February 7, 2024
MANILA – China on Monday denied conducting cyberattacks on Philippine government websites, saying it does not allow such illegal activities.
“The Chinese government all along firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of cyberattack in accordance with law, allows no country or individual to engage in cyberattack and other illegal activities on Chinese soil or using Chinese infrastructure,” the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
The embassy said further: “Some Filipino officials and media maliciously speculated about and groundlessly accused China of engaging in cyberattacks against the Philippines, even [going] as far as connecting these cyberattacks [to] the South China Sea disputes.”
“Such remarks are highly irresponsible,” it said.
But Communications and Technology Undersecretary Jeffrey Ian Dy, disclosing the cyberattacks in a news forum last Saturday, was careful not to attribute these to the Chinese government. He said “the threat actors were operating from within Chinese territory.”
Apart from naming a state-owned telecommunications company, China Unicom, as one source behind the attacks, Dy said “We will coordinate with China to help us find this group (the hackers).”
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The Chinese Embassy has not responded to the media when asked if the Philippine government has already sought its coordination to track down the attackers.
Dy said over the weekend that hackers had attempted last month to break into the web applications of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa), the respective websites of President Marcos and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the mailboxes of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) itself.
He said “three advanced threat groups” were behind the attacks, but emphasized that they were operating “within the ambit of Chinese territories, … not necessarily [the] government.”
Contrary to what the Chinese Embassy claims, Dy has not directly attributed the hacking to Beijing.
The United States, on the other hand, has openly accused China of engaging in cyberwarfare, as it called Beijing “the broadest, most active and persistent cyberespionage threat” to Washington.
‘Wasting time’ on Cha-cha
Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros sought an inquiry into the cyberattacks reported by Dy and has filed Senate Resolution No. 923 seeking an investigation by the Senate committee on national defense and security. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada heads this panel.
Hontiveros lamented that “we’re wasting our time discussing Charter change (Cha-cha), [while] China continues to interfere with our country.”
“Instead of channeling our energy to laws that would strengthen our national security, we’re wasting our time for the interest of a few,” she said.
“This is a major cyberattack. While we are all busy cleaning up the mess of the sham ‘people’s initiative,’ China has taken advantage of the current instability in the country to strike at our vulnerabilities,” Hontiveros said.
“This should be given close attention, not the fake initiative that has only been causing confusion among Filipinos,” she added.
Hontiveros’ measure cited reports last year by Palo Alto research firm Unit 42 about Chinese hacking which targeted countries in Southeast Asia.
“We do not know if these Chinese hackers have already installed malware [in] our Philippine Coast Guard assets,” the senator said.
“Enough with Cha-cha. China is [the] bigger problem. Let us stop wasting time on changing the Constitution. Let’s prioritize our economic problems and the huge threat caused by China,” Hontiveros said.