Despite cyber agreement, State Dept. says China is continuing to launch attacks at U.S. systems

( Chinese cyber attacks against U.S. IT systems are “ongoing,” according to the State Department, and increased use of covert cyber tools and methods by Beijing hackers has produced a statistical decline in cyber activities.

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, an internal State Department security report by the department-led Overseas Security Advisory Council, or OSAC, which is a public-private partnership, is challenging the conclusions of a recent study by FireEye, a private cybersecurity firm, that said China had refrained from large-scale cyber attacks.

“While media reporting has emphasized this alleged decrease in malicious activity, cases of Chinese espionage campaigns against the U.S. private sector are ongoing,” the report said, adding that “OSAC constituents should remain aware that China is still considered a highly capable and motivated cyber threat actor.”

The three-page report detailing Chinese cyber activity and threats is another foreign policy hit against the White House, which is attempting to portray a September 2015 deal between President Obama and President Ji Xinping of Chian to limit cyber economic espionage as a breakthrough in diplomacy.

Since the deal was inked, several private security firms have offered differing analyses regarding whether China has actually limited or cut back on large scale cyber attacks, the OSAC report said.

The report further notes that Chinese hacks and attacks last year were especially damaging, the WFB noted.

“At a higher level, paramount attacks against various U.S. organizations continued in 2015 and Chinese hackers exceeded other nation-state actors for consistency, volume, and severity of cyber attacks during the past year,” the June 27 report said.

“This included intrusions into healthcare systems Anthem and Premera, and the Office of Personnel Management, collectively compromising the sensitive data of over 100 million U.S. citizens.”

Until the release of this latest report, U.S. intelligence officials have not said unequivocally that China had or had not curbed it cyber activities.

The OSAC report noted that the large-scale attacks in 2015 “suggests some China-based hacking groups may have shifted their focus from data theft for economic gain to national security interests and personally identifiable information (PII).”

According to the State Department-affiliated group, Chinese cyber attacks also have been focused on “continuously leveraging U.S. network infrastructure for offensive operations.”

“Actors have been observed using servers of small businesses in the U.S. to plan and execute attacks against manufacturing firms, financial organizations, and the technology sector,” the report said.

Rick Fisher, an expert on Chinese affairs and defense, said China’s Communist leaders see no positive or negative inducement to curbing the use of cyberspace for global intelligence gathering, which can also be utilized to prepare attacks on cyber-electronic infrastructures.

“American verbal argument or political pressure is not going convince the [Chinese Communist Party] leadership to stop waging its global cyber war,” Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the WFB.

“Washington has been trying to engage the Chinese on its cyber war for nearly 20 years and has basically gotten nowhere,” he added.

No doubt that the United States is also continuing its cyber operations against China and other competitor nations, which is likely why Beijing has continued its efforts. While reports in U.S. media generally focus on foreign hacks of American systems, it would be naïve to think that U.S. intelligence agencies aren’t engaged in similar activities against others.

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