US newspaper the New York Times has claimed that it has been the victim of persistent attacks from Chinese hackers over the course of the last four months.
The NY Times claimed that the attacks, which used methods “associated with the Chinese military”, coincided with its reports into the wealth amassed by the family of former Premier Wen Jiabao during his term in office. The report in question revealed that Mr Wen’s relatives had managed to amass a total wealth of $2.7bn, but did not accuse them of any wrongdoing. China is very sensitive to reports about the wealth of its leaders, partly due to the country’s endemic corruption problems.
Hackers first gained access to the NY Times computer system in September, just before the report of Mr Wen was completed. Further attacks targeting the email account and computer of David Barboza, the journalist who wrote the report.
The internet security company Mandiant, which was hired to trace the origin of the attacks, claimed that they followed the same pattern as previous attacks traced to the Chinese military – and that the hackers began work each day at 08:00 Beijing time.
“If you look at each attack in isolation, you can’t say, ‘This is the Chinese military’,” but that the similar patterns and targets of the attacks indicated a connection. When you see the same group steal data on Chinese dissidents and Tibetan activists, then attack an aerospace company, it starts to push you in the right direction,” said Mandiant’s chief security officer, Richard Bejtlich.
China’s foreign ministry described the accusations as “groundless”. Spokesman Hon Lei told press that:
“To arbitrarily assert and to conclude without hard evidence that China participated in such hacking attacks is totally irresponsible. China is also a victim of hacking attacks. Chinese laws clearly forbid hacking attacks, and we hope relevant parties takes a responsible attitude on this issue.”