrelated cyberattacks” could actually be “part of a broader offensive fueled by shared development and logistics infrastructure.”

The laundry list of hacking targets mirrors the recent avalanche of accusations leveled at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Ever since Edward Snowden fled the country and began leaking evidence of covert NSA cyber-espionage campaigns, hardly a month goes by without new revelations of the depth and breadth of NSA activity. According to Snowden’s documents, the NSA is responsible for monitoring the cell phone and internet metadata of U.S. citizens, tapping into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, and using the embassies of the United States and its allies to conduct covert surveillance operations in foreign countries ranging from Italy to Indonesia.

The lists of alleged hacking by both the U.S. and China are a bit puzzling, in that the reported targets seem of relatively little value. Why, for example, would the Chinese be particularly interested in hacking into the foreign ministries of Eastern European nations? And why would the U.S. be eager to tap the cell phone of Angela Merkel and to spy on Italian leaders? Both China and the U.S. have far more critical security concerns.

This suggests that the targets revealed so far are only part of a far more widespread cybersecurity espionage campaign. If the United States is indeed monitoring the activities of world leaders in Germany, Brazil and Italy, then why wouldn’t it be conducting similar surveillance in countries about which the U.S. has serious strategic concerns — countries like Iran, Russia, and, yes, China? The same logic applies to China. If Chinese hackers (who have not, it should be noted, been definitively tied to the Chinese government) are targeting small Eastern European countries, there is every reason to believe they are also monitoring countries of more strategic interest closer to home, such as Japan, Korea, and the U.S.

Instead of asking themselves why they should conduct cyber-espionage on targets of relatively low interest, the U.S. and China seem to be asking, “Why not?” As James Lewis of CSIS told The New York Times, “It is so easy to hack foreign targets, intelligence agencies can’t resist.” As hacking allegations mount against the U.S. and China, it seems that both countries are disinclined to rein in their intelligence agencies.

China’s Foreign Ministry customarily deflects accusations of hacking by saying that China is also a victim, which is almost certainly true. However, this obviously doesn’t preclude China from also being a perpetrator of such attacks. In his regular press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei responded to the hacking accusations: “U.S. cyber security companies have long been interested in hyping up the so-called ‘cyber threat from China’ with no solid proof.” Hong Lei also said that “China has been engaged in a wide range of international cooperation to combat cyber crimes.” Despite these denials, there is little disagreement in the U.S. policy community that China is engaged in widespread cyber-espionage.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has tried to defend its own hacking activities by drawing a line between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” cyber-espionage. According to the U.S.’s formulation, cyber-espionage is acceptable when applied to government or military institutions. In fact, National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s main defense for U.S. surveillance of foreign governments was that such practices are commonplace. He called it “a basic tenet” to monitor foreign leaders and politicians. This type of cyber-espionage falls under the realm of “national security” and is, in the U.S.’s view, tolerable.

However, the U.S. government wants to classify cyber-intrusions against private corporations or institutions as a different type of hacking, one that is “out of bounds,” as Vice President Biden put it in July. Conveniently, the U.S. most often accuses China of this latter type of hacking. Even this defense has worn thin after Snowden’s claims that the U.S. has hacked into private organizations, including universities, phone companies, and telecommunications companies.

As we move further into the 21st century, the U.S. and China will be the major rule-makers for the new global order. As such, the U.S. and China will together help define what is acceptable behavior in the cyberspace. There have already been calls for the U.S. and China to discuss limits on hacking activities and to define clear “rules of the road” for cyberspace. Unfortunately, it seems that (though neither would admit it) the U.S. and China have very similar ideas on cyberspace — anything goes.


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tsx500's picture

You didn't hack that !

wee-weed up's picture



And they probably secretly share the results of their cyber-spying...

Whilst protesting otherwise!

Remember... each of their peoples are their true enemies.

Zero Point's picture

Absolutely spot on WWU.

Wish I could give plus 100 for that.

Supernova Born's picture

All the Chinese people need to do is buy gold and what is true and what is right will prevail.

Oligarchs hate truth only slightly less than they hate work.

