June 3rd, 2011
01:46 PM GMT
Hong Kong, China (CNN) – Is the Chinese government behind Google’s most recent hack attack? Or is an unaffiliated rogue group of China tech geeks going after the personal e-mails of prominent Americans? This is next to impossible to know.
That’s why U.S. President Barack Obama is holding off – at least for now – on any official finger-pointing at the country. This is despite White House staffers themselves having been targeted, among hundreds of others including activists, journalists and government figures. That includes one Cabinet-level official, according to the Washington Post. In the meantime, an alphabet soup of U.S. security bodies are investigating – from the FBI to the DHS and the NSC.
As any China watcher would expect though, Beijing is bristling at the thought it’s being singled out for blame. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lei Hong pointed out cyber attacks happen everywhere.
"Hacking is an international problem. China is also a victim of hacking. Claims that the Chinese government supports hacking activities are totally groundless and are driven by an ulterior motive."
Now Beijing did not specify more on these motives but it’s fair to say they center on raising suspicion and fear of China as it grows in political and economic power.
Then there’s the revelation of China’s Blue Army.
Last week China’s Defense Ministry confirmed its existence. It’s a highly-trained, elite cyber wing of the People’s Liberation Army. It’s got just about 30 online soldiers. And its stated purpose is two-fold. The first – to defend the country from cyber attacks. The second – to fire off its own online barrages in case of war.
And it’s the Blue Army’s latter purpose that’s got foreign governments and China critics nervous. (One interesting side note – whether unfortunately accidental or distinctly on purpose – is that the phrase “Blue Army” is usually applied to the enemy in People’s Liberation Army exercises. The PLA itself used to be called the Red Army.)
Should governments fear the Blue Army?
In the interest of their own national security the answer may be yes. But, to be fair, other countries do have their own versions. The United States, Israel, Britain and Australia have confirmed theirs. But few other countries have them – or at least have not admitted to them.
Looking ahead, the next development for Google’s claims of a China hacking will be verification. This will be a test for U.S. cyber sleuths to confirm attacks came from China. But well-trained hackers can disguise their origin of attack, making it seem they’re in one city when they’re actually in another country.
And what then?
If it’s proven that the Chinese government is behind the attacks, what would or could the U.S. do? The U.S. and China are intertwined as the world’s number one and two economic powers. Idealists will hope that Beijing isn’t behind those hack attacks on Washington. Realists will say both are likely doing the same to each other.
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