US made intensive hacking attacks on China: Snowden

In his latest claims to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Snowden has said that the US government is hacking Chinese mobile phone companies to steal millions of text messages.

Beijing: Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor who leaked the controversial US spy programme, has made fresh claims about the country's hacking attacks against China, which on Sundady termed the US as the "biggest villain" in cyber espionage.

In his latest claims to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Snowden has said that the US government is hacking Chinese mobile phone companies to steal millions of text messages.

Snowden's claims came amid reports that he had left Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, and was reportedly bound for Moscow and onwards to a third destination.

Text messaging is the most preferred communication tool in mainland China, used widely by ordinary people and government officials from formal work exchanges to small chats.

Government data show that the Chinese exchanged almost 900 billion text messages in 2012, up 2.1 percent from the previous year.

Snowden also claimed to the paper that the Tsinghua University, widely regarded as China's top education and research institute, was the target of extensive hacking by the US spies this year.

It is not known how many times the Tsinghua University, which carries out a number of China's research programmes, has been attacked by the US National Security Agency (NSA) but details shown to the Post by Snowden revealed that one of the most recent breaches was as early as in January this year.

The information also showed that the attacks on Tsinghua University were intensive and concerted efforts.

In one single day of January, at least 63 computers and servers in Tsinghua University have been hacked by the NSA, the report said.

30-year-old Snowden, who was accused by some of the US officials as a possible Chinese spy, said the information he shared on the Tsinghua University attacks provided evidence of NSA hacking because the specific details of external and internal internet protocol addresses could only have been obtained by hacking or with physical access to the computers.

Reacting to the revelations made by Snowden, China today termed the US as the world's "biggest villain" for IT espionage.

"These, along with previous allegations, are clearly troubling signs. They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age," the state-run Xinhua news agency said in commentary.

"It (US) owes too an explanation to China and other countries it has allegedly spied on. It has to share with the world the range, extent and intent of its clandestine hacking programmes. The drama around Snowden also tends to support China's stand on the issue of cyber security," it said.

The new revelations came after a case was filed by the US officials formally charging Snowden with espionage, theft of government data and conveying classified information to unauthorised person.

The Tsinghua University is home to one of China's six major backbone networks, the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) from where internet data from millions of Chinese citizens could be mined.

The network was the country's first internet backbone network and has evolved into the world's largest national research hub.

It is one of China's non-commercial networks, owned by the Ministry of Education, but operated and maintained by the university and other colleges.

Universities in Hong Kong and the mainland were revealed as targets of NSA's cyber-snooping activities last week when Snowden claimed the Chinese University of Hong Kong had been a victim of hacking.

The Chinese University is home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, the city's central hub for all internet traffic.

Snowden said the NSA was focusing much attention on the so-called "network backbones", through which vast amounts of data passed.

In the wake of Snowden's claims, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up an office to deal with diplomatic activities involving cyber security.