China adopting malicious methods using hackers for cyber-attacks

It has been revealed that the Chinese government has recruited hackers to carry out cyber-attacks against the United States and others. The United States, Japan and Europe must strengthen their cooperation to protect the security of cyberspace.

The United States and its allies, speaking in one voice, have issued a statement condemning China’s cyber-attacks. Participants include Japan, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

The unprecedented level of criticism is apparently a sign of a growing sense of urgency among them. It will be necessary to continue warning China in settings where heads of state and other leaders gather.

In March this year, there was a massive hack of U.S. Microsoft Exchange email server software that compromised tens of thousands of companies around the world. The U.S. government has announced that the hackers responsible for the cyber-attacks are linked to a Chinese intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security.

It is highly likely that the hackers have received favors and protection from the Chinese authorities.

In the past, Chinese cyber-attacks were often carried out directly by units of Chinese military experts. The method employed this time can remotely control Chinese hackers scattered around the world, making it easier to hide evidence of the involvement of the Chinese authorities.

This is the same structure by which Russia has left its domestic hacker groups alone. It can be said that the Chinese case has become more malicious.

A senior U.S. government official warned that this poses a great threat to the economy and security of the United States and its allies. It is absolutely necessary to prevent advanced technology, intellectual property and confidential information from being stolen, and basic infrastructure such as power plants from being threatened.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed its basic stance of sharing information on the modus operandi of China’s cyber-attacks, and the damage caused by them, with its allies to deal with the crimes jointly. It is vital to strengthen the system to investigate and detect cybercrimes, rather than ending up merely issuing such statements.

It has been pointed out that Japan has lagged behind other nations in developing its defense system against cyber-attacks. The activities of Japanese government intelligence agencies are limited, and there are no strict regulations on the handling of classified information like those in the United States. Under such circumstances, there inevitably will be limits to information-sharing and joint responses with its allies.

The government needs to thoroughly examine whether there are any flaws in the technologies and legal systems that support its defense against cyber-attacks. If legislative efforts are necessary, the matter must be thoroughly discussed in the Diet and remedial steps should be taken.

China argued that the U.S. announcement lacked sufficient evidence and was an unjustified accusation. Although it also criticized U.S. intelligence agencies for conducting espionage in China, this is another story from cases in which national governments themselves, such as China and Russia, lead cybercrimes. One-sided claims only end up raising the suspicions of the international community.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 22, 2021.