The Cable

The top 10 Chinese cyber attacks (that we know of)

With all about the chatter about China’s hacking of Google and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s drive to deliver “consequences” to bad actors in cyberspace, it’s worth noting that the problem of cyber attacks either promulgated or supported by the Chinese government is far from new.

In a previous life, your Cable guy broke a story that revealed senior military officials believe the Chinese government is supporting hackers that attack “anything and everything” in the U.S. national security infrastructure on a constant basis. And while it’s difficult to prove guilt, the scale, organization, and intent of the attacks leads experts and officials alike to one sponsor: the Chinese government.

The Defense Department has said that the Chinese government, in addition to employing thousands of its own hackers, manages massive teams of experts from academia and industry in “cyber militias” that act in Chinese national interests with unclear amounts of support and direction from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

According to SANS Institute research director Alan Paller, “The problem is 1,000 times worse than what we see.” But the tip of the iceberg is still large. Here are some of the most damaging attacks on the U.S. government that have been attributed to Chinese government sponsorship or endorsement over the past few years:

1) Titan Rain

In 2004, an analyst named Shawn Carpenter at Sandia National Laboratories traced the origins of a massive cyber espionage ring back to a team of government sponsored researchers in Guangdong Province in China. The hackers, code named by the FBI “Titan Rain,” stole massive amounts of information from military labs, NASA, the World Bank, and others. Rather than being rewarded, Carpenter was fired and investigated after revealing his findings to the FBI, because hacking foreign computers is illegal under U.S. law. He later sued and was awarded more than $3 million. The FBI renamed Titan Rain and classified the new name. The group is still assumed to be operating.

2) State Department’s East Asia Bureau

In July 2006, the State Department admitted it had become a victim of cyber hacking after an official in “East Asia” accidentally opened an email he shouldn’t have. The attackers worked their way around the system, breaking into computers at U.S. embassies all over the region and then eventually penetrating systems in Washington as well.

3) Offices of Rep. Frank Wolf

Wolf has been one of the most outspoken lawmakers on Chinese human rights issues, so it was of little surprise when he announced that in August 2006 that his office computers had been compromised and that he suspected the Chinese government.  Wolf also reported that similar attacks had compromised the systems of several other congressmen and the office of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

4) Commerce Department

The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security had to throw away all of its computers in October 2006, paralyzing the bureau for more than a month due to targeted attacks originating from China. BIS is where export licenses for technology items to countries like China are issued.

5) Naval War College

In December 2006, the Naval War College in Rhode Island had to take all of its computer systems offline for weeks following a major cyber attack. One professor at the school told his students that the Chinese had brought down the system. The Naval War College is where much military strategy against China is developed.

6) Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and the 2003 blackout?

A National Journal article revealed that spying software meant to clandestinely steal personal data was found on the devices of then Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and several other officials following a trade mission to China in December 2007. That same article reported that intelligence officials traced the causes of the massive 2003 northeast blackout back to the PLA, but some analysts question the connection.

7) McCain and Obama presidential campaigns

That’s right, both the campaigns of then Senators Barack Obama and John McCain were completely invaded by cyber spies in August 2008. The Secret Service forced all campaign senior staff to replace their Blackberries and laptops. The hackers were looking for policy data as a way to predict the positions of the future winner. Senior campaign staffers have acknowledged that the Chinese government contacted one campaign and referred to information that could only have been gained from the theft.

8) Office of Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL

At a March 2009 hearing, Nelson revealed that his office computers had been hacked three separate times and his aide confirmed that the attacks had been traced back to China. The targets of the attacks were Nelson’s foreign-policy aide, his legislative director, and a former NASA advisor.

9) Ghostnet

In March, 2009, researchers inToronto concluded a 10-month investigation that revealed a massive cyber espionage ring they called Ghostnet that had penetrated more than 1,200 systems in 103 countries. The victims were foreign embassies, NGOs, news media institutions, foreign affairs ministries, and international organizations. Almost all Tibet-related organizations had been compromised, including the offices of the Dalai Lama. The attacks used Chinese malware and came from Beijing.

10) Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program

In April, 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that China was suspected of being behind a major theft of data from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter program, the most advanced airplane ever designed. Multiple infiltrations of the F-35 program apparently went on for years.

The Cable

Cabler of the week: Ellen Tauscher

Where we ask 10 questions that help us to understand one of the personalities making foreign policy in the Obama administration. This week's subject: Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Ellen Tauscher:

1. Which American president do you look to as the model for your approach to foreign policy? Jefferson, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, JFK, George W. Bush, someone else?

I have been struck by the talents and approaches that different presidents have taken toward the conduct of foreign policy. I admire President Obama's view of the world, his boldness, and his willingness to tackle big challenges and wanting to move our country and the world forward; President Clinton for his ability to relate to world leaders one-on-one; President George H.W. Bush for his foresight to secure loose nuclear weapons; and Ronald Reagan for his clarity of vision.

2. How do you view U.S. leadership in the world in the 21st century? Is America a hegemon in decline or going strong? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Like my colleague Mr. Hormats, I believe America remains the "indispensable" nation, but nonproliferation issues require that we work with others. Unfortunately, we cannot just negotiate with ourselves. Arms control and curbing proliferation of weapons -- nuclear and conventional -- can't be done without the cooperation of others.

3. What's the No. 1 narrative about the Obama administration's foreign policy so far that you feel has been mischaracterized by the media?

The media has at times written stories first and asked questions later. I was particularly concerned about the media's coverage of our missile defense strategy in Eastern Europe. To be sure, we did change the policy, but the mainstream media's first assumption was that we did it to appease Russia when the strategy actually was bolder, more comprehensive and tougher than the previous strategy. We decided on our strategy because it enhanced the security of the United States and our NATO allies. But none of the initial reporting reflected this. Many issues do not lend themselves to instant analysis. They require reflection and depth.

4. Which Obama administration foreign-policy official should we watch more closely?

We have a great team and many talents, but I would take a look at Dan Poneman, the deputy secretary at the Department of Energy.

5. What do you see as the top three challenges for U.S. foreign policy over the next three decades?

Curbing the proliferation of all weapons, conventional or otherwise, will remain a challenge. We are going to have to continue to focus on our relationship with the major powers like Russia and China as well as the so-called "rising" or "middle powers."

6. Why did you decide to go to work for the Obama administration? What do you hope to accomplish?

It was an honor to be asked to serve in the Obama administration and to work for Secretary Clinton. I have great admiration and respect for both of them and I saw this job as a chance to pursue what has become my life's work. I want to help the president and the secretary of state implement the arms control and nonproliferation agenda that the president set forth in Prague last year. It's really that simple.

7. Who was your mentor in the early stages of your career and how did they help you?

For 15 years, I worked on Wall Street at a time when there were many more men than women so I didn't really have a mentor. But when I moved to California in the late 1980s, I got to know Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who as you know had been on the political scene for a long time and had become an icon in her own right. I worked on her Senate campaign in 1992 and she's been a great friend and role model all these years.

8. Who is the foreign leader or figure you most admire and why?

There are lesser known public figures, elected and non-elected, who I have worked with as a member of Congress and in my post at State that I admire. They are hard working, conscientious and smart.

9. What is your favorite country to visit for pleasure and what should we do when we go there?

Italy and the Amalfi Coast, of course.

10. If you had the chance to meet with any leading figure from history, who would it be and what would you say to them?

Having been born and raised in East Newark, New Jersey, I would want to meet Albert Einstein. What would I say to him? I'd let him do the talking.