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Chinese hacker bust drove crims underground says report

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The public exposure of Chinese hacking group APT1 and its alleged affiliation to the People’s Liberation Army has done nothing but drive its members deeper underground, according to a US congressional report.

The US-China Economic and Security Commission, which advises Congress on China, said in a draft report seen by Reuters that the allegations made by security firm Mandiant in February only led to a brief cessation of activities.

"There are no indications the public exposure of Chinese cyber espionage in technical detail throughout 2013 has led China to change its attitude toward the use of cyber espionage to steal proprietary economic and trade information,” the report apparently argues.

Mandiant’s report raised a great many eyebrows in the international community earlier this year when it became the first to link extensive APT-style campaigns by the infamous APT1 or Comment Crew with PLA unit 61398, which it said worked out of the same nondescript tower blocks in Shanghai’s Pudong district.

The 60-page report, although not 100 per cent conclusive, makes a pretty compelling argument and is the closest anyone’s come to establishing the link between Beijing and extensive online attacks on targets outside the Great Firewall.

It was hoped by some that the naming and shaming done in the report would cause Beijing to rethink and dial back its cyber espionage efforts, but that now seems to have been something of a pipe dream.

The US draft report apparently claims that Mandiant’s revelations “merely led Unit 61398 to make changes to its cyber 'tools and infrastructure' [to make] future intrusions harder to detect and attribute".

In fact, as early as May this year, Mandiant reported that APT1 was “active and rebuilding”. It added the following:

APT1 maintained an extensive infrastructure of computer systems around the world, and it is highly likely that APT1 still maintains access to those systems or has utilised those systems to establish new attack infrastructure in the last three months.

The 20+ other APT groups Mandiant is tracking, which are suspected to operate from China, didn’t significantly change their operations after the February report, it said.

For its part, Beijing continues to claim it has no part in any kind of offensive online espionage activity and that it is a victim, not a perpetrator, when it comes to cyber crime – a claim which has gained more credence since the NSA spying revelations came to light. ®

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