Beijing Bones up its Cyber-Warfare Capacity

For the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief, Willy Lam writes about the Chinese government’s recent efforts to increase and expand their cyber warfare capabilities:

While matters relating to internal security and intelligence in China are shrouded in secrecy, the broad contours of Beijing’s game plan to augment electronic warfare capacity are clear. In early 2009, party-and-state authorities significantly boosted budgets for recruiting the best Chinese graduates in areas including computers, engineering, mathematics and foreign languages. Research units under the MSS and MPS frequently put advertisements in official and private websites seeking software engineers and specialists in IT security. For instance, the First Research Institute of the Ministry of Public Security, which has a staff of more than 1,200, recently launched a large-scale hiring campaign. Moreover, Chinese diplomatic missions in the United States and other countries have, over the past year, taken advantage of the recession in the West to recruit hundreds of Chinese graduates from the best computer science departments in Western universities. These IT talents are frequently offered internationally competitive salaries in addition to bright promotion prospects (Asiasentinel.com, January 22; Apple Daily, January 29).

There is also evidence that agencies under public security and military intelligence are recruiting hackers as software engineers and Net-related security experts. This is despite the MIIT’s statement late last month that China will actively participate in global efforts to combat threats to cyber-security. The ministry spokesman indicated that “China is willing to cooperate with other countries in cracking down on hackers.” Last year, Beijing revised a law that makes hacking a crime, with punishments of up to seven years in jail. Yet, advertisements for accomplished and “reliable” hackers can often be found in China’s recruitment websites. Moreover, there are anecdotes galore within China’s IT community about “patriotic hackers” being hired by military or state security departments (New York Times, February 3; China News Service, January 25; Cnjz.cn [Beijing], November 1, 2009; Guofang.info [Beijing], September 17, 2009). According to a recent report commissioned by the Washington-based U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s digital warfare capacity, Chinese military and state security units have been employing from “elements of China’s hacker community.” The October 2009 report cited a number of “cases of apparent collaboration between more elite individual hackers and the PRC’s civilian security services” [1].

February 4, 2010 5:08 PM
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