China's next five-year plan offers preview of cybersecurity targets

Is your industry next in line to be targeted by China's government-sponsored hackers?

tiananmen beijing
Zhang Yu (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

Is your industry next in line to be targeted by China's government-sponsored hackers? To find out, look at China's latest five-year plan, suggests a global threat report released this morning.

The report covers attacks by nation states, cybercriminals and hacktivists.

"China is the biggest offender that we can see," said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at security vendor CrowdStrike, which produced the report.

The country is mostly focused on collecting intelligence that supports its economic system, according to the report.

"The last five-year plan was effectively a road-map of everything China was going to target," he said.

The next five-year plan was approved by the Communist Party in late October, with details expected to be released in March, but some general information about the plan is already available.

"They're focusing on getting Western technology out -- they don't trust it," said Meyers. "They want to use their own technology."

For example, there's interest in replacing popular social media networks, ride-sharing apps, and similar platforms with Chinese equivalents.

To accomplish this, they might look at how the Western companies set up the logistics for, say, the ride-sharing applications and target those specific processes.

"They have had a concept of leapfrogging for years," Meyers said. "They want to acquire information as quickly as possible and build the next iteration of it."

Similarly, the growing middle class is demanding more high-quality food, and there are agricultural technologies that China would like to be able to replicate, he said.

Other technologies of interest include clean energy, high-speed railways, electric cars, computer chips, and defense technologies and operations.

And it's not just the basic technology and processes that is a potential intellectual property target, Meyers added.

"If there's a Western company and a Chinese company negotiating with the same potential customer, they'll want competitive information so that they can get that deal," he said.

Chinese attackers may also be looking for the know-how it needs to restructure its own healthcare sector, and this may have contributed to the spike in healthcare breaches in 2015.

While millions of records were lost in some of these breaches, there were indications that the profit motive wasn't always the primary goal.

Instead, the breaches may have been part of an effort to better understand how other countries structure their healthcare systems.

Under the next five-year plan, the Chinese government has promised to provide basic universal healthcare for all its citizens by 2020.

"Targeting of the western healthcare sector may be as much about logistics and know-how for running national-level health insurance schemes as it is about siphoning data," said the CrowdStrike report.

However, this data could also be used to help build detailed profiles of federal employees, the report added, for intelligence purposes, and for creating better-targeted spear phishing campaigns.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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