Burnbright's picture

Well I feel cheated. I thought the headline read, US and China Share Cybering. Maybe I need glasses. 

Ruffcut's picture

They follow me because I know where all the good porn is.

ebworthen's picture

Well fuck China of course, but fuck the N.S.A. and the U.S. Government to HELL as well.

kralizec's picture

Nothing to fear!  It's just the beginnings of "The Alliance".


chinoslims's picture

the hacking of foreign countries and leaders is just propaganda.  The hacking that .gov is really interested in is its own citizens.

Atomizer's picture

Let’s just rub are butt cakes together and call it terrorism on the peasants.  Hehehehehe

There's an echo in my voice TomMabe

Colonel Klink's picture

Last time I checked China doesn't have the limiting features of the US Constitution.  We have a feral and corrupt Federal government.  At some point, heads need to roll.

matrix2012's picture

It reads out like The Diplomat is trying to cover the NSA ass by saying that China is doing the same as well...

well, sounds to be a good justification.


I recall that just a year or less before the Edward Snowden's saga, the mainstream media voiced the Chinese threats in cyberspionage in unison across the both sides of Atlantic, crying out loudly how invasive and malicious were their hacking activities...

Somehow I do miss those lines in days following Snowden... so what a nice try, The Diplomat, just a bit harder, please.


Btw ZHers, i wonder whether there's any good site(s) that systematically document the FULL archives of Snowden's tactically slow time-released revelations?


Atomizer's picture

Yes to site information. No to Swowden managed query. Waves you to follow the stairwell below.

smartsun's picture

FireEye again??  Can FireEye provide any professional and technical evidence to prove those hackings came from China? 

Bazza McKenzie's picture

Good grief, this article reads as though the authors have just realised some countries are spying on others.  Countries have been doing that since time immemorial and the bigger the country and the greater its resources, the more other countries it spies upon.

It is no secret that all sophisticated countries, including the US, Russia, UK, etc have had extensive electronic spying systems since at least WWII and often earlier.  China may have been later to the party but that was just a matter of technology and resources, and they are now making up for it big time.

The fact that countries are electronically spying on foreign agencies and leaders is certainly not new.  It is what countries always have done once they had the capacity to do so.  The (relatively) new step, in western countries, is the massive widespread electronic surveillance of their own citizens.  That is what breaches prior norms of behavior and certainly in the US breaches its constitution.

Spying on foreigners neither breaches prior norms nor is it constitutionally prohibited.

Apostate2's picture

'Anything goes'. The world according to Cole Porter

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Apostate2's picture

They are both infallible conjectures.

falak pema's picture

We need an International BILL OF RIGHTS about the Cyberspace.

1stepcloser's picture

Tree of liberty is needing its watering with Patriot blood.

GoldIsMoney's picture

Not just that they share the pleasure of civil rights violations.  Guantanamo still is open - isn't it? The killing drones are still running also. And not to forget they both steal big from their cititzens.

lakecity55's picture

Interesting that Snowden did not choose to share the fact that in addition to NSA spy activity, Russia, China, etc. are all doing the same thing.

To paint the NSA as the sole culprit of snooping is quite naive.

Snowden gets to stay in Russia because he has agreed not to release the information he has on Russian Federation Cyberspying.

The best thing he has done is reveal the illegitimate uses of these cyber activities: no citizen of any country should be under this kind of surveillance.

The rest of his motives remain mysterious.

falak pema's picture

Snowden had no inside knowledge of Chinese and Russian hanky panky as he was employee of the US system.

His rage was fed by the betrayal of his country's VALUES by its incumbent admin.

And, those worldwide cables, those huge data banks and Echelon networks, give the USA an ability that none can match which they have used and abused (Stuxnet only the tip)  as a democratic republic, MORE than the rival autocratic regimes.

US cyberspace hegemony of NSA (the word is not an exaggeration) does not need to be measured; its total OVERKILL, like US MIC; thanks also to crony Google/Microsoft/Facebook type global reach.

Now these other regimes will have to play catch up to poison ALL of the Cyberspace like the oceans and the air.

Great tradition of race to bottom once more in the making like in US global finance and global ecodump.