The "hacker war" between the U.S. and China may be nothing more than a label slapped on ongoing behavior, security experts say.
In fact, many experts claim, the current rivalry seems little more than a creation of the press, aggressive security vendors and the FBIs eagerness to highlight its role in the governments antihacker campaign. The bureau issued a security warning about the ongoing hacks April 26.
"The [FBI] is trying to gain market share," said John Pescatore, computer security analyst at Gartner Group. "You have 20 different four-letter commissions in the federal government, all trying to claim this mantle. For [the FBI] to issue this sort of alert is really just saying, Remember me? Let me get in front of you so I can lead. "
FBI officials declined to comment on the recent string of attacks.
As of May 2, Chinese computer hackers had defaced some 300 American Web sites since the first day of April, officials at information security company iDefense said. Graffiti left behind said vandals were protesting the forced landing of a U.S. spy plane on Chinese soil April 1.
Pro-U.S. hackers, once far ahead in the game, compromised at least 395 Chinese sites over the same period, iDefense said. The Fairfax, Va., company based its numbers on sites it said contained overtly political messages from one side or the other.
TruSecure, another computer security company close to the nations capital, reported far greater casualties in the hacker war. According to Peter Tippett, TruSecures chief technology officer, Westerners hacked more than 900 Chinese sites in April, vs. fewer than 100 the month before. Chinese hackers, he said, probably compromised 40 sites in April.
But its a stretch to say anything truly political is going on, Tippett said.
For one thing, he said, the teen-agers who make up most of the worlds hacker community are famously apolitical. More telling, he said, was the sudden flood of politically tinged hacks that followed an April 18 article on Wireds Web site. That piece appeared a full week after the return of U.S. military personnel, and was likely a magnet for publicity-seeking crackers, he said.