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China is claiming attacks on public and private organisations from outside of its borders have rocketed in the past year - from five million computers affected in 2010 to 8.9m in 2011.

State-run newspaper China Daily reported the figures from (deep breath) the government’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team and Coordination Center.

They revealed that machines behind 11,851 IP addresses from overseas took control of 10,593 Chinese websites during 2011. Other attacks involved the destruction of servers and stealing of personal data from web users in the People’s Republic.

Some 1,116 sites were defaced by overseas attackers, and just under half of those government sites, Wang Minghua, deputy director at the centre, told a news conference on Monday.

“This shows that Chinese websites still face a serious problem from being maliciously attacked by foreign hackers or IP addresses," he is quoted as saying.

Surprisingly, Japan is alleged to be the source of most attacks on China, supposedly landing 22.8 per cent, followed by the US with 20.4 per cent and then the Republic of Korea with 7.1 per cent.

The attacks were both financially motivated and targeted at stealing sensitive information from government departments, according to the report, although tellingly there is no breakdown for each.

China has swung from being a country frequently accused of launching cyber-attacks on Western nations to one finding itself on the business end of hackers' keyboards. Although it has been frustratingly difficult for investigators and politicians to prove, everyone from Hillary Clinton to William Hague and Google’s Eric Schmidt has pointed accusing fingers at the Asian nation as a source of malicious net traffic.

Most recently, a detailed report from US defence contractor Northrop Grumman revealed that the People’s Liberation Army is tooling up with advanced information warfare capabilities, and warned that academia and commercial technology firms are helping to provide it with significant R&D resources.

However, despite the threat that Western governments believe Chinese hackers pose, it’s also likely that as China increasingly becomes an affluent web-connected nation, international cyber-criminals will look to target its web users. There are after all more than 500m users online in the People’s Republic, and almost one billion mobile subscribers, while a growing middle class is spending increasing amounts of cash online - China’s internet GDP will grow at a CAGR of over 17 per cent through to 2016, according to new research.

It would be naïve to think that the US, UK and other nations are snoozing while China-sponsored attackers target their data. The UK’s Cyber Security Strategy announced in November explained that a Cyber Defence Operations Group will be installed at the Ministry of Defence next month, for example.

Overseen by Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the group will have a mission to develop "new tactics, techniques and plans to develop military cyber capabilities”.

The latest stats from the Chinese government may be slightly exaggerated but shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. ®

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