This anonymous but slightly sinister-sounding name refers to a unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army stationed in a 12-storey tower block in Shanghai. They are believed to be spearheading cyberwarfare against the West. The Chinese government, as you would expect, has denied it.
It’s been called the “cool war“, an undeclared war in cyberspace, by David Rothkopf, Chief executive and editor of Foreign Policy magazine. A retired CIA Director, Michael Hayden, has compared it to a new Hiroshima.
The source was identified not by the CIA, NSA or other combination of 3 letters but by a private security firm Mandiant (which is headed by Kevin Mandia, a retired military cyber-crime investigator and which probably employs former members of aforesaid spook agencies).
Mandiant identified some of the hackers working from Shanghai such as a former PLA Rear-Admiral known as Ugly Gorilla, another who uses Harry Potter as the answer to a security question, and one called SuperHard.
America is doing it too and the attack on the Iranian nuclear programme using the Stuxnet virus to damage centrifuges was attributed to them and/or the Israelis.
But let’s not forget Russia and other former soviet countries. Redundant KGB computer experts have to be employed somewhere. Russia has been accused of disrupting the Estonian internet system – allegedly to show it’s “near abroad” neighbours it still has control. It’s one step up from stopping trains at the border for maintenance (the tracks are different widths so they have to use bogies) and buying up the port infrastructure there.
The scary thing is that these hackers don’t have to target military assets to disrupt a country’s economy. Crashing the banking system, as they did in Estonia, or energy companies could be equally disastrous. When I heard that Microsoft software was used on US naval vessels, well you can imagine.
So the hackers don’t just focus on the military but on Western businesses too. Recently the New York Times was hacked after it reported on the wealth of a Chinese politician and the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post report similar attacks.
State sponsored hacking is just one source; there are eco-terrorists, criminals, and jihadis who would all love to take advantage of our reliance on computers.
Personally not doing on-line banking makes me feel just a tiny bit more secure.