A few weeks ago it was reported that significant hacking activity had been traced to a particular building in Shanghai, and to the obscure unit of the Chinese military that occupies it. Most news accounts stressed that long-standing suspicions of Chinese official cyber assault had now been confirmed. At about the same time it was reported that the National Security Agency (NSA), which is responsible for electronic intelligence (and its cousin, the integrity of U.S. electronic systems) was to assist major U.S. companies under electronic attack by foreign entities. That was a dramatic departure from previous NSA practice. The agency is famous not only for its enormous resources, but also for its abhorrence of all publicity, to the extent that wags sometimes say that its initials stand for “No Such Agency.” The combination of the identification of the Chinese hackers and NSA assistance seem to be the public face of a new national cyber-defense strategy.
The Chinese story suggests that what had been considered impossible was now reality: computers used for cyber attack are no longer anonymous, at least when the NSA or some similarly powerful entity wants to hunt them down. For some time there have been news reports to the effect that some cyber activity has been traced to a particular geographical area. The recent report suggests even more specific localization. This development seems to be far more important than the seismic shift in the NSA’s behavior.