Chinese military still hacking foreign companies, but this time with political cover from the NSA

The building in Shanghai housing “Unit 61398” of the People’s Liberation Army.
The building in Shanghai housing “Unit 61398” of the People’s Liberation Army.
Image: AP Photo
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China’s master-hackers, the “People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398,” haven’t let up on on spying into foreign companies’ computer networks, even after these activities were made public earlier this year, according to a group advising the US Congress. A draft copy of the US-China Economic Security Commission’s annual report given to Reuters states:

There are no indications the public exposure of Chinese cyber espionage in technical detail throughout 2013 has led China to change its attitude toward the use of cyber espionage to steal proprietary economic and trade information.

“They are still stealing the same type of data from the same industries,” Susan Helmick, a spokeswoman for cybersecurity company Mandiant told Reuters. ”The focus appears to be the same but the methods and malware, they had to shift.” The commission’s report will be made public this month.

Chinese authorities deny the existence of the unit, which Mandiant first highlighted in a February report. In May, The New York Times reported that the  PLA group “appeared to have resumed” their attacks after a brief respite.

Revelations about the US National Security Agency’s massive spying operations leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden have shifted global cyber-security focus this year from threats from China to threats from the US. They’ve also provided Chinese authorities with plenty of rhetorical fodder to lambaste the United States over its own cyber-hacking.

When Google chief executive Eric Schmidt criticized China this week for censoring what its citizens can see on the internet, China’s state-run media took it as a chance to lash him. Google is both “hypocritical” and “two-faced,” Xinhua news agency wrote in an editorial, because the company is an “accomplice” to the NSA.