David E. Sanger, David Barboza and Nicole Perlroth, reporting for The New York Times:
An unusually detailed 60-page study, to be released Tuesday by Mandiant, an American computer security firm, tracks for the first time individual members of the most sophisticated of the Chinese hacking groups — known to many of its victims in the United States as “Comment Crew” or “Shanghai Group” — to the doorstep of the military unit’s headquarters.
The big question: how useful could the things they’re gaining access to be?
While Comment Crew has drained terabytes of data from companies like Coca-Cola, increasingly its focus is on companies involved in the critical infrastructure of the United States — its electrical power grid, gas lines and waterworks.
Staff at Digital Bond, a small security firm that specializes in those industrial-control computers, said that last June Comment Crew unsuccessfully attacked it. A part-time employee at Digital Bond received an e-mail that appeared to come from his boss, Dale Peterson. The e-mail, in perfect English, discussed security weaknesses in critical infrastructure systems, and asked the employee to click a link to a document for more information. Mr. Peterson caught the e-mail and shared it with other researchers, who found the link contained a remote-access tool that would have given the attackers control over the employee’s computer and potentially given them a front-row seat to confidential information about Digital Bond’s clients, which include a major water project, a power plant and a mining company.
But the most troubling attack to date, security experts say, was a successful invasion of the Canadian arm of Telvent. The company, now owned by Schneider Electric, designs software that gives oil and gas pipeline companies and power grid operators remote access to valves, switches and security systems.
Telvent keeps detailed blueprints on more than half of all the oil and gas pipelines in North and South America, and has access to their systems. In September, Telvent Canada told customers that attackers had broken into its systems and taken project files. That access was immediately cut, so that the intruders could not take command of the systems.
Far too useful. Chris Sacca: “Make no mistake about it. Our nation is under attack.”
Mr. Obama alluded to this concern in the State of the Union speech, without mentioning China or any other nation. “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets,” he said. “Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air-traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing.”
Mr. Obama faces a vexing choice: In a sprawling, vital relationship with China, is it worth a major confrontation between the world’s largest and second largest economy over computer hacking?