The Washington Post reported last week that the Chinese government has quietly arrested a handful of hackers at the urging of the U.S. government, a move described as “an unprecedented step to defuse tensions with Washington at a time when the Obama administration has threatened economic sanctions.” While this a welcome and encouraging development, it is not the first time Beijing has arrested Chinese hackers in response to pressure from the U.S. government.
The action reported by The Post and other media outlets came shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Washington late last month. The hackers arrested had reportedly been identified by U.S. officials as having stolen commercial secrets from U.S. firms to be sold or passed along to Chinese state-run companies.
Although The Post has described this action as unprecedented, U.S. government cybercrime investigators have had success convincing Chinese authorities to take such actions in at least one other case previously.
In a report (PDF) presented to Congress on Feb. 29, 2012, the Office of Inspector General for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) noted that a lengthy investigation into the cyber theft of sensitive technical data from its systems culminated in the arrest of a Chinese national in China.
“As a result of an OIG investigation and lengthy international coordination efforts, a
Chinese national was detained in December 2010 by Chinese authorities for violations of
Chinese Administrative Law,” NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin told a House oversight committee. “This case resulted in the first confirmed detention of a Chinese national for hacking activity targeting U.S. Government agencies. Seven NASA systems, many containing export-restricted technical data, were compromised by the Chinese national.” Continue reading →