US accuses China and Russia of widespread cyber espionage

Cyber spy

The US has accused China and Russia of wide-scale cyber espionage, saying they would continue to steal sensitive American data.

There has been a spate of attacks this year in which nation states have been blamed. When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, one of Japan's military contractors, was hit earlier this year, fingers pointed to Beijing.

Last year, Google claimed China was responsible for a hack on the web giant, in attacks that became known as Operation Aurora.

"We judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace," the report from the US Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive read.

It's a game of chess, that's what this is, although it has some horrendous consequences for some businesses.

China was singled out as the worst offender of cyber espionage even though the US admitted it could not determine whether attacks genuinely came from the Asian nation.

"Chinese actors are the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage. US private sector firms and cyber security specialists have reported an onslaught of computer network intrusions that have originated in China, but the IC cannot confirm who was responsible," the report, sent to US Congress last month, continued.

"The computer networks of a broad array of US Government agencies, private companies, universities and other institutions all holding large volumes of sensitive economic information were targeted by cyber espionage; much of this activity appears to have originated from China."

The US said Russia was carrying out "a range of activities to collect economic information and technology from US targets." It also claimed allies were using their close ties with the US to steal its data.

"Some US allies and partners use their broad access to US institutions to acquire sensitive US economic and technology information, primarily through aggressive elicitation and other human intelligence (HUMINT) tactics. Some of these states have advanced cyber capabilities," it continued.

This week saw the UK Government host a discussion in London on cyber threats. During the London Conference on Cyberspace, Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would respond to a cyber attack "as robustly as any other national security threats."

The problem with 'cyber war'

Despite evidence pointing to Beijing, China has repeatedly denied its involvement in cyber attacks.

Speaking yesterday at a BT security event for IT leaders, Claire Davies MBE, security consultant and soon to be ex-British Forces Intelligence Corp, said she did not think nation states would ever own up to cyber attacks.

"I don't think you'll ever get that," Davies told IT Pro

"For example, the Stuxnet virus with Iran, I think they found some Hebrew in the code but you're not going to get Israel admitting that's them.

"It's a game of chess, that's what this is, although it has some horrendous consequences for some businesses."

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.