Cyber attackers who stole massive amounts of vital information from military contractors, energy companies and other military industries in the United States have now been traced back to a Chinese military unit, a U.S. security firm announced on Tuesday.
China's own Foreign Ministry has dismissed the report as being "groundless" and denied any involvement in the hacking attacks.
A country who is no stranger to hacking accusations, China is frequently the culprit of cyber attacks. However, a recent report by the Virginia-based Mandiant Corporation contains some of the most damaging and detailed information to date, linking China’s military to a string of cyber-spying against United States, foreign companies and government agencies.
Mandiant alleges that it successfully traced the source of the hacking back to a neighborhood just outside of Shanghai. They actually pinpointed the location down to a white 12-story office building apparently run by "Unit 61398" of the People's Liberation Army.
Unit 61398 "has systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations," Mandiant wrote. "From our observations, it is one of the most prolific cyber-espionage groups in terms of the sheer quantity of information stolen," the company said. It added that the unit has been in operation since at least 2006.
Mandiant decided revealing the results of their investigation was well-worth the risk of having the hackers change tactics or become more difficult to track down.
"It is time to acknowledge the threat is originating in China, and we wanted to do our part to arm and prepare security professionals to combat that threat effectively," it said.
In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, the Defense Ministry again denied any involvement in the hacking, stating that Chinese law forbids all activities that harm Internet security.
"The Chinese government has always firmly combated such activities and the Chinese military has never supported any form of hacking activity," the ministry said. "Statements to the effect that the Chinese military takes part in Internet attacks are unprofessional and are not in accordance with the facts."
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, did not directly address the allegations, but when questioned about the report on Tuesday, he said he did not believe that the evidence could possibly withstand scrutiny.
"To make groundless accusations based on some rough material is neither responsible nor professional," Hong told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference. As of now, the cyberattacks and cybercrimes China has suffered are rising rapidly every year," Hong said.
News of the Mandiant report spread quickly on the Chinese Internet, with many calling it an excuse for the United States to impose greater restrictions on China's growing technological grip.