by Constantine von Hoffman

Why Did the Chinese Hack into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Dec 21, 20112 mins
CybercrimeData BreachSecurity

They spent a lot of money to get access to "trade-policy documents, meeting notes, trip reports and schedules." They probably could have gotten the same info by saying, "Please?"

The Wall Street Journal is breathlessly reporting that earlier this year Chinese hackers broke into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce computers “and gained access to everything stored on its systems.”

So? What exactly could examining the files of “America’s top business-lobbying group” get them? 

They now have detailed information on the group’s three million members, apparently. By detailed information I’m guessing this means email addresses, whether dues are paid and … what? It’s not like any of the members are entrusting the Chamber with trade secrets. Actually, what the hackers got was “the names of companies and key people in contact with the Chamber, as well as trade-policy documents, meeting notes, trip reports and schedules.” Not exactly info that’s going to alter the economic balance of power.

If there’s any interesting information to be had there, it’s in the emails and files detailing the relationship between lobbyists and politicians. 

What’s most interesting about all this is what it possibly implies about China’s cyber spying efforts.

This was not a small operation. It apparently involved at least 300 internet addresses and had a staff that was keeping regular business hours. From this, we could infer:

  1. China knows so little about how America works that it thought this was a good place to target.
  2. China is trying to improve its own lobbying efforts.
  3. China confused the Chamber with the Rotary and was really looking for how to run small lunch groups on a nation-wide scale.
  4. Worst case: China has already infiltrated all of our important networks and is now going after the unimportant ones, “just to be sure.”

The Chinese of course denied the allegations. An embassy spokesman said it “lacks proof and evidence and is irresponsible,” and added that the hacking issue shouldn’t be “politicized.” I’m pretty sure he has these lines memorized by now and could repeat them in his sleep in case of an emergency.