Chinese Regime Hackers Are Targeting US Defense and Security Networks: NSA

October 21, 2020 Updated: October 21, 2020

The National Security Agency (NSA) on Oct. 20 warned that hackers linked to the Chinese regime are targeting America’s national defense and security networks, and urged networks to take preventive measures.

The NSA said in an advisory (pdf) that “Chinese state-sponsored malicious cyber activity” is one of the biggest threats to Pentagon information networks, national security systems, and the defense industrial base.

“These networks often undergo a full array of tactics and techniques used by Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors to exploit computer networks of interest that hold sensitive intellectual property, economic, political, and military information,” the NSA stated. It urged organizations to prioritize patching and other mitigation efforts—such as changing passwords and disabling external management capabilities—to counter the threat.

Cyber intrusion techniques used by hackers include exploitation of publicly known vulnerabilities, a detailed list of which the NSA provided in its advisory.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement cited by The Wall Street Journal that the NSA’s allegations were “totally groundless” and that Beijing “firmly opposes and fights all forms of cyber attacks and crimes in accordance with law.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, at an Oct. 21 press conference, dismissed the allegations and instead accused the NSA of being “engaged in the world’s largest cyber attack and espionage” and called the United States an “empire of hacking.”

The NSA’s warning comes amid the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) counterintelligence and economic espionage operations.

The Department of Justice in 2018 launched the China Initiative, a wide-ranging program aimed to counter threats posed by Chinese espionage and other forms of China’s infiltration in the United States.

In a speech earlier this year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the regime’s theft of U.S. technology and trade secrets is on a scale “so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.” Wray said the regime employs a wide range of techniques—from cyber hacking to acquisitions of foreign companies to physical theft—and involves a full breadth of actors, spanning intelligence services, private firms, graduate students, and researchers in order to steal U.S. intellectual property.

He said the CCP is also engaged in campaigns to influence U.S. officials at each level of government, persuading them to take policy positions in line with those of the regime, such as on Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Beijing’s handling of the pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr also made similar comments in July, warning corporate America against “kowtowing” to the CCP. He said Hollywood and many U.S. technology companies have allowed themselves “to become pawns of Chinese influence.”

In September, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said China had “taken the most active role” in trying to interfere in the U.S. election and described the United States’ approach to the Chinese regime as the “biggest failure of American foreign policy over the past 40 years.”

Cathy He and Janita Kan contributed to this report.

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