Cybersecurity firm 360 and China's National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center detail in a new report the precise methods used to carry out an alleged attack by the U.S. National Security Agency.
China has accused a top American intelligence agency of obtaining user data from Chinese citizens and hacking the nation's communications network. Last week, an alleged American attack was initially reported by Chinese state media. Northwestern was supported by the National Security Agency of the Chinese government.
Based on the report, which was published in the state-backed People's Daily newspaper, the NSA started with a man-in-the-middle attack on Northwestern Polytechnical University. A hacker intercepts digital communication between two parties in this case. According to the article, the NSA was able to get access to the university's network and obtain the credentials of those who worked there, allowing the US agency to further breach the systems.
The news intensifies tensions between the United States and China in the cyber domain. For years, Beijing has accused Washington of conducting cyberattacks, but rarely exposes specific cases. China's new attitude is reflected in this new study.
The NSA was able to gain additional access to sensitive data while in the network, eventually remotely accessing the core data network of a telecommunications infrastructure operator, according to the report. According to the article, as part of the attack, the NSA was able to gain access to the data of persons in China with "sensitive identities" and send the information back to the agency's headquarters in the United States.
The Shadow Brokers, a group that was able to gain access to some of the NSA's methodologies and procedures, released a number of hacking tools online starting in 2016, 16 of which were identical to those that were employed.
According to the study, NSA hackers continued to launch attacks during U.S. business days and stopped on federal holidays like Memorial Day. The report also stated that the hackers' machines had English-language operating systems, they spoke American English, and they entered data using an American keyboard.
The United States, for its part, has charged China with extensive hacking activities. Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, claimed that China was attempting to steal American technology and knowledge. He stated in February that Chinese cyberattacks have been "more brazen, more damaging, than ever before."
Since a few years ago, there has also been an increase in competition between the two greatest economies in the world in industries like semiconductors and artificial intelligence.