It is growing far more difficult for China’s leaders to deny that a computer hacking campaign against U.S. business and interests has ties to China’s government.
“Cyber theft of commercial secrets and hacking attacks against government networks are both illegal; such acts are criminal offences and should be punished according to law and relevant international conventions,” China president Xi Jinping told the Wall Street Journal in a written interview before his visit to the U.S. this week.
Since then, a new report has drawn direct connections between China’s People’s Liberation Army and a hacking operation of U.S. allies in the South China Sea.
The Wall Street Journal reported today about a hacker named Ge Xing:
The account was based on new research from cyber defense firms ThreatConnect and Defense Group, which focuses on the PLA’s Unit 78020 and details China efforts targeting nations that also claim territory in the South China sea. The reseachers say that PLA unit 78020 targets military, diplomatic and economic targets throughout Southeast Asia and governments including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.
The new reports follow previous accounts linking the PLA to hacking operations. A 2013 investigation in Bloomberg Businessweek tracked a hacker named Zhang Changhe to his teaching job at a PLA University in central China.
On Tuesday, China President Xi told a group of U.S. and Chinese business CEOs that “the Chinese government will not engage in commercial theft or encourage or support such theft by anyone.”
Following such recent reports of PLA-affiliated hacking and the U.S. indictments last year of five Chinese nationals, officers serving in the PLA accused of hacking Westinghouse Electric Co, Service Workers International Union and Alcoa among other business interests, Xi’s statements are unlikely to convince his American hosts that China is anything but fully engaged in hacking.