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PRC forces also ravaging UK gov nets, insist Brits

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Analysis In the wake of Pentagon leaks suggesting that the Chinese military has conducted network attacks against US military systems, some in the UK are clearly feeling left out.

The Guardian yesterday said its anonymous Whitehall sources had confirmed that:

"Chinese hackers, some believed to be from the People's Liberation Army, have been attacking the computer networks of British Government departments ..."

Holy crap - Beijing has cried havoc, and unleashed the cyber dogs of war. Lock up your computer, the Commies are coming!

The Graun piece was headlined "Titan Rain - how Chinese hackers targeted Whitehall." (Though it admits that actually Titan Rain is a US codename used to refer to attacks on America.)

Alex Neill, China think-tank brain, suggested that the "attacks" were a case of the PLA "flexing its muscles" in the run-up to October's Chinese Communist congress, a five-yearly event at which the internal power manoeuvring of the People's Republic gets publicly confirmed.

That might make sense if we were dealing with a recent set of attacks, but Neill is not being quoted in The Graun as a result of anything done by a Chinese person. Rather, the current China web-war media kerfuffle is the result of Financial Times hacks being briefed by some people at the Pentagon.

A more accurate picture of net nuisance out of China was given by another source, who said it was a "constant ongoing problem." (Though The Graun chose to interpret this as "Whitehall departments falling victim to Chinese cyberwarriors", rather than "bored Chinese script kiddies - some of them, no doubt, on nets owned by the PLA - prodding at the obvious targets".)

This is thin stuff. Nonetheless British politicians, still thirsty after the summer ink drought, were happy enough to issue some predictable harrumphs.

"Cover-up allegation over Chinese hackers," says The Graun today.

Andrew MacKinlay, a backbench Labour MP, said that "the British Government is very weak. They seek to appease the Chinese. They should be more robust and indignant."

Like him, presumably. MacKinlay has been seeking to stir up indignation over the Chinese cyber onslaught since last year, when he said: "I cannot help feeling that the Chinese Government authorities are either the inspirers of this [fearful internet campaign] or with full knowledge and with full consent allowed this to happen from China and that for wider foreign policy reasons your department ... do not want this raised."

Tory Home Affairs mouthpiece, David Davis, said:"This is extremely serious and would be even more so if the Chinese military was involved. It could affect the security and privacy of every British citizen."

Oh lord. So I'm an elite PLA hacker with all the Commies' resources to work with; someone dangerous. Why don't I operate via a proxy in another country? Several proxies? Why don't I route my traffic through a pair of computers in a third country which are linked by laser, or short-range radio, or my own dedicated cable, but connected to the internet at different places?* Why don't I use commercial satellite broadband as part of my toolbox, perhaps aboard a ship in international waters?

Actually I probably do all that, as a real (PLA, Russian, who knows) net-ops spook, and a whole bunch of other stuff. As a result it's rather difficult to tell who or where I am.

On the other hand, if I'm just a Chinese computer nerd, I'm probably quite fascinated with British and US Government departments, just like most of the other computer nerds worldwide. I probably quite enjoy meddling with their networks, happy - as a Chinese person - in the knowledge that an IP trace won't get me extradited to America as ordinary Brit nerd Gary McKinnon may well be.

Which could be why a lot of Chinese nuisance traffic hits Whitehall and the Pentagon. It could even be that others are routing their traffic via China, precisely because it's a place that doesn't cooperate with the US-centred comms intelligence nexus. Maybe, did one but know it, a lot of "Chinese" interference actually comes from France or Russia.

So what should the British Government indignantly demand of the Chinese? Please, Commies, crack down even harder on net freedom in your country - because we ask you? Extradite troublesome nerds to be tried by our courts and be put in our overflowing prisons?

What a brilliant bloody idea, I must say. For once, the government policy - ignore all the nagging, they'll get bored sooner or later - seems rather sensible.®

*And introduce variable delays, spoof traffic at both ends, different encryption, headers etc. You experts reading this fill in the blanks.

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