China Calls Hacking Allegations "Irresponsible And Unscientific," In A Response That Fits The Country's History Of Cybercrime Denial

Officials are struggling to grasp the implications of a massive data breach, after it emerged Thursday that hackers had gained access to U.S. government computers. The government agency targeted by the hackers — the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) — deals with security clearances and employee records. The cyber break-in has potentially compromised the personal data of four million current and former federal employees. U.S. officials and inside sources said Thursday that a “foreign entity or government” was suspected to be behind the attack, which has been linked to several previous data breaches. Claims of a potential Chinese connection have also surfaced in several reports. So, how has China responded to OPM hacking allegations?

“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” a statement from Homeland Security stipulated Thursday. Meanwhile, Maine Republican Senator and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Susan Collins said the hackers were believed to be based in China, echoing anonymous sources who spoke with Reuters. China’s initial response to the allegations has been dramatically affronted — yet so far the official Chinese response has seemingly steered away from stone-cold denial. Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said Thursday that the accusations were “not responsible and counterproductive.”

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“Cyberattacks conducted across countries are hard to track and therefore the source of attacks is difficult to identify,” Haiquan continued, adding that hacking can “only be addressed by international cooperation based on mutual trust and mutual respect.” His comments were essentially reiterated by foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei in comments to a Chinese ministry of foreign affairs press briefing in Beijing on Friday. “Cyber attacks are generally anonymous and conducted across borders and their origins are hard to trace,” Lei said. “Not to carry out a deep investigation and keep using words such as 'possible' is irresponsible and unscientific.”

Meanwhile, state-run Chinese newspaper The Global Times responded more vociferously to the allegations in a Thursday editorial. Subtly entitled “Four million US government workers hit by data breach, China was blamed without any hesitation,” the editorial takes high umbrage with the hasty hacking claim. “Although the investigation has just begun, American investigators believe that ‘they can trace the breach to the Chinese government’…However, American officials from the OPM who reported this case cannot be sure who is responsible.”

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The editorial also criticizes the American media (specifically identifying The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal) for rapidly reporting on the claims of Chinese involvement. “In fact, it is not the first time that the American media and institutions blame China for internet security [breaches]. However, no evidence has been presented so far.” It is indeed not the first time the U.S. has accused China of hacking. A year ago, a cyber attack on OPM occurred that was also believed to have originated in China, according to cyber security experts. In that case, no personal data was compromised. China has consistently denied such allegations.

In early 2015, allegations that Chinese authorities had hacked into Microsoft Corp's Outlook email service were dismissed as “groundless slander,” by Beijing's cyberspace regulator. After the U.S. charged five Chinese army officers with hacking into private-sector American companies in May 2014, China resolutely denied the charges and intimated that the case could damage U.S.-China relations. In 2013, U.S. security company Mandiant issued a report stating that the company had traced cyber attacks waged against U.S. companies and government agencies to the Chinese military. A foreign ministry spokesman again dismissed the allegations, calling them “Groundless criticism” that was “irresponsible and unprofessional,” and would not help solve the problem.

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The most recent accusations of hacking and data-theft have also earned the U.S. reprimands for hypocrisy from Chinese critics. “I can only say, if it was not done by China, the US just slandered China viciously,” Gao Cheng, the deputy researcher from National Institute of International Strategy of China Academy of Social Sciences, posted on his Weibo microblog Friday according to The Telegraph. Cheng continued:

If it was done by China, then good job! Years ago, before Snowden [came forward]…the US cried 'stop thief' while acting a thief itself, it slandered China on the issue of cyber attacks while standing on the high moral ground.

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