A U.S. grand jury in Pennsylvania has indicted five Chinese military officials on 31 counts over suspected cyber espionage, and several commentators said that is was ironic given leaks about NSA hacking in China.
But there is a key difference between U.S. espionage and that carried out by China’s People’s Liberation Army: While both countries go after different states in order to ensure war preparedness, China spies to directly drive its economy.
“The major difference is [Chinese military hackers] are going after the actual companies in order to boost and promote their economy,” Cyber expert and CEO of TrustedSec David Kennedy told Business Insider. “Easiest way to explain it would be me calling up the NSA and asking them to break into Chinese based companies in order to give me the competitive edge over another company. The NSA doesn’t function that way — instead their mission is understanding the attackers, and possible threats to the U.S.”
The American companies from which China allegedly stole trade secrets are in the nuclear power, metal and solar product industries. The specific targets indicated the true aim of the cyber attacks.
“These are some of the most obviously affected jobs from economic espionage, and the job losses here have essentially shuttered entire towns,”
Dave Aitel, CEO of cyber security consultant Immunity Inc., told BI. “Many of these job losses are directly linked to particular instances of Chinese cyber economic espionage.”
Aitel added that “all sectors of the U.S. economy are targeted and exploited by this PLA cyber hacking unit, and the Chinese Intelligence Community as a whole.”
What comes next is less clear. Aitel thinks that Beijing will likely indict American government employees in response. And given that China said that the allegations are “made up,” these public moves may simply signal heightened tensions between the countries.
“The Attorney General indicated that this would not be a rare behaviour — that any economic espionage would be prosecuted, and that this would be the new normal,” Aitel told BI. “That said, the Chinese don’t recognise economic espionage as different from normal espionage, and these things are extremely hard to prove in a court of law.”
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