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By BBC World News
02 February 2013
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt uses a new book to call China an Internet menace that backs cyber-crime for economic and political gain, reports say.
The New Digital Age - due for release in April - reportedly brands China "the world's most active and enthusiastic filterer of information".
China is "the most sophisticated and prolific" hacker of foreign companies, according to a review obtained by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
China denies allegations of hacking.
Beijing has been accused by several governments, foreign companies and organisations of carrying out extensive cyber espionage for many years, seeking to gather information and to control China's image.
The New Digital Age analyses how China is dangerously exploiting an Internet that now permeates politics, business, culture and other aspects of life, the WSJ says.
It quotes the book as saying: "The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States at a distinct disadvantage."
This, it says, is because Washington "will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage, as its laws are much stricter (and better enforced) and because illicit competition violates the American sense of fair play".
The book argues that Western governments could do more to follow China's lead and develop stronger relationships between the state and technology companies.
States will benefit if they use software and technology made by trusted companies, it suggests.
"Where Huawei gains market share, the influence and reach of China grow as well," the WSJ quoted the authors as writing.
The WSJ this week said its computer systems had been hacked by specialists in China who were trying to monitor its China coverage.
It was the second reported attack on a major US news outlet in days, as the New York Times reported earlier that Chinese hackers had "persistently" penetrated its systems for the last four months.
China's foreign ministry dismissed the New York Times' accusations as "groundless" and "totally irresponsible".
Alleged China-based hacks
- China was widely believed to be the source of major cyber attacks between 2006 and 2011 targeting 72 organisations including the International Olympic Committee, the UN and security firms
- In 2011, Google said hackers based in Jinan province had compromised personal email accounts of hundreds of top US officials, military personnel and journalists
- South Korea blamed Chinese hackers for stealing data from 35 million accounts on a popular social network in July last year
- Chinese-based computers seized "full functional control" of computers at Nasa in 2011, the US body said
- In 2011 US media reported that Chinese-based hackers were suspected of a "significant" cyber attack on defence firm Lockheed Martin.
- Coca-cola says its systems were breached in 2009 by Beijing-backed hackers, while it was trying to buy China's Huiyuan Juice Group
- The US Pentagon said it was hacked by the Chinese military in 2007
- China says hacking is illegal under its laws and that it is a victim of such attacks itself
By Nicole Perlroth | The New York Times
31 January 2013
For the last four months, Chinese hackers have persistently attacked The New York Times, infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees.
After surreptitiously tracking the intruders to study their movements and help erect better defenses to block them, The Times and computer security experts have expelled the attackers and kept them from breaking back in.
The timing of the attacks coincided with the reporting for a Times investigation, published online on Oct. 25, that found that the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China's prime minister, had accumulated a fortune worth several billion dollars through business dealings.
Security experts hired by The Times to detect and block the computer attacks gathered digital evidence that Chinese hackers, using methods that some consultants have associated with the Chinese military in the past, breached The Times's network. They broke into the e-mail accounts of its Shanghai bureau chief, David Barboza, who wrote the reports on Mr. Wen's relatives, and Jim Yardley, The Times's South Asia bureau chief in India, who previously worked as bureau chief in Beijing.
"Computer security experts found no evidence that sensitive e-mails or files from the reporting of our articles about the Wen family were accessed, downloaded or copied," said Jill Abramson, executive editor of The Times.
The hackers tried to cloak the source of the attacks on The Times by first penetrating computers at United States universities and routing the attacks through them, said computer security experts at Mandiant, the company hired by The Times. This matches the subterfuge used in many other attacks that Mandiant has tracked to China.
The attackers first installed malware -- malicious software -- that enabled them to gain entry to any computer on The Times's network. The malware was identified by computer security experts as a specific strain associated with computer attacks originating in China. More evidence of the source, experts said, is that the attacks started from the same university computers used by the Chinese military to attack United States military contractors in the past.
