China has criticised a US intelligence report that named the country as the world’s “most active and persistent” culprit of cyber espionage.
A report by the US national counterintelligence executive on Thursday took the rare step of explicitly naming China and Russia as leading perpetrators of online spying.
But China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei dismissed the report in a regular news briefing in Beijing.
“Online attacks are notable for spanning national borders and being anonymous. Identifying the attackers without carrying out a comprehensive investigation and making inferences about the attackers is both unprofessional and irresponsible,” he said. “I hope the international community can abandon prejudice and work hard with China to maintain online security.”
The US government report to Congress, which examined industrial espionage over two years to 2011, said foreign intelligence services had stepped up attempts to steal economic and infrastructure information about US technology that cost millions of dollars to develop.
The report explicitly named “Chinese actors” as “the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage”. It said the intelligence community had traced an “onslaught” of attacks back to China, but could not confirm who was responsible.
It said Russia’s intelligence services were conducting a range of activities to collect sensitive economic information from US targets. The report warned that foreign criminals could get massive amounts of valuable data from computer networks with little risk of being detected.
The US counterintelligence body concluded that it faces “a growing and persistent threat” from foreign cyber criminals.
“We judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace,” the report said.
The grave warning comes just days after a draft report by the US-China economic and security review commission suggested China was responsible for attempts to interfere with US satellites.
William Hague on Wednesday refused to confront China over the growing number of cyber espionage claims facing the country. The foreign secretary told the Cyberspace conference in London that he was not “judgmental” and that the source of cyber attacks was “very difficult to verify”.
The US counterintelligence report said China and Russia see themselves as “strategic competitors” of the US and are the “most aggressive” collectors of US economic information and technology.
The report claimed Chinese intelligence circles frequently attempt to exploit people with family ties to China “who can use their insider access to corporate networks [in US private or public bodies] to steal trade secrets using removable media devices or email”.