It appears that Chinese TV inadvertently disclosed custom-built software in the act of attacking Falun Gong websites. In a story that originally broke on Falun Gong media outlets but has since been corroborated by others, background footage from a government-run channel’s documentary “showed a piece of custom-built Chinese software actually launching a cyberattack against a U.S. target.” According to Security News Daily,
The clip shows a Chinese-language dialogue box with two drop-down menus, which, according to The Epoch Times, give users the option of selecting which IP addresses or specific websites to attack, followed by a button labeled, “Attack.”
The text above atop the software tool translates to “Select Attack Destinations,” and is credited to the Information Engineering University of China’s People’s Liberation Army.
In the video, which can be seen in its entirety here, the perpetrators apparently use or spoof an IP address belonging to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to attack Minghui.org, the main website of the Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice banned in its homeland.
(The University later offered this statement: “It is impossible to tell how old the archival footage used in the military technology program is. UAB decommissioned the website in question in 2001. It appears from the Chinese video that the purpose was not to launch an attack from that website, but to block access to it. We are not aware of any attack, current or historical, involving that IP address.” )
What gives? Are the Chinese dumb enough or insouciant enough to disclose on national TV a cyberattack program so well established that it has its own purpose-built software? Ordinarily, we’d be left with no answers beyond this rather unsatisfying news story. But the involvement of an American IP address almost certainly gives US prosecutors authority to investigate the incident as a possible violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And right now, the website of the US Attorney in the Northern District of Alabama is highlighting such achievements as “Federal Judge Sentences Hueytown Tax Preparer To 2 ½ Years In Prison.”
I’m guessing that, compared to policing Hueytown tax preparers, going after Chinese cyberattacks might look pretty good to federal investigators in Birmingham. So perhaps someday we’ll get more definitive answers about that 6-second clip.