Security experts found evidence that the hackers stole the corporate passwords for every Times employee and used those to gain access to the personal computers of 53 employees, most of them outside The Times's newsroom. Experts found no evidence that the intruders used the passwords to seek information that was not related to the reporting on the Wen family.
No customer data was stolen from The Times, security experts said.
Asked about evidence that indicated the hacking originated in China, and possibly with the military, China's Ministry of National Defense said, "Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security." It added that "to accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without solid proof is unprofessional and baseless."
The attacks appear to be part of a broader computer espionage campaign against American news media companies that have reported on Chinese leaders and corporations.
Last year, Bloomberg News was targeted by Chinese hackers, and some employees' computers were infected, according to a person with knowledge of the company's internal investigation, after Bloomberg published an article on June 29 about the wealth accumulated by relatives of Xi Jinping, China's vice president at the time. Mr. Xi became general secretary of the Communist Party in November and is expected to become president in March. Ty Trippet, a spokesman for Bloomberg, confirmed that hackers had made attempts but said that "no computer systems or computers were compromised."
Signs of a Campaign
The mounting number of attacks that have been traced back to China suggest that hackers there are behind a far-reaching spying campaign aimed at an expanding set of targets including corporations, government agencies, activist groups and media organizations inside the United States. The intelligence-gathering campaign, foreign policy experts and computer security researchers say, is as much about trying to control China's public image, domestically and abroad, as it is about stealing trade secrets.
Security experts said that beginning in 2008, Chinese hackers began targeting Western journalists as part of an effort to identify and intimidate their sources and contacts, and to anticipate stories that might damage the reputations of Chinese leaders.
In a December intelligence report for clients, Mandiant said that over the course of several investigations it found evidence that Chinese hackers had stolen e-mails, contacts and files from more than 30 journalists and executives at Western news organizations, and had maintained a "short list" of journalists whose accounts they repeatedly attack.
While computer security experts say China is most active and persistent, it is not alone in using computer attacks for a variety of national purposes, including corporate espionage. The United States, Israel, Russia and Iran, among others, are suspected of developing and deploying cyberweapons.
The United States and Israel have never publicly acknowledged it, but evidence indicates they released a sophisticated computer worm starting around 2008 that attacked and later caused damage at Iran's main nuclear enrichment plant. Iran is believed to have responded with computer attacks on targets in the United States, including American banks and foreign oil companies.
Russia is suspected of having used computer attacks during its war with Georgia in 2008.
The following account of the attack on The Times -- which is based on interviews with Times executives, reporters and security experts -- provides a glimpse into one such spy campaign.
After The Times learned of warnings from Chinese government officials that its investigation of the wealth of Mr. Wen's relatives would "have consequences," executives on Oct. 24 asked AT&T, which monitors The Times's computer network, to watch for unusual activity.
On Oct. 25, the day the article was published online, AT&T informed The Times that it had noticed behavior that was consistent with other attacks believed to have been perpetrated by the Chinese military.
The Times notified and voluntarily briefed the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the attacks and then -- not initially recognizing the extent of the infiltration of its computers -- worked with AT&T to track the attackers even as it tried to eliminate them from its systems.
But on Nov. 7, when it became clear that attackers were still inside its systems despite efforts to expel them, The Times hired Mandiant, which specializes in responding to security breaches. Since learning of the attacks, The Times -- first with AT&T and then with Mandiant -- has monitored attackers as they have moved around its systems.
Hacker teams regularly began work, for the most part, at 8 a.m. Beijing time. Usually they continued for a standard work day, but sometimes the hacking persisted until midnight. Occasionally, the attacks stopped for two-week periods, Mandiant said, though the reason was not clear.
Investigators still do not know how hackers initially broke into The Times's systems. They suspect the hackers used a so-called spear-phishing attack, in which they send e-mails to employees that contain malicious links or attachments. All it takes is one click on the e-mail by an employee for hackers to install "remote access tools" -- or RATs. Those tools can siphon off oceans of data -- passwords, keystrokes, screen images, documents and, in some cases, recordings from computers' microphones and Web cameras -- and send the information back to the attackers' Web servers.
