from Net Politics

Cyber Week in Review: December 21, 2018

2018Photographs of Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, members of a hacking group in China, appear on this U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) poster provided by the FBI, December 21, 2018. Federal Bureau of Investigation/Handout via REUTERS

This week: the Justice Department charges Chinese hackers, Huawei faces international scrutiny, two Senate reports investigate Russian disinformation, and someone hacked the European Union's diplomatic network.

December 21, 2018

2018Photographs of Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, members of a hacking group in China, appear on this U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) poster provided by the FBI, December 21, 2018. Federal Bureau of Investigation/Handout via REUTERS
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Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:

Cyber indictments! On Thursday, the Department of Justice indicted two members of a notorious hacking group, dubbed APT 10 or “Stone Panda.” The group is accused of stealing “hundreds of gigabytes” of confidential data from businesses, government agencies, and defense contractors since 2014 on behalf of China's Ministry of State Security. Unlike the previous indictments of Chinese hackers, this week’s announcement was coordinated with allies; in total, eleven countries released their own statements condemning Chinese cyber espionage, many of them also attributing attacks back to APT 10. The synchronized statements show that the Trump administration has tapped into deep international frustration with China’s behavior in cyberspace. They also show that the Trump administration is willing to take a very un-Trumpian approach to cyberspace, building international consensus and multilateral coalitions, rather than going it alone.

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When an implacable force meets an immovable object. The international campaign against Huawei gathered steam this week, with the Czech government’s cyber watchdog issuing a warning against telecom operators using Huawei equipment. In response to the arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer on fraud charges earlier this month, HSBC and Standard Chartered, announced this week that they would not provide new banking services to Huawei after deciding that the company is too high risk. 

All that might sound like a bad week for any company, but Huawei isn’t any company. Despite weeks of controversy and setbacks, Huawei executives gave an upbeat revenue forecast, buoyed by a better than expected sales pipeline for 5G equipment. The company said it shipped more than 10,000 base stations for 5G deployment and has more than 25 contracts for 5G, better than Ericsson and Nokia, Huawei’s main competitors. Also, this week: Germany’s top cybersecurity official pushed back against the Huawei pile on, stating that there is “currently no reliable evidence” that Huawei poses a security risk. The source of German intransigence might not be the lack of evidence of malevolent behavior. There is a huge cost of switching suppliers during an already costly 5G rollout for countries like Germany, where network operators like Deutsche Telekom have invested heavily in their relationship with Huawei.  

Everybody is doing damage control. Earlier this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released two reports that look into Russian disinformation efforts. The reports, which were prepared by outside experts, paint a detailed picture of Russia’s Internet Research Agency’s activities, which included attempts to dissuade African Americans from voting in 2016. The reports also detailed the ways in which big tech platforms attempted to stifle researchers’ work. In response to the reports, the NAACP urged Americans to boycott social media, and Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company needs to ‘do more’ to protect civil rights.

In an odd turn of events, Facebook was not the only company doing damage control by the end of the week. On Wednesday, New Knowledge, which wrote one of the Senate-commissioned reports, was implicated in a secret project to test Russian social media tactics in U.S. elections. An article in the New York Times outlined how Democratic operatives and disinformation experts experimented with Russian methods used in the 2016 election during the Senate race in Alabama earlier this year. While New Knowledge framed the project as a small-scale research project, which was unlikely to have influenced the election, the revelation highlights the ways in which political operators are turning to Russia’s disinformation playbook, even as experts study and condemn its corrosive effects.

Gone Phishing. Chinese military hackers appear to have stolen thousands of diplomatic cables from the European Union. According to cybersecurity firm Area 1, which leaked the cables to the New York Times, hackers associated with China’s Strategic Support Force used phishing attacks to infiltrate the EU’s diplomatic communication network and steal sensitive documents related to meetings with foreign leaders and trade negotiations. A number of cybersecurity experts found Area 1’s attribution unpersuasive, saying it lacked the evidence or technical details needed to connect the attack to China. Experts also question why Area 1 handed over the sensitive diplomatic cables to the New York Times.

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