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Op-Ed: 'Chinese hackers' knock Canadian government agencies offline

By Paul Wallis     Feb 17, 2011 in Internet
Ottawa - A cyber attack by hackers has forced Canada's Finance and Treasury departments offline. According to CBC, unattributed sources in senior government circles are saying the attacks were traced to servers in China.
The attack comes amid considerable international controversy about Chinese cyber-espionage and “Chinese government hackers”.
The quality of information currently available about this issue can be gauged by this quote from the Daily Telegraph’s report:
Although CBC said it could not determine whether the attackers were Chinese or simply other nationals who used China-based servers, CTV television said they were "Chinese government hackers".
It cited sources as saying the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has advised government officials not to name China as the origin of the attacks, or even discuss the matter.
Chinese espionage has become a "major problem" for Canada and other countries, a senior government official told CTV.
Current information is that the hackers were successful in attacking the computers of government officials. It’s not known whether the hackers were able to access public personal tax records or other sensitive personal data.
Internet access to both government departments was shut down immediately the attack was detected. Official statements are that “no data was compromised” in relation to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
CTV’s own reports are rather brief. Citing previous efforts by alleged Chinese hackers to break in to Indian government computers and steal Canadian passport applications, CTV states:
It's unclear how many attempts have been made to break into the finance department's computer network.
Analysis
In practice, the information provided is all a bit too simple. The only working statement is the statement that the CBC, which is after all a news agency, not a counterintelligence unit, couldn’t determine the exact source of the attack. There’s a surprise.
In view of the fact that any cyber attack can be launched from anywhere by a mildly enthusiastic high school kid, and is extremely unlikely to be located in the nation of origin for obvious reasons, the Yellow Peril rhetoric is more than likely a bit misplaced. China is quite capable of doing better than a clumsy attempted burglary of data which doesn’t necessarily have a lot of intrinsic espionage value, particularly on such a high profile scale.
There are other reasons for not instantly assuming there are reds under the Canadian Feds, too. Organized crime in China isn’t entirely unknown, and it is perfectly likely that agencies carrying useful identity theft quality information would be targeted for people smuggling purposes. A criminal organization, or several, wouldn’t be too worried about embarrassing the Chinese government, in fact, may have decided the current cyber Cold War and endless media speculation on the subject was the perfect environment for doing just that.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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