China denies its military hacked into Pentagon network

BEIJING — China denied charges Tuesday that its military had hacked into a Pentagon computer network, the second time in a week that the nation has fended off accusations of cyber-attacks from within its borders.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the latest charges "reflect a Cold War mentality."

Britain's Financial Times reported in its U.S. edition Tuesday that Chinese hackers had broken into a Pentagon computer network in June, leading to a shutdown of a system that serves the office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official as saying that the source of the attack had been traced to the People's Liberation Army. Other unnamed officials said they also were fairly certain that the attacks came from within China's military.

"The Chinese government has always opposed any Internet-wrecking crime, including hacking, and cracked down on it according to the law," Jiang told a regular news briefing. "Some people are making wild accusations against China and wantonly saying the Chinese military attacked the Pentagon's computer network. These are totally groundless."

The Pentagon said Tuesday that elements of its unclassified e-mail service had been broken into late last spring and had been taken offline briefly, causing "minor administrative disruptions and personal inconveniences."

"We know that a number of nations and groups are actively developing these capabilities," said Maj. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman. He didn't single out China as the source of the attack nor say which system had been hacked.

Last week, China dismissed reports by the German newsweekly Der Spiegel that its armed forces had infiltrated German government computer systems, including those in the office of Chancellor Angela Merkel and at three ministries.

Der Spiegel reported that the hackers had been traced to Guangzhou and Lanzhou, cities with major operations of the People's Liberation Army.

Merkel was in Beijing at the time the accusation surfaced, and the issue came up in her talks with Premier Wen Jiabao. In a joint news conference afterward, Wen made a rare public mention of the charges, touching on an espionage-related issue usually dealt with behind closed doors.

"We in the government took (the reports) as a matter of grave concern," Wen said.

The report of the cyber-attack on the Pentagon came as President Bush prepared to meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, later this week in Sydney, Australia, before the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation regional summit.

The Pentagon, in an annual report on China's military released in May, said the People's Liberation Army began cyber-attacks in 2005 and has "established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems."

China's army and the Pentagon are widely assumed to be probing each other's computer networks, but the scale of the incident at the Defense Department in June raised concerns that China could disrupt crucial systems at will.

The Pentagon shut down its network for more than a week while the attacks continued, the Financial Times reported.