NSA warns Pentagon about Chinese government hackers

The Chinese foreign ministry says Beijing is the victim of cyberattacks, not the perpetrator

Chinese government hackers are targeting U.S. computer networks used in national defense, the National Security Agency said.

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In an advisory this week, the NSA warned the U.S. Department of Defense of potentially malicious action from Beijing, calling on the agency and its contractors to take preventive measures.

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“NSA is aware that national security systems, defense industrial base, and Department of Defense networks are consistently scanned, targeted, and exploited by Chinese state-sponsored cyber actors,” the organization said. “NSA recommends that critical system owners consider these actions a priority, in order to mitigate the loss of sensitive information that could impact U.S. policies, strategies, plans, and competitive advantage.”

President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. (AP)

Although American intelligence agencies were aware of the threat to cybersecurity -- as well as others -- it was the first time the NSA had confirmed they were the subjects of Chinese state-sponsored hacking, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, however, brushed aside the NSA report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the agency of engaging in the world's largest cyber-espionage efforts, "even targeting its own allies," and said America's record makes it easy to determine which nation is the perpetrator and which the victim.

"Lies repeated a thousand times are still lies," Lijian said in a news conference on Tuesday. "The United States, an 'empire of hacking,' should immediately stop the old trick of a thief crying, 'Stop the thief.'"

History undermines China's claims of innocence as the U.S. military has observed the country's theft of military secrets over the course of years.

The NSA's latest warning, in fact, includes technical details on 25 computer flaws that China is allegedly leveraging against computer networks using issues impacting Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Windows products.

According to Cyber Scoop, hackers are also exploiting bugs in password-protecting Pulse Secure virtual private networks and F5 Networks’ Big-IP Traffic Management User Interface.

According to FireEye research published in March, state-sponsored actors have targeted U.S. groups involved in manufacturing, energy, finance, healthcare, telecommunications and transportation.

“Since these are publicly known vulnerabilities, patches and mitigations have already existed for some time," NSA's Cybersecurity Directorate chief Anne Neuberger told Fox News.

"However, due to the continued exploitation by Chinese state-sponsored actors, we recommend that these common vulnerabilities and exposures be prioritized for action by all network defenders," she said.

The NSA's advisory also expanded on indictments brought against Chinese hackers attempting to steal intellectual property during the Trump administration.

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The agency recently caught the Russian government in similar efforts related to coronavirus vaccine research, and hackers from China, Iran, Russia and Syria have all acted to influence the outcome of November's presidential election.