In what might be termed the stifling of a really “inconvenient truth,” a talk on China's military cyber-attack capabilities has been removed the Black Hat security conference schedule following pressure from Taiwanese and Chinese agencies, according to a report by IDG News.
The talk, entitled "The Chinese Cyber Army: An Archaeological Study from 2001 to 2010," was billed as an analysis of China's government-backed hacking initiatives, based on intelligence gathered from a variety of Asian intelligence groups, says IDG. The talk was to be given by Wayne Huang, chief technology officer with Taiwanese security vendor Armorize, and Jack Yu, a researcher with the company.
The session description from the Black Hat program states:
Here we'll call this organization as how they've been properly known for the past eight years as the ‘Cyber Army,’ or ‘Wang Jun’ in Mandarin. This is a study of Cyber Army based on incidences, forensics, and investigation data since 2001. Using facts, we will reconstruct the face of Cyber Army, including who they are, where they are, who they target, what they want, what they do, their funding, objectives, organization, processes, active hours, tools, and techniques. Examples of incidences studies will include, for example, recent intrusions into United Nations and CSIS. Our data was collected over a long period of time, through intelligence trading, and through our involvement in helping Asian governments in their investigation efforts.
On the face of it, this sounds like a most informative session—one that exposes embarrassing facts that many would like to have suppressed. Certainly, we have seen news reports of high-ranking government officials, including U.S. senators, attributing acts of cyber-intrusion into U.S. systems to the governments of China and Russia. This presentation, however, seems to document this threat at a level not previously seen in our media, and certainly far beyond what government sources have revealed.
So I find myself asking what kind of “pressure” was applied to stop this information from being presented because “pressure” in this context borders dangerously on “extortion.” I can’t imagine that thugs visited Mr. Huang and threatened his family and business gangster-style. Then again, personal threats are easy to transmit in this age of e-mail and texting.
My hunch, however, is that the Chinese government—flush with cash from its newfound economic success—simply applied that influence where it would do the most good. I’m not saying that Mr. Huang or anyone else was bribed, but it would be easy for a large and powerful government to perhaps influence customers of the presenters’ company in a negative way. It doesn’t even have to be an outright threat; maybe all it would take is a subtle hint.
In any case, it is a shame that truth has once again been shackled by the force of raw power wielded by those who want to stay in power. For an insurance industry that is so eager to do business in China, this should be a huge red flag, because the character of those we do business with—more than anything else—is the key to profitable and honorable relationships.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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