Chinese Foreign Minister Geng Shuang held a press conference on Monday in which he accused the United States of being the world’s worst sponsor of cybercrimes.
The outburst came in response to the latest U.S. criminal court filings against Chinese cyber-espionage operations, notably including the massive Equifax hack of 2017.
As China has done incessantly over the past decade, Geng cited the information disclosed by rogue National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. He also cited a more recent story from the Washington Post and German public broadcast network ZDF about the CIA and West German intelligence secretly owning a Swiss company called Crypto AG that sold encryption devices to governments around the world.
According to CIA documents leaked by unidentified sources to the Washington Post, the CIA, NSA, and their West German partners secretly controlled Crypto AG for decades, installing back doors in its technology so they could monitor such ostensibly secure communications as the Iranian revolutionary government discussing the 1979 hostage crisis, Argentina’s military communications during the 1982 Falklands War, and Libyan officials celebrating the 1986 bombing of a disco in Berlin.
The CIA report called it “the intelligence coup of the century.” Although its relevance to secure communications began falling off in the 1990s, at its peak Crypto was handling about 40 percent of all diplomatic cables and other secure government transmissions worldwide, and the operation generated substantial monetary profits for the CIA and West Germany’s BND agency in addition to the intel windfall.
U.S. and German intelligence officials declined to comment on the Washington Post / ZDF report, although the Post noted they did not dispute the authenticity of the documents.
The Chinese foreign minister was not impressed by the roster of very bad people the CIA was allegedly able to monitor through its Crypto AG program, as reported by China’s state-run Xinhua news service:
Geng told an online press briefing that the U.S. government and relevant departments have conducted large-scale, organized and indiscriminate cyber theft, surveillance and espionage on foreign governments, businesses and individuals, which is “a fact already well-known to all.”
It is a tawdry trick that the United States, on the one hand, has been collecting nearly 5 billion mobile phone call records across the globe every day, spying over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone for more than 10 years, controlling more than 3 million computers in China every year, and implanting Trojan Horse in more than 3,600 websites in China, and on the other hand, enjoys playing victim of cyber attack, just like a thief crying “stop thief,” said Geng.
The U.S. hypocrisy on the issue of cybersecurity could not be clearer, the spokesman said, stressing that the U.S. has no honor and credibility to speak of in front of other countries.
“Facts have proven once again that as the largest state actor of spying in cyberspace, the U.S. is worthy of the name of the ’empire of hackers.’ The sky is the limit with the U.S. when it comes to spying,” said Geng.
Geng apparently did not mention the part of the Washington Post article that compared the Crypto AG operation to modern companies suspected of links to intelligence agencies, “including the Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky, a texting app tied to the United Arab Emirates and the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.”
Wired impishly turned that comparison around and speculated the U.S. government is worried about Chinese intelligence using Huawei technology for espionage because Crypto AG taught American intelligence officials just how damaging backdoors into encryption systems could be.
“Every organization should understand and accept that they can’t fully audit the encryption code on the devices they use to secure their data, and there’s a history of potential hardware tampering by government agencies around the world. So organizations need to choose equipment that, if backdoored, presents the least risk. Supply chain security is a bear,” former NSA analyst Jake Williams told Wired.
The BBC reported on Sunday that the Crypto story was a bombshell in Switzerland, since it shakes the country’s famed reputation for international neutrality.
“A federal judge is already on the case and politicians across the spectrum are calling for a parliamentary commission of inquiry,” the BBC said.