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How the Chinese Government Became the World’s Hacking Superpower

Behind China’s rise to become the most feared hacking power on the internet.
Image: tab62/Shutterstock

In January of 2010, Google made a shocking announcement: The Chinese government had broken into its systems to steal sensitive data.

This was the first time an American company had the guts to publicly stand up and point the finger at the government of China.

"We detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google," the company wrote in a boringly titled blog post.


Those were different times. Six years later, a mantra among cybersecurity experts is that there's only two types of companies: those that have been hacked by China, and those that don't know they've been hacked yet.

Countless companies have accused China of hacking them. A whole industry has benefitted from this, offering defensive tools and forensics investigations to potential and actual victims. The reason why China has become such a superpower when it comes about hacking is because it wants to be the world's biggest superpower, and the fastest way to get to the top is steal secrets from the current leader.

But the current leader, the United States, has also decided to stand up. In 2014, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of five hackers who work for the country's military. The officers have practically no chance of ever seeing an American courthouse, but it was a way to make what's still the loudest stand against Chinese corporate espionage. Then, a year later, US and China announced a ceasefire of hacking operations, at least those against corporations. It was the beginning of a new era.

But that didn't stop all Chinese hacks. The worst one to date, perhaps, was that on the Office of Personnel Management or OPM, which resulted in the loss of more than 21 million personal records of government workers. The US government never publicly blamed China, but many anonymous US officials did in interviews with journalists.

This week, as part of VICELAND documentary series CYBERWAR, VICE Canada reporter Ben Makuch talks to the US government and the world's foremost experts on Chinese hacking, trying to trace the rise of the hacking giant.

You can watch CYBERWAR's episode on Chinese hacking on VICELAND on Tuesday, at 10:30 PM ET. Meanwhile, read some of Motherboard's best articles about the Chinese hacking: