It's hardly a surprise revelation, but it's nonetheless significant that, for the first time, China has formally acknowledged that its military and intelligence community have specialised cyber-warfare units.
The confirmation is reported by online publication the Daily Beast citing a report in the latest edition of Chinese language publication The Science of Military Strategy, produced by a leading research institute of the People's Liberation Army. Washington's frequent claims of Chinese hacking and theft of US trade and military secrets, and the existence of Mandiant's reported APT1 espionage unit, have hitherto been denied by Chinese officials right up to a month ago.
Joe McReynolds, a Chinese strategy researcher at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis told Daily Beast that the current edition marks, “The first time they've come out and said, ‘Yes, we do in fact have network attack forces, and we have teams on both the military and civilian-government sides,'” including inside China's equivalents of the CIA and the FBI.
According to McReynolds, China has divided its cyber warfare forces into three types, specialised military network warfare forces who carry out network attack and defence; teams of specialists in civilian organisations authorised by the military to carry out network warfare operations (eg the Ministry of State Security ( MSS) a CIA equivalent, and the Ministry of Public Security, an FBI equivalent; and external entities outside the government that can be organised and mobilised for network warfare operations.
McReynolds suggests that the admissions could lead other countries to question whether they can safely cooperate with China on combating cybercrime.
Last year, the US Justice Department indicted five named Chinese military officials for hacking into US companies and stealing their proprietary information – while China denied that its citizens were engaged in any such activity.
In a separate development the FBI in the US is reported by the Financial Times to be investigating whether the Chinese military was involved in a cyber-attack on Register.com, a unit of Web.com.
Hackers were reported to have had access to Register.com's network for about a year, but the attack did not disrupt or result in theft of client data. Register.com manages 2.5 million plus domain names, and provides web management and design services.