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China finally admits it has special cyber warfare units — and a lot of them.

From years China has been suspected by U.S. and many other countries for carrying out several high-profile cyber attacks, but every time the country strongly denied the claims. However, for the first time the country has admitted that it does have cyber warfare divisions – several of them, in fact.

In the latest updated edition of a PLA publication called The Science of Military Strategy, China finally broke its silence and openly talked about its digital spying and network attack capabilities and clearly stated that it has specialized units devoted to wage war on computer networks.

An expert on Chinese military strategy at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, Joe McReynolds told TDB that this is the first time when China has explicit acknowledged that it has secretive cyber-warfare units, on both the military as well as civilian-government sides.

According to McReynolds, China has three types of operational military units:

  • Specialized military forces to fight the network — The unit designed to carry out defensive and offensive network attacks.
  • Groups of experts from civil society organizations — The unit has number of specialists from civilian organizations – including the Ministry of State Security (its like China’s CIA), and the Ministry of Public Security (its like FBI) – who are authorized to conduct military leadership network operations.
  • External entities — The unit sounds a lot like hacking-for-hire mercenaries and contains non-government entities (state-sponsored hackers) that can be organized and mobilized for network warfare operations.

According to experts, all the above units are utilized in civil cyber operations, including industrial espionage against US private companies to steal their secrets.

It means that the Chinese have discarded their fig leaf of quasi-plausible deniability,” McReynolds said. “As recently as 2013, official PLA [People’s Liberation Army] publications have issued blanket denials such as, ‘The Chinese military has never supported any hacker attack or hacking activities.’ They can’t make that claim anymore.

In 2013, American private security firm Mandiant published a 60-page report that detailed about the notorious Chinese hacking group ‘Unit 61398’, suspected of waging cyber warfare against American companies, organizations and government agencies from or near a 12-story building on the outskirts of Shanghai.

The UNIT 61398 also targeted a number of government agencies and companies whose databases contain vast and detailed information about critical United States infrastructure, including pipelines, transmission lines and power generation facilities.

Last year, the United States filed criminal charges against five Chinese military officials, named Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui, for hacking and conducting cyber espionage against several American companies.

The alleged hackers were said to have worked with the PLA’s Unit 61398 in Shanghai. Among spying on U.S companies and stealing trade secrets, they had also accused for stealing information about a nuclear power plant design and a solar panel company’s cost and pricing data.