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Tsinghua University students linked to cyber espionage

A recent report released by Recorded Future, a cyber security firm, has revealed connections between hackers associated with China’s top engineering institution, Tsinghua University.

The report noted that targets such as various institutions and groups – including a Tibetan community in India and German carmaker Daimler – were sourced from a Tsinghua University IP address.

Between 6 April and 24 June this year, Recorded Future detected over 1 million internet connections between the Tsinghua group and several organisations all linked to Alaska, including the Department of Natural Resources, telecoms firm TelAlaska, and the state government.

The timing of these online endeavours coincided with a trade mission with China, lead by Alaska’s governor Bill Walker, to discuss the possibility of building a natural gas pipeline between the two countries.

Following the results, Recorded Future stated: “The spike in scanning activity at the conclusion of trade discussions on related topics indicates that the activity was likely an attempt to gain insight into the Alaskan perspective on the trip and strategic advantage in the post-visit negotiations.”

Recorded Future concluded that the espionage undertaken received state backing, to induce China’s economic development goals

The report also found that the Tsinghua hackers had spied on other government and commercial organisations partnered with China for the “Belt and Road Initiative”, a project investing in the infrastructure of countries throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

Recorded Future concluded that the espionage undertaken received state backing, to induce “China’s economic development goals”.

In 2011, US intelligence reported that Tsinghua’s Institute of Information Systems and Engineering was involved in the Chinese government’s 863 and 973 programs. The former “[provided] funding and guidance for efforts to clandestinely acquire U.S. technology and sensitive economic information”, and the latter was launched for technological and strategic development in various scientific fields.

Commenting on these programs, Recorded Future said: “Both programs have had the effect of making it easier for China to steal intellectual property in order to achieve program goals.”

Furthermore, the university’s subsidiary companies, including Tsinghua Holdings, has attempted investment deals with US firms, in order to obtain key technology to develop domestically.

In September 2017, on national security grounds, US President Donald Trump shut down Tsinghua Holdings from acquiring Lattice Semiconductor Corp., one of the world’s best manufacturers for high-performance military-grade semiconductor chips.

US security firms have collectively agreed that Chinese cyber espionage against the US is increasing, fuelling Washington’s fears that Beijing is stealing technology from US companies.

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