Wendell Minnick

A new report from the US details the efforts of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to spy online, writes defense specialist Wendell Minnick in Defense News. The Chinese army might be addressing unauthorized cyber attacks, but the focus is still unclear.

Wendell Minnick:

The report, “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Signal Intelligence and Cyber Reconnaissance Infrastructure,” by Mark Stokes and Jenny Lin of the Project 2049 Institute, Arlington, Va., provides the first overview of the PLA General Staff Department’s Third Department, China’s premier cryptologic service responsible for signals and cyber intelligence collection.

The Third Department is comparable to the U.S. National Security Agency and appears to be diversifying its traditional SIGINT mission to include cyber surveillance, also known as computer network exploitation (CNE), the report said.

The Third Department’s Seventh Bureau (61580 Unit) is responsible for CNE. Headquartered in Beijing, the bureau’s engineers specialize in computer network defense and attack, and have conducted joint studies with the PLA Information Engineering Academy Computer Network Attack and Defense Section. The bureau has been known to conduct research outlining U.S. network-centric warfare and dense wavelength-division multiplexing.

CNE also is conducted by the Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus (TRB), Stokes said: “A senior engineer from the Hainan office was granted awards for network-related work, including possible surveillance of Voice over Internet Protocol.”…

China could be cracking down on its own cyber warfare activities. Lt. Gen. Wu Guohua, who directed the Third Department from 2005 to 2010, allegedly was transferred out due to unauthorized cyber attacks.

“If true, it appears that senior civilian leaders could have some understanding of the political damage caused by overt, hostile network penetration,” Stokes said.

Another possible reason for the dismissal could be that the Third Department overstepped its area of responsibility

The Chengdu Military Region‘s 1st Technical Reconnaissance Bureau also may be involved in cyber surveillance.

The degree of control that the Third Department exercises over the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau bureaucracies of the country’s seven military regions is unknown, but Third Department’s resources dedicated to high-performance computing and its large arsenal of skilled linguists could comprise China’s cryptologic “A-Team.”

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