Chinese media teases imminent exposé of seismic US spying scheme
Again labels America a hacker empire over alleged backdoors found in earthquake monitoring kit
China's Global Times, a state-controlled media outlet, has teased an imminent exposé of alleged US attacks on seismic data measurement stations.
The outlet first raised the issue on July 26, when it reported the Wuhan Municipal Emergency Management Bureau had issued a statement revealing that some of its earthquake monitoring equipment had been attacked by a foreign power. That report appears to reference posts like this one on Chinese social media, dated July 25.
The first report named the US as the source of the attack, and referenced the following remarks by foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning:
The statements from China are objective and professional. They simply stated a fact. This is inherently different from the accusation and smear against China from the US. The US government is engaged in malicious cyber operations against not just China but countries around the world, while blaming China for so-called "hacking attacks." This is textbook double standards and political manipulation.
The Global Times' latest report states that analysis of the attack found "very complex backdoor malware in the victim's network, fitting the characteristics of US intelligence agencies, highly concealed, and aiming to steal earthquake monitoring-related data, with a clear military reconnaissance purpose."
The report quotes Xiao Xinguang, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – and also the chief software architect of leading anti-virus company Antiy Labs – as saying "The comprehensive vibration and sound wave data collected by these sensors, especially infrasound data, have significant intelligence value for judging geological terrain, analyzing weapons system tests, and nuclear tests."
Which is true. A practice called "forensic seismology" has been used for decades to detect nuclear weapons tests from afar, while studies of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine have found a denser network of local sensors could "identify individual attacks in close to real time, providing an unprecedented view of an active conflict zone."
A related discipline called "Measurement and Signature Intelligence" (MASINT) uses geophysical sensors to gather intelligence, and the US operates a National Geospatial Intelligence Agency that uses the technique.
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The report restates China's position that the US is a "hacker empire" – a term used in May 2023 when the National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center of China and local infosec outfit 360 Total Security published the first volume of a work dedicated to detailing the extent of US infosec operations.
That document, and the Monday report in the Global Times, reference past reports of US hacking activities uncovered by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden.
China now appears set to add its own account of US activities to the public record.
The Register awaits its allegations with interest. We're often offered details of how China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran go about their cyber business, but learning a little about US tradecraft may be illuminating. Or it could just be more propaganda – a technique all actors understand how to employ. ®