Michael Higgins, chief security officer at The Times, said: "Attackers no longer go after our firewall. They go after individuals. They send a malicious piece of code to your e-mail account and you're opening it and letting them in."
Lying in Wait
Once hackers get in, it can be hard to get them out. In the case of a 2011 breach at the United States Chamber of Commerce, for instance, the trade group worked closely with the F.B.I. to seal its systems, according to chamber employees. But months later, the chamber discovered that Internet-connected devices -- a thermostat in one of its corporate apartments and a printer in its offices -- were still communicating with computers in China.
In part to prevent that from happening, The Times allowed hackers to spin a digital web for four months to identify every digital back door the hackers used. It then replaced every compromised computer and set up new defenses in hopes of keeping hackers out.
"Attackers target companies for a reason -- even if you kick them out, they will try to get back in," said Nick Bennett, the security consultant who has managed Mandiant's investigation. "We wanted to make sure we had full grasp of the extent of their access so that the next time they try to come in, we can respond quickly."
Based on a forensic analysis going back months, it appears the hackers broke into The Times computers on Sept. 13, when the reporting for the Wen articles was nearing completion. They set up at least three back doors into users' machines that they used as a digital base camp. From there they snooped around The Times's systems for at least two weeks before they identified the domain controller that contains user names and hashed, or scrambled, passwords for every Times employee.
While hashes make hackers' break-ins more difficult, hashed passwords can easily be cracked using so-called rainbow tables -- readily available databases of hash values for nearly every alphanumeric character combination, up to a certain length. Some hacker Web sites publish as many as 50 billion hash values.
Investigators found evidence that the attackers cracked the passwords and used them to gain access to a number of computers. They created custom software that allowed them to search for and grab Mr. Barboza's and Mr. Yardley's e-mails and documents from a Times e-mail server.
Over the course of three months, attackers installed 45 pieces of custom malware. The Times -- which uses antivirus products made by Symantec -- found only one instance in which Symantec identified an attacker's software as malicious and quarantined it, according to Mandiant.
A Symantec spokesman said that, as a matter of policy, the company does not comment on its customers.
The attackers were particularly active in the period after the Oct. 25 publication of The Times article about Mr. Wen's relatives, especially on the evening of the Nov. 6 presidential election. That raised concerns among Times senior editors who had been informed of the attacks that the hackers might try to shut down the newspaper's electronic or print publishing system. But the attackers' movements suggested that the primary target remained Mr. Barboza's e-mail correspondence.
"They could have wreaked havoc on our systems," said Marc Frons, the Times's chief information officer. "But that was not what they were after."
What they appeared to be looking for were the names of people who might have provided information to Mr. Barboza.
Mr. Barboza's research on the stories, as reported previously in The Times, was based on public records, including thousands of corporate documents through China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce. Those documents -- which are available to lawyers and consulting firms for a nominal fee -- were used to trace the business interests of relatives of Mr. Wen.
A Tricky Search
Tracking the source of an attack to one group or country can be difficult because hackers usually try to cloak their identities and whereabouts.
To run their Times spying campaign, the attackers used a number of compromised computer systems registered to universities in North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and New Mexico, as well as smaller companies and Internet service providers across the United States, according to Mandiant's investigators.
The hackers also continually switched from one I.P. address to another; an I.P. address, for Internet protocol, is a unique number identifying each Internet-connected device from the billions around the globe, so that messages and other information sent by one device are correctly routed to the ones meant to get them.
Using university computers as proxies and switching I.P. addresses were simply efforts to hide the source of the attacks, which investigators say is China. The pattern that Mandiant's experts detected closely matched the pattern of earlier attacks traced to China. After Google was attacked in 2010 and the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists were opened, for example, investigators were able to trace the source to two educational institutions in China, including one with ties to the Chinese military.
Security experts say that by routing attacks through servers in other countries and outsourcing attacks to skilled hackers, the Chinese military maintains plausible deniability.
