China-Based Cyber Attacks Rise at Meteoric Pace

The director of malware research at Dell SecureWorks in front of large wall mounted monitors in his office in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Photographer: Stephen Morton/Bloomberg

In describing the destructive effects of an Internet attack, a Chinese general this week compared it to a nuclear bomb . If that's the case, his country has been firing off a record number of online missiles.

China accounted for 41 percent of the world's computer-attack traffic in the fourth quarter of last year, according to a report from Akamai Technologies expected to be published later today. The U.S. was a distant second with 10 percent.

The research comes as ties between the U.S. and China are already strained over cybersecurity, which grows in importance as more companies and public infrastructure, including power plants and water supplies, go online. This data won't help.

The Chinese government has long disputed international news reports that linked major hacking attacks to its country. Earlier this week, Fang Fenghui, chairman of the People's Liberation Army General Staff, met with U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey to say China opposes cyber attacks and wants to protect peace in cyberspace.

They have their work cut out for them. The latest percentage of cyber-attack traffic originating in China is more than three times the number from a year ago and is up from 33 percent in the previous quarter , according to Akamai. The research comes after Bloomberg Businessweek reported in February that the PLA is linked to some attacks coming from the region.

Verizon Communications said in a separate report that China accounted for 96 percent of all global espionage cases it investigated. China's hacking attacks overwhelmingly targeted intellectual property and state secrets.

Financial crimes, such as the theft of credit-card information, are most likely to come from the U.S. or Eastern Europe -- particularly Romania, Bulgaria and Russia, according to the report. The study included data from Verizon and more than a dozen law-enforcement agencies from around the world.

To see Akamai's list of the top 10 countries for hacker-attack traffic , check out the slideshow. David Belson, who edited the report, points out that some traffic included in the data may come from computers infected by a hacker in another country.

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