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February 14, 2012

Hackers Had Nortel Cracked Wide Open for 10 Years

By Nick McDonald, Contributing Writer

According to a former Nortel (News - Alert) employee, Chinese hackers are to blame for at least 10 years of unconstrained access to Nortel Networks’ computer system. Brian Shields, a former Nortel employee of 19 years, says the hackers had access to everything. “They had plenty of time,” Shields was quoted saying in The Wall Street Journal. “All they had to do was figure out what they wanted.”

Nortel, a company that has been selling itself off in pieces after a 2009 bankruptcy filing, apparently did nothing to protect itself from a security standpoint according to an internal report. The Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. issued a statement denying any affiliation to these hackings. Saying “cyber attacks are transnational and anonymous” and that the U.S. should not assume China is at fault without hard evidence.

This is the latest in a string of suspicious hacking and electronic espionage stories that have surfaced that are connected to the Chinese government. On Monday a story was published about Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution that takes extreme measure when traveling to the country with his sensitive information. The story details the extremes Lieberthal takes before traveling to China like taking loaner cellphone and laptops, which he erases before leaving and returning to the U.S., claiming that the Chinese are very good at installing hacking devices onto cellphone and laptops. A former official with the office of the director of national intelligence, Joel F. Briner Confirms the validity of Lieberthal’s suspicions: "If a company has significant intellectual property that the Chinese and Russians are interested in, and you go over there with mobile devices, your devices will get penetrated.”

Another story that surfaced at the end of 2011 detailed a Chinese led hack into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that has recently been tied to a group that may be directly associated with the Chinese government. Making some wonder if a country that claims to have some of the world’s strictest hacking laws, is in fact hacking information from other countries and global corporations.

As accusations and stories like these increase in frequency, it is clear that corporate espionage has taken a new turn that governments can benefit from too. The suspicions against the Chinese government and how much it actually regulates hacking in the country are valid. It also makes one wonder what other countries may be using these techniques; it is almost certain that these techniques are not solely used by China. What if the U.S. was doing this, would you think it is okay?


A recent graduate from the University of Oregon, Nick aspires to build a career in the digital world with a focus on technology, sports, and online media.

Edited by Juliana Kenny
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