BEIJINGâ€”The latest WikiLeaks trove hands fresh ammunition to Chinaâ€™s cyberspace hawks, already pushing to reduce dependence on foreign products that could be vulnerable to espionage, observers say.
â€œThe level of alarm in China will certainly increase, and with it a renewed determination to clamp down still further on U.S. technology companiesâ€™ operations in China,â€ said Peter Fuhrman, chairman of Shenzhen-based advisory firm China First Capital, which follows Chinaâ€™s tech sector.
The documents released this weekâ€”more than 8,000 pages in allâ€”purport to show how the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency breaks into computers, smartphones, TVs and other electronics for surveillance. Many documents deal with leading non-Chinese brands like Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., though there is some coverage of Chinese products, including routers from Huawei Technologies Inc. and Baidu Inc.â€™s search engine.
The Chinese-product references are relatively sparseâ€”and, in some cases, obscure. An undated list of CIA internal hacking demonstrations, for example, includes the â€œPanda Poke-Huawei credless exploitâ€â€”which one cybersecurity specialist says may be a method for taking advantage of vulnerabilities without logins or other â€œcredentials.â€ There is also the â€œHuawei VOIP Collection,â€ a reference to â€œvoice over internet Protocol,â€ making phone calls over the internet.
The document doesn’t say whether these methods were used for intelligence gathering. Huawei declined to comment.
A file titled â€œSmall Routers Research-work in progressâ€ lists router models from Huawei and ZTE Corp. It also mentions Chinaâ€™s three state-owned telecom companies and Baiduâ€™s search engine, without further details.
The telecom companies and Baidu declined to comment.
The leak also offered what seem to be workaday notes among colleagues, including one CIA workerâ€™s complaint about one piece of softwareâ€™s default-language setting. â€œI donâ€™t speak Chinese,â€ he griped.
WikiLeaksâ€™ website is blocked in China, but Chinese state-run media reported the document leak, focusing on U.S. companies. Overall response has been muted, possibly because the official spotlight this week is on Beijingâ€™s annual legislative gathering.
Cybersecurity experts say China maintains its own robust cyberhacking apparatus, though Beijing characterizes itself as purely a hacking victim, not a perpetrator.
â€œChina is opposed to any form of cyberattack,â€ foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday. â€œWe urge the U.S. side to stop its wiretapping, surveillance, espionage and cyberattacks on China and other countries. China will firmly safeguard its own cybersecurity.â€
In recent years, China has seized on leaks about U.S. surveillance to fan public support for its domestic tech products. U.S. tech brands felt a chill after former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed NSA surveillance methods in 2013.
â€œIt is like snow on more snow,â€ one China executive of a U.S. technology company said of the potential sales impact of the latest leaks.
These leaks could help countries counter CIA tapping and develop their own capabilities, said Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of U.K. spy agency MI6.
â€œChina, Russia et al will now both be better attuned to the risks posed by these capabilities,â€ he said, â€œand will no doubt seek to use them themselves.â€