According to an online security firm, China waged an extended cyber war against Israeli private businesses and government entities in 2019 and 2020.
In a hacking campaign that lasted more than two years, hackers linked to the Chinese Ministry of State Security targeted Israeli shipping, defense, and tech companies, as well as government servers, according to FireEye, an international cybersecurity firm. The attacks targeted a flaw in SharePoint, a Microsoft collaboration platform widely used in the national security sector.
The cyberattacks are China’s most recent against another country, but they are the first of this magnitude against Israel. According to Sanaz Yashar, a FireEye investigator, the Chinese wanted to obtain communications files in order to advance their “Belt and Road Initiative,” a global infrastructure project that will allow China to sell its goods globally. As a major node in the project, China invested in Israel.
“In the Chinese view, it’s legitimate to attack a company while negotiating with it, so they will know how to price the deal properly,” Yashar said. “There are a lot of Israeli companies that are involved in the very fields at the core of Chinese interests, as reflected in their five-year plans.”
The Chinese embassy in Israel denied responsibility for the attacks, instead saying China is one of the world’s largest victims of cybercrime.
“The FireEye report’s baseless accusations against China on cybersecurity issues are defamation for political purposes,” a statement from the embassy reads. “China is a staunch upholder of cybersecurity. It has always firmly opposed and combated cyber attacks launched within its border or with its network infrastructure.”
The attacks demonstrate China’s growing cyber-aggression and the risk of a deterioration in relations between the two countries. In July, US officials confirmed a massive hack of thousands of Microsoft servers, backed by Beijing, though the Biden administration refused to sanction any of the parties involved.
Israel has increasingly faced anti-Semitic rhetoric from China, despite having better relations with Beijing than most Western countries. Chinese embassies in May 2020 and April 2021 displayed a political cartoon depicting a grim reaper wearing the US flag while wielding a bloody scythe and carrying Israel’s flag.