Security experts have warned multinationals with bases in Hong Kong that they are not immune to cyber attack from China despite the shared sovereignty between the Special Administrative Region (SAR)and its mainland parent.
The Chinese authorities have long been blamed for either officially sanctioning cyber espionage attacks on foreign public and private organisations or turning a blind eye to financially motivated or patriotic attacks on western companies and states launched from within the People’s Republic.
Some believe there is an unwritten agreement between the hacking community and the authorities that these activities can continue as long as no government organisations or firms operating in China are touched.
However, experts in the SAR have said multinationals appear to be fair game for Chinese hackers.
Roy Ko, centre manager of the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team (HKCERT) told The Reg that his team works closely with its Chinese counterpart to source the location of attacks on local firms.
“Hong Kong’s immunity depends on our capabilities to defend, not because we’re part of China,” he argued. “We have a good communications channel in place with the China CERT, so when the attacks have come from China we can seek their help and advice.”
Ian Christofis, an acting manager for Verizon in North Asia, recently told The Reg that multinationals on the mainland were worried about IP theft via malicious insiders and said Hong Kong firms were equally in the crosshairs.
“Hong Kong is just as much a target as anywhere else. Hong Kong firms should not be complacent,” he added.
Guido Crucq, GM of security solutions Asia Pacific for integrator Dimension Data, agreed.
"Cybercriminals are into hacking for the money, so we advised our clients that we can't let our guard down simply because we are doing business in a location which we consider as friendly territory," he said.
However, lawmaker Samson Tam, who is a legislative councillor for IT in the SAR, preferred to play up the threat to locally-based firms from outside of China.
“Most attacks come from smaller countries or areas with looser controls, so international police force co-operation is very important,” he told The Reg.
“Mainly they are financially-motivated attacks because we don’t have many political, cultural or religious tensions here.”
In any case, as has been proven in the past, it can be frustratingly difficult for experts to accurately trace back a cyber attack to source.
Given its large online population, China will naturally have a sizeable number of compromised machines which either home-grown or foreign hackers can use to launch attacks, said HK CERT's Ko. ®