A secretive Chinese military unit, with government backing, is engaged in "systematic" cyber espionage and data theft against organisations around the world from Shanghai, an American Internet security firm has claimed.
"Our research and observations indicate that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is tasking the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to commit systematic cyber espionage and data theft against organisations around the world," alleged the report 'APT1: Exposing One of China's Cyber Espionage Units' by computer security firm Mandiant.
Mandiant Corp said on its website that a group attached to China's People's Liberation Army has stolen data from 141 companies, 115 of which were in the US.
It did not name specific targets of the attacks but said they spanned industries ranging from information technology and telecommunications to aerospace and energy.
"Our analysis has led us to conclude that APT1 (Advanced Persistent Threat) is likely government-sponsored and one of the most persistent of China's cyber threat actors. We believe that APT1 is able to wage such a long-running and extensive cyber espionage campaign in large part because it receives direct government support," said the executive summary of the 60-page report released yesterday.
Mandiant said it believes the group behind the hacking is Unit 61398, within a wing of the People's Liberation Army. It said it has observed hacking attempts against nearly 150 victims over seven years. Hundreds of terabytes of data were involved, it said.
A series of cyber attacks on America's most high-profile media outlets, reported earlier this month by The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as on Twitter and others, have revived concerns over Chinese hackers.
The New York Times said hackers stole corporate passwords and accessed the personal computers of 53 employees after the newspaper published a report on the family fortune of China's Premier Wen Jiabao.
"In seeking to identify the organisation behind this activity, our research found that People's Liberation Army (PLA) Unit 61398 is similar to APT1 in its mission,
capabilities, and resources.
"PLA Unit 61398 is also located in precisely the same area from which APT1 activity appears to originate," it alleged.
It pinpointed the group's location in facilities in Shanghai's Pudong district. It also reprinted a memo from a Chinese telecommunications provider supplying communications links to the facility that said it would "smoothly accomplish this task for the military based on the principle that