Digital warfare becomes a reality as France accuses the Chinese of hacking

France has become the fourth country making claims that the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) in China is staging a concerted hacker attack on its government computer systems.

Wabisabilabi, an online auction space for buyers and sellers of software vulnerabilities, has pointed out how difficult it is to be 100% sure that the hackers really are operating under government control.

Recent newswire reports have suggested that the PLA is waging a hacker war against the government computer systems of Germany, the US and the UK.

Earlier this week, Francis Delon, France's secretary general for national defence, said his country's systems had been compromised and that the evidence pointed to China.

Giacomo Paoni, WSLabi's CTO, said that Delon is quoted as saying that the French have proof that there was hacker involvement with China, but added that he did not point the finger of suspicion specifically at the Chinese government.

One of the problems with tracing hacker attacks back to China intelligence agencies, he added, is that the country is famous for what is known as bulletproof hosting.

"Internet Service Providers offering Bulletproof hosting - aka bulk-friendly hosting -have a high degree of tolerance as to what actions their customers can carry out therefore they are usually used by attackers and spammers from all over the world as a good way to hide their tracks.”

Despite the uncertainty as to whether the Chinese military really is behind the latest wave of Western government hacker attacks, Paoni said it is clear that there is a highly organised group of hackers orchestrating the attacks from computers based in China and that at the very least the Chinese government appears to be too tolerant about this activity.

"From a technical point of view, it's interesting to note that most of the vulnerabilities exploited in these attacks are in client software, rather than the traditional type of attacks seen on networks and/or services; at the moment this is the most challenging threat for organisations worldwide" he said.

"Regardless of who is really responsible for the hacker attacks being processed via the Chinese servers, the level of sophistication involved is quite high. This underlines the constant requirement for companies to protect their IT assets using every means possible," he added.

Paoni also points out “One issue the sage analysts should be considering is that this issue has become so public after the recent press coverage that China’s ISPs have indeed become the perfect shield for digital espionage operations. This is what the Internet allows people to do, especially in this time of digital warfare.”