Senior intelligence officials have identified the specific Chinese military outfit and technical surveillance unit tasked with cyberwarfare against Taiwan and say it is located on the campus of Wuhan University, in Wuhan, Hubei Province.
They said the Wuhan University-based unit is actually the Sixth Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff Department’s (GSD) Third Department.
The Sixth Bureau is engaged in technical aspects of surveillance and intelligence-gathering on important Taiwanese agencies, intercepting telecommunications signals, hacking computers and mobile phone service networks, and satellite imagery reconnaissance against Taiwan, according to recent statements and interviews with Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) and Ministry of National Defense (MND) officials.
“China’s espionage activities and intelligence-gathering against Taiwan and other countries is always hidden under the guise of academic research centers, non-profit foundations or private sector companies,” said a ministry official who declined to be named.
“It is the same for the PLA’s GSD Sixth Bureau. Its units have network specialists, computer technicians, analysts and trained hackers working in offices at Wuhan University,” he said.
“These offices are installed on campus under the cover of research centers and telecommunication laboratories,” he said.
Other nations who have come under cyberattack and digital information theft have also reported that Chinese cyberarmy units are operating inside university campuses.
“The aim is to conduct state espionage work under the facade of academic research,” the defense ministry official said.
Foreign and Taiwanese defense experts said the Sixth Bureau is one of the 12 bureaus under the PLA’s GSD Third Department (abbreviated as “3PLA”), whose mandates and functions fall under the framework of technical reconnaissance and digital information warfare.
PLA Unit 61398 in Shanghai’s Pudong District, believed to be responsible for the hacking and theft of business information as well as designing malware attacks against the US and other Western countries, is part of the same agency network under 3PLA’s 2nd Bureau.
The unit gained widespread attention after the US Department of Justice on May 19 last year indicted five PLA officers with conducting economic cyberespionage against US companies, including Westinghouse Electric, US Steel, Allegheny Technologies and Alcoa, as well as the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union.
The five men were identified as working for Unit 61398.
Figures compiled by the National Security Bureau and other government departments in Taiwan show that in 2013, the NSB came under Chinese cyberwarfare attack 7.22 million times, the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau (MJIB) came under 1.56 million cyberattacks and the defense ministry faced 1.01 million attacks.
According to a senior MIB officer, China’s surveillance and espionage activities against Taiwan can be divided into two main areas: human intelligence and signals intelligence.
The human intelligence programs against Taiwan are mostly directed by its Ministry of State Security (also known as guoan, 國安部), along with the United Work Front Department, which is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, the MIB officer said.
These programs are aimed at recruiting or enticing Taiwanese officials and agents for information, the officer said.
However, signals intelligence programs against Taiwan that monitor telecommunications, radar, radio and other signals are under the command of the GSD Third Department, he said.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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