Mandiant’s big report on Chinese hacking offers a fascinating look at one of the most secretive arms of the Chinese military.
The hacker military arm falls within China’s Signals Intelligence, or “SigInt,” and Computer Network Operations (CNO) division of the People’s Liberation Army 3rd Department, 2nd Bureau. The unit resides and operates inside a 130,663 sq. ft. campus-like facility, and contains possibly “thousands” of people, to include self-contained support elements.
China selects their CNO operators according to two general proficiencies: working knowledge of the English language, to include use of “slang,” and expert comprehensive knowledge in one of five known “areas of expertise.”
- Covert Communications
- English Linguistics
- Operating System Internals
- Digital Network Processing
- Network Security
Mandiant reports that the espionage unit recruits from “Science and Engineering departments of universities such as Harbin Institute of Technology and Zhejiang University School of Computer Science and Technology.”
From the report:
Given the volume, duration and type of attack activity we have observed, APT1 operators would need to be directly supported by linguists, open source researchers, malware authors, industry experts who translate task requests from requestors to the operators, and people who then transmit stolen information to the requestors.
APT1 would also need a sizable IT staff dedicated to acquiring and maintaining computer equipment, people who handle finances, facility management, and logistics (e.g., shipping).
Not only is every need of the unit anticipated — to include even a kindergarten — but China’s leading fiber optics company China-Telecom has provided the unit with cutting edge infrastructure and maintenance in support of operations.
Finally, scariest of all: American universities may serve as a pipeline for espionage on American companies. Chinese foreign enrollment exploded, doubling from 2007 numbers, to approximately 130,000 in 2011/12 academic year.
Not only is citizenship in the U.S. notoriously difficult to attain, but the current job market has seen better days, leading many English and IT-proficient graduates to seek work in China, possibly with Unit 61398.