"If you look at each attack in isolation, you can't say, 'This is the Chinese military,' " said Richard Bejtlich, Mandiant's chief security officer.
But when the techniques and patterns of the hackers are similar, it is a sign that the hackers are the same or affiliated.
"When you see the same group steal data on Chinese dissidents and Tibetan activists, then attack an aerospace company, it starts to push you in the right direction," he said.
Mandiant has been tracking about 20 groups that are spying on organizations inside the United States and around the globe. Its investigators said that based on the evidence -- the malware used, the command and control centers compromised and the hackers' techniques -- The Times was attacked by a group of Chinese hackers that Mandiant refers to internally as "A.P.T. Number 12."
A.P.T. stands for Advanced Persistent Threat, a term that computer security experts and government officials use to describe a targeted attack and that many say has become synonymous with attacks done by China. AT&T and the F.B.I. have been tracking the same group, which they have also traced to China, but they use their own internal designations.
Mandiant said the group had been "very active" and had broken into hundreds of other Western organizations, including several American military contractors.
To get rid of the hackers, The Times blocked the compromised outside computers, removed every back door into its network, changed every employee password and wrapped additional security around its systems.
For now, that appears to have worked, but investigators and Times executives say they anticipate more efforts by hackers.
"This is not the end of the story," said Mr. Bejtlich of Mandiant. "Once they take a liking to a victim, they tend to come back. It's not like a digital crime case where the intruders steal stuff and then they're gone. This requires an internal vigilance model."
By Marc Santora and Jeffrey E. Singer | The New York Times
September 01, 2012
A year ago, Cao Erxing and his wife, Chen Zengrong, both 56, were killed in a high-speed train crash in China. But it was not until Saturday that their relatives in New York City were finally able to gather to mourn their loss and bury their loved ones.
And though the accident was in 2011, the pain was fresh at the memorial service for the couple in Elmhurst, Queens.
"They are gone, they are gone," one relative cried. "We will never see them again."
The memorial and burial service seemed to offer some dignity in an ordeal that began with one of the biggest rail disasters in China's history, which left 40 people dead and 191 passengers injured in July 2011.
The accident rattled the Chinese government and raised questions about the safety of the nation's high-speed rail system, an ambitious public-works project that has been used as a symbol of China's emergence as a global power.
Yet for the Cao family, the accident was only the beginning of the tragedy.
For more than a year, the Cao sons -- Henry, who was severely injured in the crash, and Leo -- have been caught up in a confusing and often maddening bureaucratic nightmare. They have raised questions about their mother's treatment immediately after the accident, and fought government officials for adequate compensation and to bring their parents' bodies home.
"I don't want them to go down in history as just anonymous Americans who died," Leo Cao said. "I want people to know these people lived. Their lives meant something."
Cao Erxing and his wife left their home in Fujian Province for New York in the 1980s. For the couple, equipped with only middle school educations and no English skills, life was a struggle from the start.
Mr. Cao worked as a dishwasher but was felled by mental illness. To support the family, his wife took a job as a seamstress, working grueling hours for little pay.
With their parents, who were naturalized American citizens, doing all they could to scrape by, the Cao brothers were often left on their own.
Still, Leo said, he was able to enroll at Stony Brook University when he was 16 and graduated when he was 19.
His brother, Henry, was also forging ahead in his career in the import business.
The family worked hard and was eventually able to buy a house in Queens.
The trip to China was the first vacation that the parents ever took, their first chance to return to their birthplace and reconnect with relatives they had not seen in years, their family said.
But what was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned to disaster when the train in which they were riding rear-ended another train in the eastern city of Wenzhou, sending several cars careering off the tracks and plummeting off an overpass.
Henry, who was traveling with his parents, had to have his spleen and a kidney removed as a result of his injuries, which also included a broken ankle and ribs.
"I can't keep going on like before," he said. "Before the crash, I used to play with my children often. No more."
