Decline in Chinese cyber-attacks against US suggests attacks getting more efficient

News by Robert Abel

Trump might still be blaming China for interfering with US elections at the UN, but there are other issues he should be worried about concerning cyber-attacks in the private sectors.

Trump might still be blaming China for interfering with US elections at the UN, but there are other issues he should be worried about concerning cyber-attacks in the private sectors.

Three years after the signing of the US-China cyber pact, which intended to curb cyber-attacks concerning intellectual property, researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that although the number of cyber-attacks declined in the first year following the accord, there is still cause for concern.

Researchers noted evidence that Chinese attackers reemerged in 2017 in violation of both the letter and spirit of the agreement and noted that a decline in attacks may just be a sign of more efficient attacks warranting fewer attempts.

"China appears to have come to the conclusion that the combination of improved techniques and more focused efforts have reduced Western frustration to levels that will be tolerated," researchers said in the Hacking for ca$h report. "Unless the targeted states ramp up pressure and potential costs, China is likely to continue its current approach."

Furthermore, the improved tradecraft could also lead to an underestimation of the scale of ongoing activity as China has adapted its approach to target more commercial targets in increasingly sophisticated attacks.

"Several US cyber-security company analysts have described the ministry groups’ tradecraft as significantly better than that displayed by the PLA," the report said. "Hackers have made more use of encryption and gone after cloud providers and other IT services that would provide access to numerous targets."

In addition, CrowdStrike, FireEye, PwC, Symantec and other cyber-security companies have reported attacks on US companies while the Trump administration has claimed that "Evidence indicates that China continues its policy and practice, spanning more than a decade, of using cyber-intrusions to target US firms to access their sensitive commercial information and trade secrets.

Despite some officials arguing that US efforts succeeded in getting Beijing to acknowledge a difference between the cyber-enabled theft of IP and political-military espionage, some security researchers are more skeptical. Much of this may result from Beijing never accepting the distinction that Washington promoted between "good" and "bad" hacking, researchers said.

And while China is attacking US-based companies, some free internet advocates are warning China may be "splitting the internet in two" with its censorship policies.

China recently blocked the streaming app Twitch after it became too popular, raising questions about tech companies accepting the status quo and providing access to the free internet in China.

Meanwhile, Google’s controversial plans to launch a censored version of its product in China has caused a lot of backlash, leaving some questioning Chinese censorship as VPNs are used to connect Chinese citizens and residents to the outside world.

"The two-internet concept would not only split the world wide web, but would increase the deep division between free thought and censored communication," said Ruby Gonzalez, communications director at NordVPN. "The Chinese authorities want to make sure there is no free-flowing information in China, and we believe that tech companies must resist this, instead of accepting the status quo."

Gonzalez said people in China regularly use VPNs to bypass the Great Firewall to access the free internet despite government attempts to block such services.

Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that the internet would split in two by 2028 and that the process is already under way, as the Great Firewall of China is blocking Chinese citizens from accessing the Western internet’s most popular sites, according to the Daily Mail

"I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America," Schmidt said. "If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal."

*In other news, standing before the United Nations Security Council Wednesday, US President Trump accused China of interfering in the upcoming US midterm elections, but offered no evidence to back his claims.

Originally published in scmagazine.com North America.

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