Saturday, March 09, 2013

Manchurian Target

I like Chinese food a lot. I don't make a bad stir fry. And having been in Hong Kong before and after the Brits gave it back, I told people I thought that things were working out well. So why is the Chinese military after me?

I've come to that realization in light of a report from Mandiant, an American computer security firm. They have released a 60-page study that lays the blame for some seriously sophisticated international hacking squarely at the doorstep of the People's Liberation Army. According to their sleuthing, either the PLA is behind intrusions into a number of corporate systems, or one particular neighborhood in Shanghai has a lot of 17-year-old computer wizards with nothing better to do on date night.

If it were teenage tricksters, it's likely they would be using handles that were associated with the attacks, such as like Ugly Gorilla and Superhard. Yet after examining thousands of computer intrusions over the past 6 years, almost all have been tracked backward to that single geographical area. In what seems more than coincidence, Mandiant says that the neighborhood is also home to Unit 61398, a sort of Chinese military cyber "Mission: Impossible" team. And while they can't actually place the originating computers in the building there which is owned by the army, there's not a whole lot of other plausible explanations. "Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398," said Kevin Mandia, the founder and chief executive of Mandiant, "or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighborhood."

So how does this tie back to little old me? While the evidence is indeed circumstantial that I am being targeted by Ugly Gorilla and his ilk, consider the pieces of the puzzle. As one of several ways that I circulate these musings, I use social media platforms including Facebook and LinkedIn. I also use Twitter, through an automatically generated dispatch that contains a link to the online post of the column. As such, once a week a Tweet goes out to my legions of readers via this method (actually about two dozen, but it's growing, I swear).

A few weeks ago I got a note from a reader: check your account. Then another, and another (they're a small band, but a hearty one). Seems I, or someone posing as me, was sharing a great way to "lose body fat in just 2 weeks." Almost as I was looking at it myself, wondering if I was sleep-tweeting, another one went out, a variation on the same message, followed by a third. Now, while the topic of food and eating is regularly discussed in this space, the net result is usually gaining weight, not losing it. Ergo, it wasn't me, and my space had been hijacked. I quickly changed my password, and the intrusions stopped.

So let's summarize. A major nexus of hacking has been traced to the Chinese military. At the same time, my Twitter account was co-opted. What other possible conclusion is there, other than that General Zhang Yang, the director of the General Political Department, has added me to the enemies list of the People's Republic.

The big question is this: why? If the goal is to compromise national security, then target any number of governmental agencies. If it's to steal account numbers, a bank or financial house is a much richer source. Even If they want to just create mischief, why not go after a bigger user base, like Google or Yahoo or Microsoft? The only explanation I can come to is they see something in my small mailing list that I don't. Like good venture capitalists, they recognize me and my contacts not for what we are, but for what we can become. And they want in on the ground floor. As such, I suppose I shouldn't be upset by the hack, but honored: they see potential that even I don't see.

So to those of you in my Twitterverse, apologies for the intrusion, but get your house in order. We are destined for bigger things. It may not be tomorrow or next week, but the next time I ask you to melt off pounds, know that we are doing it for a higher calling. And let's make General Yang proud.


Marc Wollin of Bedford would love to return to China, assuming they let him in. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

No comments: