Unit 61398 – Remember that number…(More on Chinese hacking)

by Chris Zappone

An interesting element in the New York Times story is the US’s increasing impatience with the Chinese in this matter.

The story says:

The United States government is planning to begin a more aggressive defense against Chinese hacking groups, starting on Tuesday. Under a directive signed by President Obama last week, the government plans to share with American Internet providers information it has gathered about the unique digital signatures of the largest of the groups, including Comment Crew and others emanating from near where Unit 61398 is based.

It goes on to note:

Obama administration officials say they are planning to tell China’s new leaders in coming weeks that the volume and sophistication of the attacks have become so intense that they threaten the fundamental relationship between Washington and Beijing.

This is where the landscape of relations between China and the US could rapidly change – if Obama’s administration takes the step. Someone in the White House must be doing the math on what kind of systemic risk this sort of hacking is to the US economy – and doing it in a time when the number of intrusions on US agencies alone rose: almost ninefold, to 48,562 in fiscal 2012 from 5,503 in 2006, according to Bloomberg.

This has to be looked at against the wider backdrop. China’s strategy is to quietly overwhelm the US in many areas of competition – economic, technological, trade. Having the freedom to tap into the US’s critical infrastructure gives Beijing great strategic leverage. Stealing data and designs by the terabyte underpins the innovative burst in many of China’s industries.

For years, part of the issue for US companies was their unwillingness to talk about getting hacked for fear that it reflected poorly on their own corporate practices. That changes when you realise everyone is getting hosed down by the same guy. By illuminating the issue, US media helps put China’s real role in the systematic hacking of whole systems for plunder and gain under closer examination.

The more public this issue becomes, the more potential it has to enter into the dynamics of global diplomacy and security. It has implications far beyond China and the US, as well. If Obama’s Admin is willing to act, it will embolden less powerful countries with similar grievances, some of which could possibly be tied back to Unit 61398 in Shanghai. It becomes a talking point right alongside trade, security, currency, etc.

Basically, we’ve just exited the Kumbaya phase of globalisation. Now it’s clear that the global linkages which have been sold to people around the world brings linkages that are direct threats to the well-being of a lot of nations.