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Deaf, dumb and blind

By B.Khash-Erdene

Earlier this month, several online news outlets reported that Chinese hacker groups, allegedly state sponsored, launched attacks on Mongolian businesses and government to learn as much as it can about Mongolia’s relations with the European Union and countries such as the United States, South Korea and Japan. The campaign targets not only entities from Mongolia, but also ones that have economic, diplomatic or military relations with the country.

“The ThreatConnect Intelligence Research Team (TCIRT) has identified a weaponized Microsoft Word document that contains a Concept Development Conference (CDC) announcement for the joint US and Mongolia military exercise called Khaan Quest 2014.  Retrospective TCIRT research identified additional decoy documents, written in Mongolian, themed around events like the Mongolian presidential election, held in June 2013. This activity represents Chinese Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) activity against Mongolian entities and others that have economic, military, or diplomatic relations with Mongolia.  Mongolia’s attempt to steer a more independent path by reaching out to what it calls “third neighbors,” such as the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, is possibly prompting China to conduct CNE. ,” explained the cyber intelligence agency.

The cyber offensive tactics which are very similar to those long applied against Tibetan and ‪Uyghur nationalists and affiliated groups according to TCIRT. The targeted attacks “would help China maintain awareness of changes in Mongolian relations with the US and other Western influences and protect their national interests in Mongolia.”

Although it is wedged between two great nations Russia and China, Mongolia is attempting to secure its independence by reaching out to what it calls “third neighbours’,” such as the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union. TCIRT said Mongolia hopes that engagements such as joining Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will alter the dynamics of the region, so that it will move from being bound by Russia-China geopolitics to becoming a fully independent member of the region and international society. A strategic pivot westward by Mongolia only diminishes Chinese influence.

China has been the largest investor in Mongolia since 1998 and its largest trading partner since 1999. In 2009, the bilateral trade figure stood at 2.4 billion USD with China importing 1.3 billion USD worth of commodities, which accounted for more than 70 percent of Mongolian exports. According to official Mongolian statistics, China invested a total of 2.3 billion USD dollars in 2009, more than 60 percent of the total foreign investment in Mongolia.

In its conclusion, the TCIRT stated, “This activity represents Chinese Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) activity against organizations that China perceives to be jeopardizing its interests in Mongolia. As evidenced in the weaponized Khaan Quest document described above, Chinese APT groups will likely continue targeting US military entities involved in cooperation activities with the Mongolian military. Also, western European and other governments that engage with Mongolia diplomatically will be considered CNE targets as well. China’s heavy economic investment in Mongolian natural resources will likely continue to fuel cyber espionage efforts against commercial entities, particularly mining and energy exploration companies that may compete with Chinese mining and energy companies in Mongolia.”

China has many interests in Mongolia, but like most of its neighbours’, anti-Chinese sentiment and tendencies can be observed in Mongolia to some degree. Although it is natural to seek security for one’s interest in a population that is not entirely accepting of them, the cyber-attacks on Mongolia only further fuels local anti-Chinese sentiments, fear and distrust. The move, if indeed sponsored by the Chinese government would undermine the two country’s relations. Chinese companies are disliked by Mongolian communities and locals, because they usually bring their own workers, and contributes little to decrease local unemployment. Add to that a long history of war and conflict between the nations and indoctrination of local heroes fighting against villains, who are so often from China, and you have a culture that is sceptical and fearful of China.

But there are other issues present in the matter. Although a serious breach of national security or cyber security has occurred the Ministry of Defence has not mentioned the affair once, and local news and media outlets haven’t reported on the matter. Such follies cannot be ignored, for the sake of the nation’s interest, security and independence. At least an investigation into the matter should be conducted by Mongolian authorities.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=6553

Posted by on Oct 29 2013. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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