By Louis Charbonneau, Reuters
BERLIN — The Chinese state is behind almost daily Internet espionage attacks on German companies and government bodies, a top German intelligence official said on Monday.
“In our view, state Chinese interests stand behind these digital attacks,” said Hans Elmar Remberg, vice president of the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the country’s domestic intelligence agency.
“Supporting this view is the intensity, structure and scope of the attacks, and above all the targets, which include (German) authorities and companies,” he told a conference on industrial espionage in Berlin.
In August German media reported that computer hackers believed to be linked to the Chinese army had infected German government ministries with spying programs. Beijing denied the allegation and said all “hacking” behavior was prohibited.
“Some people call this the Chinese cyber war,” Remberg said, adding that a new concept for protection against such cyber attacks was needed.
He added it was important to differentiate between legitimate attempts to gather information on competitors by Chinese companies and state-led industrial espionage.
Driving China’s interest in industrial and government secrets is its desire to become a top global economic power, he said. To catch up with the West, China needed “a massive transfer of high technology”.
“Across the world the People’s Republic of China is intensively gathering political, military, corporate-strategic and scientific information in order to bridge their technological gaps as quickly as possible,” Remberg said.
The attacks often rely on “Trojan horse” email programs or the hacking of Web sites, he said.
The attacks on German ministries and authorities had an “astonishing intensity” and the perpetrators appeared unconcerned that the attacks were being discovered.
“Every one or two days new attacks are detected,” he said.
China is also using classic espionage methods.
“The diplomatic representative offices and Chinese media agencies in Germany enable the hidden deployment of intelligence agents,” Remberg said.
Firms in joint ventures with Chinese firms were also at risk, he added.
China was not the only country engaged in such espionage.
“Russian intelligence agencies are making great efforts in Germany to get important information in the military fields, politics, economy and science, using both open and conspiratorial methods,” Remberg said.
He added that other countries had sent intelligence agents to Germany to procure “dual-use” machinery and know-how for illegal weapons technology, including nuclear technology.
Remberg named Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria as countries seeking to procure technology with dual civilian and military uses.