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China is suspected in a record setting hack, which affected many nations over the last five years.  (Source: Army Recognition)

The attack is believed to have done tremendous financial damage to those affected and given a financial boost to the attacker.  (Source: McAfee)

The attacks largely target the U.S. -- which has weak cyber-security, but also targeted Asian nations, Canada, and several European nations.  (Source: McAfee)
Attack "raped and pillaged" 72 organizations over 5 years

Intel Corp. (INTC) subsidiary McAfee, has just gone public [declassified report] with an incredible study into what it says is the world's biggest organized computer hack in history.  The attack, which it dubs "Operation Shady RAT" (RAT stands for remote access tool), began in mid-2006 and was still ongoing at the start of this year.  And unsurprisingly, China -- arguably the world's foremost cyber-superpower -- is suspected as the guilty party.

I. U.S. and Others Get "Raped and Pillaged"

McAfee's vice president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch, in an interview with Reuters, comments, "Companies and government agencies are getting raped and pillaged every day. They are losing economic advantage and national secrets to unscrupulous competitors. This is the biggest transfer of wealth in terms of intellectual property in history. The scale at which this is occurring is really, really frightening."

In his report he describes how a team of savvy hackers organized by a "state actor" infiltrated 72 carefully selected government and corporate systems around the world and began rapidly stealing valuable information.

Government victims included United States, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Vietnam, and Canada.  A number of multinational organizations including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the United Nations.  Numerous defense contractors and high-tech companies were also infiltrated in the U.S. and abroad.

In one of the highest profile attacks -- the infiltration of the United Nations' servers, the attacker gained access to systems belonging to the secretariat in Geneva in 2008 and then proceeded to lurk for two years, stealing valuable classified documents.

The longest attack appears to have targeted the Olympic committee of an unnamed South Asian nation, last 28 months.  Many of the attacks were far briefer lasting only a month.

The sophisticated plot was discovered when McAfee researchers reviewing the server logs on affected U.S. contractors discovered that they were all communicating with common command-and-control servers in the unnamed attacker nation.

Mr. Alperovitch recalls the shock at this discovery, writing, "Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators. What is happening to all this data ... is still largely an open question. However, if even a fraction of it is used to build better competing products or beat a competitor at a key negotiation (due to having stolen the other team's playbook), the loss represents a massive economic threat."

II. The Red Dragon

Unsurprisingly most suspect China, given who was attacked and the nation's long history of cyberaggression [1][2][3][4][5][6][7].

Neither China or McAfee have officially commented on this possibility.  But the timing lines up remarkably.

The attacks on the IOC and Olympic committee were executed in 2008, right before the Beijing Olympics.  Given China's obsessive interest in topping its foreign competitors in the medal counts, there's a clear motive for the hacks, as they could have filled in secret details on when the Olympic officials planned to conduct drug tests.  In theory China could have used the data to game the system, obfuscating steroid use or other types of cheating.

The attacks also were very focused on southeast Asia.  South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan -- key economic rivals of China were all targeted.

In Taiwan's case, the attack may have served a double purpose, as China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has long looked for ways to undermine it economically and politically.

Jim Lewis, a cyber expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, states, "Everything points to China. It could be the Russians, but there is more that points to China than Russia."

One unnamed briefed expert affirms that the classified version of the information McAfee presented points to China.

III. Preying on the Weak

If the attacks were indeed the work of the Chinese government or its contractors, it scored a massive win economically.  It's unknown what if any sort of punishment can be brought against the nation, as even if the evidence points to China, in such matters it's hard to conclusively prove the origin of an attack.  

Further, many of the affected nations like the U.S. owe vast amounts of debt to the Chinese government and depend on China to support their rare mineral resource and manufacturing needs.

Many view China's recent actions as the strong of cyberspace picking on the weak.  The U.S. is among those that has been perceived as a "cyberweakling".  

Vijay Mukhi, a cyber-expert based in India, states, "I'm not surprised because that's what China does, they are gradually dominating the cyberworld. I would call it child's play (for a hacker to get access to Indian government data) ... I would say we're in the stone age."

The report, which coincided with the annual Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas, took many by surprise.

Taiwanese officials said they were not aware of being part of a broader attack, though they said they were aware of many attacks against their government servers.  U.N. officials also reported being unaware of the intrusion, though they were investigating.  And the government of India refused to comment on whether it was aware of the attack on its government servers.

Japan seemed the least surprised, indicating knowledge of the attack, while emphasizing the uncertainty about who was behind the attacks.  They say that they are conducting and investigation and working on "finalizing some guidelines. We aim to raise the security level as a whole and build a partnership between private sector organizations where information can be shared to prevent such attacks."

McAfee has informed all 72 companies who were attacked.  In its public version of the report, it redacted the affected corporate parties' names, though it mentioned what nation and what business sector they were in.

Full details of the record setting assault are still not available, and may never be available.  If McAfee is to be believed, though, the financial impact is likely enormous. The attack likely puts the affected governments, including the U.S. in panic mode.  The pressing question -- how to improve their security so these attacks don't happen, and how to bring to justice an attacker who wields tremendous international financial power, should a breach occur.

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Money money
By Scootie on 8/3/2011 4:40:57 PM , Rating: 5
Well, if all the big companies that have labor and factories in China would have the manballs and pull out China would go down in the same amount of time it went up in the last 20 years. Too bad well never see this happen.

RE: Money money
By EJ257 on 8/3/2011 4:50:57 PM , Rating: 2
Wanna place bets how quickly that would lead to a real war if China is backed into a corner like that?

RE: Money money
By Quadrillity on 8/3/2011 4:52:51 PM , Rating: 5
That's ok. We bought weapons with all of the money that we borrowed from China :D

RE: Money money
By EJ257 on 8/3/2011 5:12:31 PM , Rating: 2
Even without all the new toys we've always had the nuclear option. It's just that using it nowadays and on such a large number of people will make us look like douchebags. We knew bin Laden was in Afghanistan in 2001 but after 9-11 we didn't turn the place into a parking lot. Same would apply here I think.

I was just trying to convey to the OP, that while pulling all our money out of China might sound like a really great idea (and its not like we don't need it at home) doing so will have consequences worst than the status quo. It's not easy to feed 1/6 of the world's population. The money we're investing over there, a lot of it goes to buying food because China does not produces enough to feed its own population. Cut that off and they will look for alternative means. They might not attack the US directly but the nearby southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, etc are not so lucky.

RE: Money money
By 91TTZ on 8/3/2011 5:38:14 PM , Rating: 2
Even without all the new toys we've always had the nuclear option.

So do they.

RE: Money money
By Salisme on 8/3/2011 6:13:12 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah but if they are built like other Chinese products, they'll never make it half way across the ocean before falling apart.

RE: Money money
By Cypherdude1 on 8/3/2011 6:45:56 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah but if they are built like other Chinese products, they'll never make it half way across the ocean before falling apart.
Don't underestimate the quality of Chinese products. While they used to have poor quality manufacturing, now their stuff is pretty good. Now, everything is made in China. It's incredible how quickly things have changed and our businessmen, our political leaders, helped that happen. It's incredible when you think, only 30 years ago, China was nothing but a poor 2nd world power. Now they make everything and they're the 2nd largest economy in the world.

RE: Money money
By aegisofrime on 8/3/2011 7:05:44 PM , Rating: 5
Agreed. Every time I hear a comment about China's "sloppy quality" I get disturbed and hope that they are joking. I really do wish the top brass in the US Military don't have that mindset as well. The quickest way to defeat is underestimating your enemy.

RE: Money money
By Reclaimer77 on 8/3/2011 7:11:00 PM , Rating: 1
I think the CIA and the U.S Military knows a bit more about China's capabilities than you or I. It's not "underestimating" if it's based on fact. But I'm sure they take China very seriously.

RE: Money money
By FITCamaro on 8/3/2011 8:13:34 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe you haven't looked at the quality of items compared to what it used to be, but it sucks.

Products used to last decades. If they last 5 years now, its considered a good product.

RE: Money money
By chick0n on 8/5/2011 9:15:57 AM , Rating: 1
I told you not to shop at Walmart ...

Some "Made in China" products are actually really good these days. You just have to know where to get them.

