China has become the Somali pirate of the Internet

Chinese govt. excuse hacker-hobbyists run big cyberattacks is a big phish story


Yesterday's big security news was that someone hit Google with a focused phishing campaign aimed at U.S. government officials, Chinese dissidents and officials or journalists in Asian countries other than China.

Google blames China. China responded angrily to the accusation. It is as shocked at the belief it could be the perpetrator of such knavery as at it is at the perpetrators whose targets only coincidentally mirror the profile of people and countries China has been shown to be targeting with similar campaigns during the past 10 years.

"Blaming these misdeeds on China is unacceptable," Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a news briefing in Beijing, according to a story in British daily The Telegraph.

"Hacking is an international problem and China is also a victim. The claims of so-called Chinese state support for hacking are completely fictitious and have ulterior motives," Lei said.

China doesn't condone hacking, but it is a popular hobby among civilians, many of whom learn the craft in online study courses which, by implication, teach highly sophisticated, focused spear-phishing techniques that can be applied against hundreds or thousands of potential victims at a time.

Given the money and person-hours required, it's reasonable to assume this was some kind of project for a giant hacker class, or a really big informal gathering of hacker hobbyists, possibly in connection with an outdoor spring gathering or festival.

It certainly wasn't an effort by the Chinese government or the special cyberwarfare units U.S. intelligence agencies have pinpointed as the source of attacks on U.S. government sites in the past, according to an editorial published in Xinhua, the government news agency. The editorial accused Google of damaging global trust in the Internet through its groundless accusations.

Google not only profiled the attack as matching previous efforts from Chinese military facilities, it also

narrowed down the likely source to the same military group in a vocational school in Jinan, China that the New York Times linked to December, 2009 attacks on Google data centers.

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Photo: Reuters/Corbis

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