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March 6, 2023updated 28 Apr 2023 9:20am

China claims it is being targeted by state-sponsored cyberattacks from the US

An influential adviser says Chinese organisations are being targeted by hackers as tech trade tensions ramp up.

By Claudia Glover

State-sponsored cyberattacks are currently the biggest threat to Chinese cybersecurity according to the country’s leading political advisory body. The statement from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (PCC) comes after the US and EU both called on Beijing to get a grip on the problem posed by Chinese hacking gangs targeting Western organisations and infrastructure.

PRC suffers thousands of state-sponsored cyberattacks, claims governmental body. (Photo by Mirko Kuzmanovic/ Shutterstock)

The PCC advises the Chinese government and is seen as a central part of the Chinese Communist Party’s political system.

State-sponsored cyberattacks and the threat they pose to China

Leading member of the PCC, Zhou Hongyi, said today that attacks sponsored by foreign governments have become the leading threat to the country’s cybersecurity.

“At the national level, China needs to establish a sample database for cyberattacks by hackers backed by foreign governments so attacks can be spotted more accurately in the future,” he said

In recent years the Chinese government has identified 51 foreign hacking gangs targeting China, with these gangs launching thousands of cyberattacks, Hongyi claims. He said an aeronautical research university in Xi’an, Shaanxi province last April was attacked by hackers working for the US government’s National Security Agency.

However, these attacks are hard to report as most of them are “invisible”, he said. 

Hongyi made his claims after Western governments called for China to control its APT gangs. Last week, the Centre for Cyber Security in Belgium publicly complained that China should sanction gangs like APT31, after it hacked a device belonging to Belgian MP Samuel Cogolati. 

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The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) also recently released a warning against the sustained activity by seven Chinese cybercrime gangs, all of whom engage in cyber espionage on the West. Last month, the FBI released a formal warning against the “growing threat” posed by Chinese hackers, citing their willingness to target the infrastructure of the country’s political parties. 

Geopolitical cyber landscape heats up in 2023

Cybercrime is an increasingly important weapon in geopolitical disputes, as highlighted in a recent report released by security company Group IB. 

“This year, the largest number of attacks conducted by nation-state groups took place in the Asia-Pacific region. A considerable increase was also noticed in the number of nation-state hackers behind various military operations,” the report says.

“The motive of many nation-state threat actors was to disrupt or disable target parties’ command and control systems, gather intelligence, or conduct other activities that support traditional military objectives [like] attacks on China, compromising Sunwater’s (an Australian water supplier) infrastructure,” it continued. 

Tensions between the US and China are particularly high, with the two countries engaged in a tech trade war which has seen Washington sanction several Chinese businesses over close links to the government. Today the US Department of Commerce added cloud computing and big data company Inspur Group and the Loongson chip manufacturer to its so-called “entity list” of Chinese businesses that US companies must acquire a licence to trade with. 

Loongson and Inspur have been sanctioned “for acquiring and attempting to acquire US-origin items in support of China’s military organisation efforts,” the department of commerce said.

Read more: Vanuatu is showing small nations how to resist big cyberattacks

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