China launched a cyberattack against Israeli government organizations, including defense bodies. The attack took advantage of a loophole in Israeli servers and reportedly stole hundreds of emails, according to international cybersecurity company FireEye’s Monday announcement. IT companies were targets in particular, as they are a ‘supply chain’ threat: a target that, if acquired, gives access to many other companies. Although Israel has been subjected to multiple cyberwarfare campaigns, this one allegedly from China is the largest. As a result, Israel may be forced to retaliate. 

Not the first cyberattack from China

The attack can be attributed to the international community’s condemnation of China’s attack on the Microsoft Exchange mail server. This attack, also carried out by the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), compromised nearly 30 000 servers globally. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union signed the statement admonishing China. Nevertheless, notably, Israel was not among the signatories. Even though the Israelis did not sign the document, their silence was deafening: the government failed to give any statement on the Microsoft Exchange attack.

China has business motivations

Another motivation for China’s cyberattack on Israel can be ascribed to their business dealings with Israel. Staying out of the conflict between the U.S. and China, Israel has permitted China to carry out major infrastructure projects within its borders, including a new light rail project in Tel Aviv. And yet, Israel refused to grant the Chinese firm, Hutchison, the sale of the mobile operator partner. So, Israel’s place among the targets might be related to China’s business strategy with the nation, says Sanaz Yashar, who led FireEye’s investigation into the cyberattack.

“It’s possible that they’re actually looking for business information,” she added. “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,” says Yashar. 

Wider implications

Whatever the reason for the cyberattack, this latest act of cyber warfare from China was devastating, targeting Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Thailand. While Israel might have been the most significant target amongst those affected, the international community has felt the ripple effect of this latest act of aggression from the Chinese state.