It’s widely known that most Chinese hackers work at the direction of the Chinese government. And they’ve had a great year thanks to Edward Snowden. Prior to the revelations gleaned by The Guardian and The Washington Post from Snowden’s disclosures (later followed by numerous news outlets), most nations felt that the greatest threat to their computers and communications came from China. But when you learn it’s your allies spying on you, the media shifts its focus away from the Chinese. That is unfortunate, as virtually all IT security experts agree the Chinese are the biggest threat to international cyber security.

chinese hackers

Chinese hackers eavesdropped on G20 summit

According to a story by Reuters that has been picked up by numerous media outlets, Chinese hackers eavesdropped on the computers of five European foreign ministries before last September’s G20 summit, which was dominated by the Syrian crisis, according to research by computer security firm FireEye.

While the G20 was dominated by a potential American military attack on Syria following revelations that Assad’s regime had launched a chemical attack on its own citizens, the hackers used emails that read, “U.S.—military—options—in—Syria,” which contained malicious code that was installed on the recipients’ computers if opened.

According to FireEye, these email attacks allowed the hackers to obtain access to a total of nine computers.

FireEye claims that for a week’s time, it was able to monitor the work these hackers were doing based on getting their own access to the hackers’ survey. During that week, no documents were stolen, but the group was doing extensive “network surveillance.”

“The theme of the attacks was U.S. military intervention in Syria,” said FireEye researcher Nart Villeneuve. “That seems to indicate something more than intellectual property theft … The intent was to target those involved with the G20.” FireEye says it reached out to those compromised through the FBI; the FBI has so far declined to comment.

Chinese involvement

Villeneuve made it very clear that the group was from China, but also made it clear that doesn’t mean the nation-state of China. “All we have is technical data. There is no way to determine that from technical data,” he said.

This last quote made it quite easy for Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei to state that China is opposed to hacking in all its forms. While this may be laughable, Lei said, “U.S. Internet companies are keen on hyping up the so-called hacker threat from China, but they never obtain irrefutable proof, and what so-called evidence they do get is widely doubted by experts. This is neither professional nor responsible.”

In case China didn’t thank you properly when you were visiting Hong Kong, Mr. Snowden, know that they are grateful for your efforts.