Amid the growing fears of a potential cyber-war between the United States and China, a Chinese university professor is believed to have spied and disclosed US secrets in order to obtain a prestigious position.
It was reported by The Associated Press that prosecutors accuse Temple University physics professor Xi Xiaoxing in spying and providing U.S. technology secrets to an unknown party, without elaborating on the exact secrets disclosed.
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The Philadelphian university’s professor has pleaded not guilty to the charges on Thursday and is released on $100,000 bail with surrounding his passport.
The 47-year-old professor is an expert on superconductivity, which is the property of zero electrical resistance in some substances at very low absolute temperatures. Superconductivity is widely used to improve the speed of computer circuits.
Xi Xiaoxing, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, remains a faculty member of Temple University, but does not hold a chairman position of the physics department due to his arrest.
Xi’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, who is known for defending the Chinese in spying cases against the U.S., said the professor will be exonerated.
However, the question remains: what kind of secretive ‘US technology’ information was ‘shared’ by the professor, potentially with the Chinese government? Were these technology secrets somehow related to the U.S. military intelligence?
And the main question is why did the U.S. accuse the Chinese professor of spying at this precise point in time? Is that somehow connected with the recent breach of the U.S. computer networks, in which U.S. officials point blank accused China?
Or is just a U.S. way of saying “We know where your Chinese spies are, so back off a little”?
US vs China Cyber War Begins?
As it was reported by ValueWalk, the recent breach at the Office of Personnel Management included stealing identifying information of as many as 4 million federal workers. The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement, saying that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been compromised.
“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” the statement said.
The FBI suspects that hackers based in China are responsible for the breach, which is considered the most critical breach of federal employee data in recent years. The FBI was not alone in identifying the Chinese as being behind the cyber-attacks. Many U.S. officials and lawmakers also reminded of a great number of previous government hacks coming from Beijing.
However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry neither confirmed nor denied the accusations about China’s involvement in the cyber-attack.
Experts believe that by carrying out such a cyber-attack, the Chinese may be trying to improve how they spy on U.S. government.
The cyber-attack was most likely aimed at gathering intelligence of US federal employees and assessing their access levels to the government. This is the exact kind of a foreign power ‘invasion’ every U.S. official is worried about.
However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that it would extremely difficult to prove who was behind the breach. “Without the thorough investigation, you jump to a conclusion so quickly. We think it is not scientific and is irresponsible,” he told NBC.
Speaking at a briefing on Friday, Lei also said that China has nothing to do with the cyber-attacks and opposes all forms of it. “We hope the U.S. side will shed its suspicions,” he stated and added that China itself is also a victim of cyber-attacks.
China could turn OPM employees into spies
The foreign power that is behind the cyber-attack – which is believed to be China – will likely be trying to use the stolen information for turning the affected employees into spies through bribes or blackmail.
The malware used to carry out the OPM breach was linked to the IP address to a computer server that hosted the Web domain OPMlearning.org. The employees of the government agency clicked on unsuspiciously-looking emails ending in @OPMlearning.org, and became victims of the cyber-attack.
The funny part is that the hackers – Chinese or not – carried out the cyber-attack from a server registered by them and used such false names as Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and James Rhodes.
So the question is: what if the hackers were not Chinese but North Korean? Was it their way of avenging for the Sony Pictures movie that depicted the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un? However, the North Korean hackers have already avenged for the film-spoof by carrying out a major Sony cyber-attack, which leaked a great number of ‘uncomfortable’ information and emails.
Will the U.S. be able to fight China in Cyber-War?
However, the Chinese are more likely to have conducted the OPM cyber-attack as the US-China relations have been highly adversarial lately due to the ongoing South China Sea debate.
The OPM breach could have been carried out to simply irritate some hot-headed U.S. officials into making bold statements or even actions. However, to what end? It might have been to justify the potential and planned China’s actions regarding the tiny islands of the South China Sea that could lead to a world war.
Or the cyber-attack was intended to keep on accumulating the collected – or stolen, for that matter – secretive information from the U.S.
In any case, the U.S. is able to ‘stand up for itself’ as Washington has probably the largest infrastructure in terms of cyber weapons. In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the CIA, leaked detailed National Security Agency documents, which lifted the curtain on the gigantic extent of espionage the agency conducts.
This fact alone indicates that in case of a cyber-war between the two countries, Washington would be able to ‘fight’ Beijing, even though the latter beats Washington in many spheres of technology.