RE: Money money
By borismkv on 8/3/2011 7:35:35 PM , Rating: 2
It's not that they won't make it across the ocean, it's that they'll give you lead poisoning as well as radiation poisoning.

RE: Money money
By Jeffk464 on 8/3/2011 6:38:49 PM , Rating: 2
In fact they have every minute detail of our top nuclear warheads, they managed to grab those to.

RE: Money money
By kaosstar on 8/4/2011 2:35:20 PM , Rating: 1
And the US has every minute detail of theirs.

RE: Money money
By AstroGuardian on 8/9/2011 6:31:02 AM , Rating: 2
[quote]It's just that using it nowadays and on such a large number of people will make us look like douchebags.[/quote]

You look like douchebags since 1945

RE: Money money
By 91TTZ on 8/3/2011 5:18:19 PM , Rating: 2
China would be completely and utterly dominated in a real war. I know people like to bring up their population, but people are soft targets in battle.

Japan was much less numerous than China when they fought and look at the outcome. Japan absolutely destroyed China. In modern times China would fare much worse against the US.

RE: Money money
By The0ne on 8/3/2011 5:30:44 PM , Rating: 2
Different era's for different nations. China never grew as fast. Japan, heading into the meiji ear, industrialized quickly and thus dominated eastern Asian, including Russia.

RE: Money money
By 91TTZ on 8/3/2011 5:46:20 PM , Rating: 2
The Japanese, much like the Germans, have an innate sense of order and are very efficient, orderly, and methodical. This makes for very efficient warriors.

They'll turn killing into a methodical process and would have no problem outsmarting and conquering less organized enemies. China gets a lot of hype nowadays but the established powers are established for a reason. China only recently passed Japan for the 2nd largest economy, and they have 10x as many people to support.

RE: Money money
By Jeffk464 on 8/3/2011 6:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
Things are slowly changing in china's favor here to. They are soon going to be the largest economy and will be able to start developing to weapon systems faster than us. War seems unlikely between to nuclear powers however, because you still risk utter destruction. Think skirmishes over allied countries like Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan during the cold war.

RE: Money money
By Reclaimer77 on 8/3/11, Rating: 0
RE: Money money
By mcnabney on 8/3/2011 8:01:21 PM , Rating: 2
You are woefully mis-informed.

First off, the US had an enormous manufacturing base pre-war. We just shifted from making cars and sewing machines to tanks and machine guns.

Second, any serious war with China is going to be nuclear. It just is.

Third, if this recession gets much worse and the blame is focused on China the liklihood of hostilities will only increase. Remember how the US got out of the Depression?

RE: Money money
By Reclaimer77 on 8/3/2011 9:29:08 PM , Rating: 2
First off, the US had an enormous manufacturing base pre-war.

Who's talking "manufacturing base"? They are saying "economy".

Second, any serious war with China is going to be nuclear. It just is.

What is this, the 1980's all over again? That's just reckless speculation on your part. You can't say for certain it's going to be nuclear.

Third, if this recession gets much worse and the blame is focused on China the liklihood of hostilities will only increase.

I think everyone knows who to blame for that; ourselves.

RE: Money money
By Jeffk464 on 8/3/2011 10:55:51 PM , Rating: 2
Don't blame China, blame US corporations and bought of US congress. China is just taking advantage of the situation, outsmarting us as it were.

RE: Money money
By Jeffk464 on 8/3/2011 10:52:26 PM , Rating: 2
Really that was the Russian US, Canadian, Australian, and English economy vs Germany.

RE: Money money
By sudsbury on 8/4/2011 11:27:40 AM , Rating: 2
read Tom Clancy's "The Bear and the Dragon"

RE: Money money
By jnemesh on 8/4/2011 2:51:12 PM , Rating: 2
Bring it! I would prefer a straight fight to all of this sneaking around! We CAN blow the whole country into tiny little bits.

Remember folks, all the cheap Chinese goods we buy on a daily basis FUNDS this crap!

RE: Money money
By andre-bch on 8/4/2011 10:25:15 AM , Rating: 2
It might sound foolish but sometimes I think that this would be the only way for western countries to avoid bankruptcy.

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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