Chinese state-sponsored hackers have not only infiltrated the nation’s military, government and private Web sites, but they have also become a vital tool for Beijing as it wages worldwide cyberwarfare against its opponents, academics said.
National Defense University professor Ma Chen-kun (馬振坤) told a symposium on Monday that even though Beijing’s influence has been rising over the years, the cyberspace is the first area in which China has truly asserted itself as the dominant superpower.
China’s plan to become a dominant force on the Web dates to 1992, when it initiated the China Internet Network Information Center project, the first in a line of state-owned organizations aimed at gathering intelligence online, he said, adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) announced this year that the nation would embark on “strategic planning for cyberdominance.”
Although Xi and his predecessor, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), have been touting “a world of peaceful development,” saying “China will never become the dominant force,” the nation has become the first undisputed superpower in the cyberworld, he said.
National Chengchi University professor Hu Rui-chou (胡瑞舟) said that Chinese cyberespionage agents have been very active recently, referencing attacks on the Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily’s Taiwan and Hong Kong portals, as well as the Web sites of five US enterprises, which prompted the US to file charges against five Chinese hackers who were allegedly behind the attacks.
According to testimonials by the US government, the five hackers belong to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398, which has its main base in the Pudong New Area in Shanghai, Hu said.
The attacks on Apple Daily’s portals were most likely staged by state-sponsored Chinese hackers as well, given their scope, Hu added.
The Apple Daily’s portals were paralyzed last month after the news outlet covered demonstrations staged by hundreds of thousands Hong Kongers demanding electoral reform.
Diamond Infotech Co president Liu Te-ming (劉得民) said that apart from cybersepionage agents directly affiliated with the Chinese army, peripheral organizations also work in close proximity with Beijing.
“Hackers who belong to these peripheral organizations carry out attacks by charging the government a commission for each job,” he said.
These hackers typically launch attacks meant to propagandize or harass certain targets, especially during times of political tensions, such as when other countries claimed rights to isles in the South China Sea or during Hong Kong’s protests, he said.