Chinese state media stepped up the war of words on Thursday over allegations of sophisticated cyberattacks on US firms, branding the accusations a “commercial stunt” and accusing Washington of ulterior motives.
American internet security firm Mandiant earlier this week said that a Chinese military cyber-spy unit is targeting US and other foreign firms and organisations with hacking attacks.
But an editorial in the state-run China Daily said: “One cannot help but ask the real purpose of such a hullabaloo.”
“With the US economic recovery dragging its feet, it is reasonable to think that some in Washington may want to make China a scapegoat so that public attention is diverted away from the country’s economic woes,” it added.
The newspaper quoted defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng as saying the People’s Liberation Army had itself been the target of a “significant number” of cyberattacks.
“A considerable number” of them originated in the United States, judging from the IP addresses involved, he said, but added that he did not accuse the US government of being involved.
In its report, Mandiant alleged the hacking group “APT1” – from the initials “Advanced Persistent Threat” – was part of the Chinese military’s Unit 61398 and had stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organisations across 20 industries.
Targeted companies included some involved with significant sections of the American domestic infrastructure.
A strongly worded commentary by the official news agency Xinhua said the Mandiant document “reeks of a commercial stunt”.
“Next time, the CEO could simply say: ‘See the Chinese hackers? Hurry up, come and buy our cyber security services’,” it went on.
It said the US had a “matchless superiority and ability to stage cyberattacks across the globe”, and that the US military had “established a significant cyber force, including the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade, which is a regular military unit tasked with carrying out cyber missions”.
Washington, it added, had a “habit of accusing other nations based on phony evidence”.
“Facts will eventually prove that the cyberattacks accusations are groundless and will only tarnish the image and reputation of the company making them, as well as that of the United States,” it said.
The commentary came after the US government on Wednesday vowed to aggressively combat a rise in the foreign theft of trade secrets.
A new strategy document released by the White House did not explicitly name China, but warned that foreign governments and firms had stepped up efforts to obtain such material, threatening US economic and national security.