Cyber-security comes of age as a media hot topic

Feb 19, 2013

Cyber-security -- a topic long championed by Congressman Jim Langevin -- has finally emerged as a bona fide hot topic.

Tech writer Arik Hesseldahl offers this overview Tuesday, in a piece ominously headlined, "Cyberwar with China is here, like it or not":

[T]he world is waking up a newly disclosed body of evidence from the Internet security firm Mandiant, publicly illustrating, in the starkest terms yet, how wide, deep and pervasive computer hacking attacks from China have become. As reported on the front page of today’s New York Times, numerous attacks on American, Canadian and British companies, dating as far back as 2006, have been carried out by a single unit of the China’s People’s Liberation Army. Mandiant, a firm based in Alexandria, Va., has identified it as Unit 61398, operating out of a single building just walking distance from the point in outer Shanghai where the Huangpu and Yangtze Rivers meet.

The company maintains that the unit has compromised the networks of at least 141 companies or organizations, and probably more than that, spending an average of 356 days perusing their networks. In one case, the attackers had unfettered access to a target’s computers and networks for a grand total of four years and 10 months.

Hesseldahl cites Google and Intell as companies that have complained about past cyberattacks from China. Media coverage has picked up after recent assaults on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

More from Hesseldahl:

What do the attackers take? Here’s a list taken directly from Mandiant’s report:

  • product development and use, including information on test results, system designs, product manuals, parts lists, and simulation technologies;
  • manufacturing procedures, such as descriptions of proprietary processes, standards, and waste management processes;
  • business plans, such as information on contract negotiation positions and product pricing, legal events, mergers, joint ventures, and acquisitions;
  • policy positions and analysis, such as white papers, and agendas and minutes from meetings involving high-ranking personnel;
  • emails of high-ranking employees; and user credentials and network architecture information.

Most of the time, the victim company doesn’t even know that its information has been stolen until it is far too late to do anything about it.

The White House is signaling it will respond to cyberattacks with a new emphasis.