A forthcoming book co-authored by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will label China as “the most sophisticated and prolific” hacker of foreign companies as part of its national economic policy, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Coming at the end of a week of unprecedented stories on China’s hacking of US newspapers, the timing of the leaked pre-publication extracts look like a piece of clever marketing opportunism.
Written with Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age identifies China as a country that has sought to use the power of the digital era in a negative way, especially in its interactions with current world superpower, the US.
“The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States as a distinct disadvantage,” the book will reportedly argue.
“The United States will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage, as its laws are much stricter (and better enforced) and because illicit competition violates the American sense of fair play,” the authors believe.
“This is a difference in values as much as a legal one.”
The warning is timely. Last week the New York Times decided to publish the accusation that agencies close to the Chinese military broke into its network with the aim of monitoring the emails of dozens of its journalists during the last fourth months of 2012.
By the end of the week The Wall Street Journal had joined the chorus, alleging similar activities against its systems with other rival newspapers also rumoured to have been targets.
The New Digital Age will also allude to the cyberwarfare attacks - Stuxnet for instance - carried out by the US itself on its enemies.
The trail doesn’t mention what Schmidt thinks of these but it’s hard to escape the general impression that these remain focused on conducting old-style digital war for political rather than economic gain.
Further out, China itself could still come unstuck as it is undermined from within by its own, newly empowered people.
“This mix of active citizens armed with technological devices and tight government control is exceptionally volatile,” Schmidt and Cohen will say.
Google itself kicked off the age of unembarrassed openness about state-sponsored hacking by pointing the finger at China over attacks on the company's Gmail system in 2010.