Chinese state media labelled the United States a "mincing rascal" and "high-level hooligan" on Wednesday in response to Washington charging five Chinese military officers with hacking US companies to steal trade secrets.
The indictment on Monday was the first criminal hacking charge the US has filed against specific foreign officials, and follows a rise in public criticism and private confrontation between the world’s two biggest economies over cyber espionage.
The US identified the hacking alleged victims as Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse, Allegheny Technologies, US Steel, United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld. China denied the allegations.
As a first response to the charges China suspended a Sino-US working group on cyber issues. In an editorial, the Global Times, an influential tabloid run by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party, said this was the "right move, but we should take further actions."
"We should encourage organizations and individuals whose rights have been infringed to stand up and sue Washington," the newspaper said. "Regarding the issue of network security, the US is such a mincing rascal that we must stop developing any illusions about it."
The Chinese-language version of the Global Times called the United States a "high-level hooligan".
Washington’s legal approach against China is "high-handed and hypocritical", the People’s Daily said, citing media reports that the U.S. National Security Administration (NSA) spied on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
"Suspending the operations of a bilateral group on cyber affairs is a reasonable start, but more countermeasures should be prepared in case Washington obstinately sticks to the wrong track," state news agency Xinhua said in a commentary on Tuesday.
The attacks came as analysts revealed that the hacking techniques China is accused of using against American companies turned out to be disappointingly mundane, tricking employees into opening e-mail attachments or clicking on innocent-looking website links.
In some cases, the government says, the hackers used “spear-phishing”, a well-known scam to trick employees into infecting their own computers by opening emails with infected links.
The hackers are said to have created a fake email account under the misspelled name of a then-Alcoa director and fooled an employee into opening an e-mail attachment called “agenda.zip”, billed as the agenda to a 2008 shareholders’ meeting.
In a 31-count indictment announced on Monday, the Justice Department said five Chinese military officials operating under hacker aliases such as “Ugly Gorilla”, ‘’KandyGoo” and “Jack Sun” stole confidential business information, sensitive trade secrets and internal communications for competitive advantage.