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State-Sponsored Cyberattacks Are On The Rise

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Is this another case of “seek and ye shall find” or have U.S. foes actually been increasingly resorting to cyberwars when they feel threatened by the world’s only superpower? For years, Russia has been seen as the leader of politically-instigated cyberwars against the U.S., frequently using them as tools to gain leverage and force the country to the negotiating table.

Well, it’s probably not a coincidence that China and Iran, two nations whose relations with the U.S. have recently taken a turn for the worse, having escalated cyberattacks against the country with China even overtaking Russia as the biggest source of state-sponsored cyberattacks.

There has been a surge of attacks on businesses and government agencies in the United States from Chinese and Iranian hackers, with experts fearing that America’s trade conflict with China and Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year could be at the epicenter of the unfolding drama.

State-sponsored attacks

And, evidence suggests that these are not the work of isolated felons but rather are state-sponsored hacks that the two governments could be using for political expediency.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against seven Iranians for conducting Distributed Denial of Service(DDoS) attacks against US banks.

This is not the first time that Iranian citizens have been indicted for cyberattacks on US businesses, with an eerily similar case having happened nearly three years ago. Iran faced its first sanctions by the US four decades ago after a group of radicals seized the American embassy in Tehran and has faced several more down the line.

But according to the New York Times, recent attacks have been more extensive than previously reported though actual details have not been divulged. The attacks have been attributed to the country by the National Security Agency (NSA) and FireEye Inc. (NASDAQ: FEYE), a publicly-traded security firm, during last month’s government shutdown. Related: Amazon Paid Zero Corporate Tax For Second Year In A Row

According to intelligence officials, the Iranian attacks coincided with renewed Chinese offensive aimed at stealing trade and military secrets from American tech and military contractors.

In December, two Chinese hackers were indicted by the DoJ for a decade-long global state-sponsored hacking campaign that saw trade secrets stolen from at least 45 US tech companies including icons such as IBM, Hewlett Packard and NASA. Even Chinese smartphone giant , Huawei Technologies Co., has not been spared with the country pressing charges against, and demanding the extradition of, the company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, for stealing trade secrets from mobile operator T-Mobile USA Inc.

Same old…

Now we’re moving backwards. China’s prolific attacks on the U.S. have resumed after a brief hiatus--all thanks to the ongoing trade hostilities between the two nations. After many years of economically-motivated cyberattacks on U.S. businesses, presidents Obama and Xi Jinping managed to reach a landmark agreement in 2015 that was meant to put a stop on Chinese industrial-espionage:

"We've agreed that neither the US or the Chinese government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information for commercial advantage," Obama enthused. Related: Markets Inch Lower As Investors Remain Cautious

It came as a pleasant surprise that China did stick to its end of the deal. According to a 2016 report by FireEye, the number of attacks originating from China fell 83 percent after the deal, another strong confirmation that a large chunk of attacks coming from the country are state-sponsored. Unfortunately, the ceasefire was only to be short-lived. Quite tellingly, the latest wave of attacks by Beijing are closely aligned to the country’s ambitious “Made in China 2025” initiative that aims to make Beijing shift from the world’s factory floor to higher value products and services.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the two nations will address the highly contentious problem of intellectual property theft in the just-resumed trade talks. But so far it appears quite clear that new aggressive policies are creating a cyberattack revival.

By Alex Kimani for Safehaven.com

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