Cyber-Attacks on Gmail, Defense Industries Linked to China: Investigators

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-06-05 Print this article Print

News Analysis: Recent cyber-attacks against Google Gmail, Lockheed Martin and other U.S. defense contractors came from Chinese Military Vocational Academy, investigators say. China blames the United States.

The hackers that launched attacks against Google's Gmail system, Lockheed Martin, L3 and Northrup Grumman may have been based at a vocational school run by the People's Liberation Army in Jinan, China, investigators say.

The investigators from Google have passed their evidence along to the FBI, which is performing a follow-up investigation. Jinan is also the headquarters of the Chinese intelligence service, and both that organization and the PLA have repeatedly said that China is beefing up its cyber-war capabilities.

The attacks against Google focused on U.S. government employees and members of the U.S. military, according to statements by Google. Other news reports say that the victims' Google Gmail boxes have been secured since the attacks were discovered. Further more security software company Trend Micro has reported that Yahoo and Hotmail Web email services also have been hit by similar attacks.

The accusations of Chinese involvement in the attacks on Google and U.S. defense contractors appear to surprise no one. China's military threatened to take sanctions against Lockheed Martin if the company went through with a sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. In addition, two scholars from the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences wrote in the China Youth Daily newspaper that the military is making preparations to fight the Internet war.

The Chinese government has a long history of hacking the computer systems of enterprises and governments it is in dispute with. It did its best to hack the Gmail accounts of Chinese activists, it hacked Google and stole some of the search engine code, and hardly anyone in the U.S. government or IT security business doubts that China is behind the recent attacks on the government contractors.

China, of course, strongly denies this, just as the Chinese government denies all unfavorable news. In fact, Chinese denials have come so frequently and about so many different topics that they're not taken seriously. The International Business Times points out that Chinese denials of the intentional weakness of the Yuan are just as vehement, even though the business world acknowledges the fact that the Yuan is undervalued.

So what will the U.S. government do about this hacking? Probably nothing. Even if it's proven beyond any doubt that the attacks came from the Chinese school in Jinan, it's impossible to prove that the Chinese government was behind it. The PLA might have done it and the intelligence service might have done it.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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