While Henry recovered, Leo began to wage what turned out to be a lengthy battle with the Chinese authorities.
Immediately after the accident, victims' families were warned against holding public memorials. The Cao family wanted to hold a ceremony in its ancestral village, but the authorities forbade it. Instead, the family had to settle for a ceremony in the city where the crash took place.
But it was not until 150 friends and family members gathered at the Gerard Neufeld Funeral Home in Elmhurst on Saturday that they could mourn properly. Last month, the brothers went to China to collect the remains.
Many of the relatives in America were able to come here with the assistance of the Cao family, and many were inconsolable in their grief.
While the brothers' struggle with the Chinese government has garnered wide attention, the comments at the service were focused on the moment: paying tribute to the dead and offering blessings.
"It's been a very bad year," Leo said after the service. "The reason we need to get this over with is for my family, my brother."
Still, he said, he anticipated more fighting with Chinese officials over compensation claims.
"My brother, his family, my parents, we lost so much," he said. "We can't just lay down."
But Henry said, "I just try and forget."
By Jacob Fromer | The Lede | The New York Times
August 17, 2012
Although they come from opposite ends of the Chinese political spectrum, for two months this spring Bo Xilai, a Communist Party official who was dismissed from his post, and Chen Guangcheng, a blind, activist lawyer who fled house arrest in his village, shared one important trait: they were the most closely watched Chinese men in the world.
When Mr. Bo fell from power in March and Mr. Chen made an unlikely escape from house arrest the following month -- eventually seeking refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing -- their stories were documented in minute detail in American newspapers, magazines and Twitter feeds. That is, with one notable exception: on CCTV America's weekend news program produced in Washington by China's state broadcaster, neither man's plight made the headlines. As my colleague Andrew Jacobs reports, CCTV America failed to feature either man's story.
Here is a look at what the program did cover as those major events unfolded.
March 15: Bo Xilai Ousted From Communist Party
What happened: The brash Communist Party chief of the Chongqing municipality in China's southwest was removed from his post. It was the most high-profile dismissal of a Chinese official in years, ending his political ambitions and complicating the once-a-decade national leadership transition that will take place in the fall.
Here are the headlines from CCTV America's China-related stories that weekend:
March 18 News Broadcast: Chinese Special Envoy to Syria Returns From Trip to Damascus; China Concerned About Upcoming North Korean Missile Launch; Chinese Surveillance Ships Return From Diaoyu Islands; Important Commercial Relationship Between Brazil and China.
March 19 News Broadcast: More Concern Over Upcoming North Korean Missile Launch; Chinese Authors Sue Apple; Beijing Subway Overhaul; First Chinese-American Congresswoman.
April 22: Chen Guangcheng Escapes From House Arrest
What happened: The blind rights lawyer scaled the wall of his compound, evaded his guards, and fled with a driver to the American Embassy in Beijing. The result was an intense diplomatic standoff between the United States and China just as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner were preparing to arrive in Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Here are the China-related headlines on CCTV America the weekend after Mr. Chen's escape became public:
April 29: New China-Russia Trade Contracts; Strategic Economic Dialogue Ready to Start; Terracotta Warriors on Exhibit in New York.
April 30: Ongoing China-Philippines Naval Dispute at the Huangyan Islands.
May 2: Chen Guangcheng Released From U.S. Embassy
What happened: After days of heated diplomatic negotiations and numerous vacillations by an exhausted Mr. Chen about whether to leave the embassy, the blind dissident agreed to move to a newarby hospital where he reunited with his family and told reporters that he wanted to leave China.
Here is what CCTV America saw as the China-related stories the weekend after Mr. Chen left the embassy:
May 6: Chinese-U.S. Officials Hold Talks at Strategic Economic Dialogue.
May 7: China Consumer Price Index Update; Toyota's Ambitious Plans for China.
A CCTV employee told The Times that the program did record a segment about Mr. Chen that included footage of his stay at the hospital, but no such segment appears in the archived episodes available on CCTV America's Web site.
