For more than four months, hackers based in the People’s Republic of China have been attacking The New York Times, the paper reported last week.
The cyber attacks started on October 25, 2012—the same day the Times published an investigative piece illuminating the wealth the family of China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has amassed since he took office.
This is not the first time a newspaper has been targeted for exposing unwanted facts about the families of China’s political leaders. Soon after the news of China hacking the Times broke, The Wall Street Journal revealed that it, too, had been hacked. On June 29, Bloomberg News published a similar investigative piece about China’s vice president and current leader Xi Jinping. Bloomberg was then hit by cyber attacks, and the website was blocked in China. Critics of China must expect cyber attacks.
These incidents are just some of the most recent high-profile cyber attacks from China, which seem to have begun in earnest in the early 2000s. China views cyber as both a military and economic tool. The People’s Liberation Army is believed to have hacked various military systems. Cyber has also been a major part of the increase of Chinese economic espionage, the growth of which has corresponded with China’s rise in economic and manufacturing capabilities.
According to the Times, the Chinese hackers most likely got into the system through a “spear-phishing attack, in which they [sent] e-mails to employees that contain malicious links or attachments.” Taking advantage of human weakness can be the easiest way into a computer system—all it takes is one person making one wrong click.
Another method hackers use is exploiting security gaps within the infrastructure of computer networks. And there are concerns that Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE might sell products with security gaps that are difficult to find and fix.
Last year, these two companies were investigated by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which reported that Huawei and ZTE pose a risk to national security and recommended that no Chinese telecommunications companies or their products be permitted in realms that are vital to U.S. national security.
The trend of cyber attacks shows that China has vast cyber resources and has derived political and economic benefit from cyber attacks. To counter this growing trend, Congress should pursue adaptable and cost-effective cybersecurity policies.
Sarah Friesen is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.