China's Defense Ministry calls accusations of state-sponsored hacking groundless

China's Defense Ministry points to flaws in claims that the nation's military supports cyberespionage

China's Ministry of National Defense on Wednesday refuted the accusations that the nation's military supports cyberespionage, and said a recent security report backing the claims used scientifically flawed evidence.

The ministry made the statement after U.S. security firm Mandiant released a 74-page report documenting evidence, including IP addresses, that traced a large number of international cyberattacks to what it claims is likely to be a unit of China's People's Liberation Army based in Shanghai. The so-called "Unit 61398" has stolen data, such as intellectual property, from at least 141 companies since 2006, it said.

China's Defense Ministry, however, said in a statement online that Mandiant's claims were groundless. It added that the report made its conclusion by only relying on IP addresses to trace the cyberattacks to China.

"As we all know, hacking attacks occur almost everyday by using stolen IP addresses. This is a common practice and is a matter of common sense," the ministry said. "Secondly, there still is no standard definition for 'cyber attack', and the report's claim that the daily gathering of online information construes as cyber espionage lacks a legal basis."

The ministry further added that cyber attacks are both transnational and occur anonymously, making them hard to pinpoint. "China is one the major victims of cyber attacks," it said. "According to the IP addresses found, a considerable number of the attacks come from the U.S., but we have not blamed the U.S. side for this."

In the past, Chinese authorities have consistently denied supporting cyberattacks, despite mounting reports of sophisticated hacking coming from the nation that has shut down activist sites and allegedly breached systems from companies including Google.

Mandiant's report said it was "highly unlikely" the Chinese government was unaware of the hacking attacks, and was possibly supporting the cyberespionage.

Security expert Jeffrey Carr cast doubt on the conclusions of the Mandiant report. "My problem is that Mandiant refuses to consider what everyone that I know in the Intelligence Community acknowledges -- that there are multiple states engaging in this activity; not just China," he said in a blog post.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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