FBI and MI5 Chiefs Issue Joint Warning: Chinese Cyber Espionage on Tech & Telecom Firms
Chinese government-backed hackers have attacked major telecom businesses throughout the world in a cyber-espionage effort that has lasted at least two years and has successfully compromised at least 13 telecommunications groups.
In a recent advisory, the FBI, NSA and CISA stated that hackers linked to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had targeted and hacked major telecommunications businesses by exploiting simple and well-known network and system vulnerabilities.
According to the report, Chinese espionage is often initiated with hackers surveying target networks and exploring the manufacturers, models, versions, and known vulnerabilities of routers and networking equipment using open-source scanning tools such as RouterSploit and RouterScan. The Chinese government consistently disputes charges of hacking.
The heads of the FBI and Britain’s domestic security service have just issued sharply worded warnings to business leaders about the threats posed by Chinese espionage, especially spying aimed at stealing Western technology companies’ intellectual property.
In a rare joint appearance on Wednesday July 6th at the headquarters of MI5 in the UK, Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, urged executives not to underestimate the scale and sophistication of Beijing’s campaign.
“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology—whatever it is that makes your industry tick—and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” Mr. Wray told the audience of business people.
“They’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it.” China uses state-sponsored hacking on a large scale, along with a global network of intelligence operatives in its quest to gain access to technology it considers important, Messrs. Wray and McCallum said.
“The Chinese government poses an even more serious threat to Western businesses than even many sophisticated business people realize,” Mr. Wray added.
PHOTO CREDIT: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
“We want to send the clearest signal we can on a massive shared challenge—China,” Mr. Wray said in his appearance with his U.K. counterpart. Tackling the threat is essential, he said, “if we are to protect our economies, our institutions and our democratic values.”
“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. McCallum said. “It’s covertly applying pressure across the globe. This might feel abstract, but it is real and it is pressing.”
China is engaged in “a coordinated campaign on a grand scale” that represents “a strategic contest across decades,” Mr. McCallum said. “We need to act.”
While American law enforcement and intelligence officials have been warning about the problem for years, it is a far more recent phenomenon for British security officials, who until last year made few public comments about the Chinese threat.
MI5 is running seven times more investigations involving Chinese espionage than it did in 2018, and plans to double the current number in the coming years, Mr. McCallum said.
The statement from the American security agencies did not name the victims of the hacking, nor did it specify the extent of the damage. However, US authorities did list specific networking equipment, such as routers and switches, that Chinese hackers are suspected of routinely targeting, exploiting serious and well-known flaws that basically gave the attackers full control over their targets.
Cisco, Citrix, Fortinet and Netgear equipment were among the most often attacked devices. Cisco and Netgear, according to the warning, have already published software updates for the majority of the identified vulnerabilities. The organizations recommended that operators take certain actions to minimize possible threats in addition to applying available patches and system upgrades. These include removing or isolating suspected compromised devices as soon as possible, segmenting the network to limit or prevent lateral movement, disabling unused or unnecessary network services, ports, protocols, and devices, and requiring multi-factor authentication for all users, including those connected via a VPN.
For intelligence organizations, telecommunications companies are particularly valuable targets. These service providers develop and operate the majority of the Internet’s infrastructure, as well as numerous private networks throughout the world. Successfully hacking of these networks can open the door to an even larger universe of valuable surveillance opportunities.
2 thoughts on “FBI and MI5 Chiefs Issue Joint Warning: Chinese Cyber Espionage on Tech & Telecom Firms”
Such Chinese cyber espionage has been in progress for at least twenty years. It was a failure of the US government and their policies to stop it. But it is not too late to warn business leaders of the dangers it may cause as per FBI Director Wray’s comment published in the WSJ yesterday:
“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology—whatever it is that makes your industry tick—and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” Mr. Wray told the audience of business people. “They’re set on using every tool at their disposal to do it,” he added.
China is engaged in “a coordinated campaign on a grand scale” that represents “a strategic contest across decades, We need to act,” said MI5 Director McCallum said.
Governments of the western world should do more to prevent China’s stealing of technology and intellectual property.
Can the U.S. protect its cyber borders without infringing upon the ability of its citizens to experience the world? It seems like this is a needed step as there are so many bad actors that want to disrupt commerce, foment division, and destroy American society. At the same time, how can the U.S. protect against these cyberspace threats without creating its own Great Firewall? These are really tough questions for a democracy to address and play right into the strengths of authoritarian governments. It really is a somber time, especially compared to the dawn of the Internet back in the 1990s when it seemed like the borderless nature of the Internet would favor freedom and democracy.