Belgium accuses chinese government of cyberespionage

Sophos is reminding businesses of the importance of properly securing their computer systems following claims by Belgian ministers that Chinese hackers are targeting their country’s computer systems. According to media reports, Justice Minister Jo Vandeurzen has claimed that hacking attacks against the Belgian Federal Government have originated in China, and are likely to have been at the bequest of the Beijing Government.

Separately, Belgian minister of foreign affairs Karel De Gucht has told parliament that his ministry was the subject of cyberespionage by Chinese agents several weeks ago.

Experts at SophosLabs warn that all businesses and organisations, not just governments, need to defend themselves from the threat of cybercrime.

“There simply isn’t enough evidence to say whether these attacks were sponsored by the Chinese Government or not, but these reports do underline the importance of everyone making computer security a priority,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.  “Internet hackers can hide their tracks, hopping from computer to computer, and leapfrogging around the world, making it very hard sometimes to determine precisely who is behind an attack.  Governments need to think carefully before accusing another of spying via the internet – unless they have strong proof.  There is no doubt however of the importance of securing critical computers inside government from hackers whether motivated by politics, espionage or money.”

Sophos experts report that Belgium is not the only country said to have been the alleged focus of attention by Chinese hackers.

In September 2007, the Chinese military were blamed for a cyberattack which targeted a Pentagon computer system serving the office of US defense secretary Robert Gates.  Unnamed sources have alleged that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were accused of perpetrating the attempted hack.  According to other media reports, the British and German Governments have also been subject to similar probes by hackers working for the PLA.

Three years ago, Sophos reported how it had helped the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) analyse Trojan horses which had targeted government departments and British businesses.  Much of the malware was thought to have originated from China.

“Spying has been going on between countries for thousands of years, and it would be foolish to think that countries like China would not take advantage of computers and the internet to assist them in this,” continued Cluley.  “It is unusual, however, for a nation to accuse another of engaging in this activity – especially when it can be extraordinarily difficult to prove an attack is being sponsored by a government or is a lone hacker acting independently.”

Sophos does believe China to have an important part to play in the global fight against cybercrime.  Research reveals that country presently accounts for 30.1 percent of the world’s malware-infected webpages, second only to the USA.

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