China’s spy balloon is just one way the country is gathering intelligence through espionage, and it’s not their greatest asset in their efforts. According to NBC News, China has been gathering “far more” information by hacking into computer systems in America and around the world. The annual global threat report from CrowdStrike shows that there are “China-linked cyber espionage groups targeting 39 industries on nearly every continent.”
James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said hacking “remains the chief Chinese espionage activity,” noting that any information gathered from the balloon doesn’t compare to what they retrieve through computer hacking.
While hacking used to be a “smash and grab” operation, the Chinese have now been using credentials and passwords to get into the systems they want to hack, not revealing any “malware” activity. The credentials are usually obtained when users click on links or open emails that steal passwords.
The CrowdStrike report says that “about a quarter of the hacking was aimed at North America, while most of it targeted China’s Asian neighbors…The techniques China used have become increasingly sophisticated as cybersecurity has improved.” The report also warns of increasing “ransomware gangs” that “continue to operate at a phenomenal rate.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee that China has the largest hacking program, and is the culprit for stealing the personal and business data of more Americans.
Thus, while Americans feared the capabilities of the Chinese spy balloons, more worrisome is the intelligence they are gathering on military operations and pharmaceuticals in America through cyber espionage.