Jun 14, 2013

    US hacked China and HK 'since 2009'

    FRESH revelations by former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden have raised concerns that the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) may have hacked into Hong Kong's key Internet exchange, which handles nearly all the territory's domestic Web traffic.

    In an interview with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper that was published yesterday, Mr Snowden said the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and China since 2009.

    Among the institutions hacked, he said, was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which houses the Hong Kong Internet Exchange.

    Mr Snowden did not mention the exchange, but his comments have raised concerns that it may have been one of the NSA's targets.

    The Hong Kong Internet Exchange is one of dozens of Internet Exchange Points around the globe handling domestic traffic between local service providers and some regional traffic.

    The university said in a statement that it closely monitored the exchange and had not detected any form of hacking to the network.

    Some security experts said that gaining undetected and continuous access to the exchange and placing eavesdropping software or hardware would be hard.

    After talking to administrators at the exchange, Mr Charles Mok, a Legislative Council member and IT specialist, said that any large-scale eavesdropping would have been noticed.

    "Certainly, they haven't noticed anything," he said. "If it's very advanced, fine, but they can't be copying everything over. It would have been noticed and targeted."

    Mr Snowden's allegations have, until now, largely focused on the extent to which the NSA was eavesdropping on US citizens.

    His most recent comments about China and Hong Kong - where he is believed to be in hiding - draw attention to NSA's role in conducting surveillance of foreign territories.

    He was quoted as saying he believed that the NSA had conducted more than 61,000 hacking operations globally.

    The Post quoted him as saying: "We hack network backbones - like huge Internet routers, basically - that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one."

    The Post interview, which is believed to have been conducted at Mr Snowden's behest, bore the marks of a canny step to win sympathy in Hong Hong.

    Mr Chow Chung Yan, the paper's news editor, said: "He talked about coming to Hong Kong not to hide, but to reveal information, so I think he really wanted to reach out to the public and that is probably why he chose us."

    At least 14 Hong Kong civic groups are planning a protest against any US efforts to extradite Mr Snowden.

    But Hong Kong has an extradition agreement with the US, and he may have breached the city's laws if he had been passing on secrets since his arrival, according to Dr Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.