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France blames China for hack attacks

Chinese whispers

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Updated Three more western nations have blamed China for an upsurge in hacking attacks against government computers.

Germany, the USA and the UK have all become the subject of targeted attacks originating from China, with many observers pointing the finger of blame towards China's Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). France, Australia and New Zealand joined the growing list this week.

The Chinese government has denied any involvement in the attacks, with officials painting the Asian giant as a victim of unidentified hackers.

Zut Alors

Earlier this week, Francis Delon, the secretary general of France's National Defence Office, confirmed that France had recently become the target of similar attacks.

Delon said Chinese hackers had "penetrated outer levels" of state computer systems. "We have proof that there is involvement with China. But I am prudent. When I say China, this does not mean the Chinese government. We don't have any indication now that it it was done by the Chinese People's Liberation Army," he added, France 24 reports.

Cyber door rattling

Targets of the attack against France reportedly include the French defence ministry's internet site. French sources are portraying that attacks, described as more of a reconnaissance effort than the frontal assault, as a nuisance rather than a threat.

Australian news wire reports suggest the Chinese also attempted to hack into systems run by the Australian and New Zealand governments. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said that "foreign intelligence agencies" had attempted to hack into its systems. "What I can stress is that absolutely no classified information has ever been penetrated by these attacks," She added.

Although the Austrlian government is neither confirming or denying the reports unnamed government sources told ANI that the country was indeed under cyberattack from China.

China denies involvement

Chinese government has denied that its army was involved in the attacks. "Saying that the Chinese military has made cyber attacks on the networks of foreign governments is groundless and irresponsible and are a result of ulterior motives," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

Senior Chinese officials are suggesting it is even more of victim of cyberespionage than western nations. China has sustained "massive" and "shocking" losses of state and military secrets via the internet, according to Lou Qinjian, Vice Minister of Information Industry.

"The Internet has become the main technological channel for external espionage activities against our core, vital departments," he wrote in the magazine Chinese Cadres Tribune, Reuters reports

Whodunit

Security observers reckon it's very difficult to trace cyber attacks back to government agencies in foreign countries with any certainty.

Giacomo Paoni, CTO of WSLabi, which runs an online auction site for security vulnerabilities, said part of the difficulty is that China is famous for offering so-called "bulletproof hosting". The availability of gray-market services, popular with online ne'er do wells, creates a rogues gallery of potential suspects, Paoni argues.

"Internet service providers offering bulletproof hosting - aka bulk-friendly hosting - have a high degree of tolerance as to what actions their customers can carry out, therefore they are usually used by attackers and spammers from all over the world as a good way to hide their tracks."

Whether or not the Chinese Government itself is behind the attacks one thing is sure: western governments are under attack by organised groups of malicious hackers based in China. Paoni suggests that, at minimum, the Chinese Government is tolerant of this activity. "Regardless of who is really responsible for the hacker attacks being processed via the Chinese servers, the level of sophistication involved is quite high," he added. ®

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