It’s downright uncanny… Have you noticed that China’s newest warplane looks amazingly like our American F-22, manufactured by Lockheed-Martin? Not only that, but the latest Chinese rockets look almost identical to certain Russian designs.
Of course it turns out neither of these facts are coincidental. Besides being the global champions of currency manipulation, the Chinese government is the number one sponsor of state-sanctioned computer espionage.
Though by some reports Chinese hacking attempts have been on the decline since 2014, it’s hard to say whether attacks are declining or the cyber-warriors are simply becoming more selective about their targets. With its twin pushes for acceptance from the IMF and among gold’s market makers, China has to start caring about its reputation on the world stage. But with all the technology and intelligence advantages the Chinese have gained through hacking, don’t expect them to stop. Paying hackers to steal research is a lot cheaper than paying engineers to develop it.
Starting in 2010, hackers believed to be working for the Chinese government infiltrated the computer networks of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the quasi-government corporation tasked with insuring our deposits and monitoring the overall health of the banking system. If your bank fails, the FDIC is there with a safety net, within limits. As such, it’s a treasure trove of information on individual depositors and the precise assets held by major banks. As CNN notes, “It has access to extremely sensitive, internal information at 4,500 banks and savings institutions. The FDIC also insures deposits at banks nationwide, giving it access to huge loads of information on Americans.”
“Advanced, Persistent” Infiltration
In 2013 the state-sponsored Chinese hackers gained access to 12 staff computers at the FDIC, including those of the former chairman, chief of staff and the head of the agency’s legal division. According to a recent report by the House of Representative’s Science, Space and Technology Committee, the hack was both aggressive and persistent.
Perhaps predictably, the banking agency only complicated matters by covering up the incident instead of coming forward and seeking assistance from the FBI and other government network security specialists. The agency then doubled down, delaying reporting another hack in 2015 where the personal data of 115,000 people was compromised. The Committee report claims the agency intentionally avoided reporting to Congress and has a history of resisting outside oversight.
Attacks Mount on Critics, Litigants
Of course, it’s tricky going up against the Chinese. Almost any entity that finds itself in opposition to them in a trade or territorial dispute soon discovers its computer networks coming under attack. When the U.N. International Court in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, locked in a territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea, Philippine government computers and websites were attacked and the websites defaced.
Think You’re Immune?
At this point you’re probably congratulating yourself that, outside all your personal banking info, as an individual you’re too small to be a target. Sadly…no. Chinese hackers are bringing in over $300,000 a month with malware designed to target phones running the Android operating system. Since security software on phones lags behind that which (somewhat) protects computers, you and your family could be carrying around malicious applications and back doors on your phones and never know it.
China: We’re Good
Unsurprisingly, as long as it advances their interests, China’s perfectly okay picking the pockets of other countries. Hacking is far cheaper than research, and there are persistent rumors that Chinese hackers have been able to make off with the designs of nearly every nuclear warhead in the U.S. arsenal.
There’s also ample evidence Chinese hackers have been plundering corporate networks for competitive secrets for decades. When the heat from trading partners like the U.S. gets too high, China can always let North Korea do its network-hacking dirty work, a relationship that’s been known to security professionals for over a decade.
An Un-hackable Retirement?
I’ve long disparaged our pretend-money economy in which all your wealth, including paychecks, checking and savings accounts and investment portfolios are nothing more than blips on a computer screen. It’s an economy where one keystroke can make what’s yours mine. But, aside from its many attractions as a repeller of inflation, and its ability to withstand market and dollar nose-dives, perhaps one of gold’s more appealing qualities is the fact that it’s gloriously, completely un-hackable.