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China says U.S. routinely hacks Defense Ministry websites

Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Car
Part of the building of 'Unit 61398', a secretive Chinese military unit, is seen in the outskirts of Shanghai February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Car

BEIJING (Reuters) - Two major Chinese military websites, including that of the Defense Ministry, were subject to about 144,000 hacking attacks a month last year, almost two-thirds of which came from the United States, the ministry said on Thursday.

This month a U.S. computer security company said that a secretive Chinese military unit was likely behind a series of hacking attacks mostly targeting the United States, setting off a war of words between Washington and Beijing.

China denied the allegations and said it was the victim.

It has now provided some details for the first time of the alleged attacks from the United States.

"The Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites have faced a serious threat from hacking attacks since they were established, and the number of hacks has risen steadily in recent years," said ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng.

"According to the IP addresses, the Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites were, in 2012, hacked on average from overseas 144,000 times a month, of which attacks from the U.S. accounted for 62.9 percent," he said.

The comments were made at a monthly news conference, which foreign reporters are not allowed to attend, and posted on the ministry's website.

Geng said he had noted reports that the United States planned to expand its cyber-warfare capability but that they were unhelpful to increasing international cooperation towards fighting hacking.

"We hope that the U.S. side can explain and clarify this."

The U.S. security company, Mandiant, identified the People's Liberation Army's Shanghai-based Unit 61398 as the most likely driving force behind the hacking. Mandiant said it believed the unit had carried out "sustained" attacks on a wide range of industries.

The hacking dispute adds to diplomatic tension between China and the United States, already strained by Chinese suspicion about Washington's "pivot" back to Asia and arguments over issues from trade to human rights.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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