By Radio FREE Asia
July 6, 2012
Chinese netizens respond to a new UN resolution on Internet freedom.
Chinese Internet users gave a mixed reaction to the passage this week of the first United Nations resolution on Internet freedom, which called on all states to support individuals' rights online as much as offline, with many expressing pessimism that the vote would affect them.
The resolution from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva passed on Thursday in spite of opposition on from China, Russia, and India, although it garnered the support of dozens of countries ahead of its adoption.
"It's the first U.N. resolution that confirms that human rights in the Internet realm must be protected with the same commitment as in the real world," U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters after the vote.
She said the resolution had the support of 85 co-sponsors, 30 of whom were members of the HRC.
Chinese Internet analyst Zeng Ning said Chinese Internet freedom was still a remote dream, with most netizens restricted to seeing only content behind the system of blocks, filters, and human censorship known as the Great Firewall, or GFW.
"There hasn't been much progress in Internet freedom in China," Zeng said. "The Chinese Internet is a totally different thing from the Internet in countries that enjoy true freedoms."
"They have managed to separate off the Internet in China from the Internet everywhere else in the world," he said.
Some netizens commenting on the news of the resolution appeared to agree.
"We are a nationwide local area network," wrote user @waloda on the popular Tianya forums, while user @majiajibenkeyiyong added: "So it passed--how will those ailing four countries implement it?"
Zeng said Chinese netizens were able to access economic and financial information fairly easily, because the free flow of business information was crucial to the ruling Communist Party's focus on economic, rather than political, reform.
"It's not the same with political news," he said. "The Chinese government adopts a highly authoritarian approach to political information, because it wants to maintain the existing political system."
On the Tianya forum, user @dglw3 hit back at government-paid commenters known online as the "50 cent party."
"The 50 centers say that a democratic system isn't suitable for mainland China," the user wrote. "That's like castrating a man to make a eunuch and then saying that men aren't suited for a sex life."
Zeng dismissed claims that the Internet should be more tightly regulated because of harmful content that was available.
"Of course there are security issues on the Internet, like fraud, pornography, violent content, and so on, but all countries have to deal with these problems," he said.
"In democratic countries these issues are dealt with according to the rule of law, which provides a very effective way to manage them."
Chinese computer experts say that the government has continually sought ways to limit freedom of expression on the Internet since people started using it, and that recent controls on the nation's 250 million microbloggers are only the latest step in that process.
The authorities have detained a number of netizens and online editors over retweeted material that was deemed controversial under new guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of online "rumors."
Beijing-based microbloggers have been prevented since March from registering an account on one of the country's hugely popular Twitter-like services in anything but their real name, verified by their national ID card.
The move has been slammed by netizens and rights groups alike as a huge blow to freedom of expression in China, where 513 million netizens rely on forums, social media, and bulletin boards to find news and views that have been censored out of the tightly controlled state media.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the U.N. resolution on Thursday. "This resolution is a welcome addition in the fight for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms online," Clinton said in a statement.
"The free flow of news and information is under threat in countries around the world. We are witnessing an alarming surge in the number of cases involving government censorship and persecution of individuals for their actions online--sometimes for just a single tweet or text message," she said.
Tunisia in particular, had much vested in the resolution, because of the role social networking websites played in ousting president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
"The most important result of the Tunisian revolution is this right to freedom of expression ... [this] is very important at the moment [in Tunisia] and it is for this reason that there is a strong commitment in Tunisia to consolidate Internet rights," he said.
"Our link with all media networks during the revolution doubles the importance of this commitment to freedom of expression on the Internet which remains a major tool for economic development."
Other countries that backed the resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet included Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, and Turkey.
In a report last week, a Washington-based democracy and human rights advocacy group said that China is becoming increasingly repressive in civil and political life amidst aggressive crackdowns and disappearances.
In an annual report entitled "The Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies," Freedom House listed China, Burma, Laos, and North Korea among the world's worst-rated countries for political rights and civil liberties.
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.