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China Accused (Again) of Spying on the African Union

Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

Today’s Reuters report that detailed how suspected Chinese hackers broke into African Union data networks to siphon off surveillance video sparked a whole new round of “I told you so.”

The initial reaction online to the report was essentially what do you expect when the Chinese built the building? But that’s kind of a dumb way of looking at the issue, because the fact that the Chinese built the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa ultimately doesn’t really matter. If they wanted to get into the AU’s networks, they would find a way, whether they built the building or not.

The fact is that China’s cyber capabilities are now so powerful and sophisticated that if they deem a target worthy of penetration, there’s very little that anyone can do to stop them.

The U.S. government, more than anyone, should understand this point. After all, Russian hackers have spent the past six months pilfering their data and breached some of the world’s most fortified networks at the State Department, Homeland Security, and parts of the Pentagon among many others. 

So, when U.S. officials inevitably clutch their pearls over what is probably another intrusion by Chinese actors into the AU, take what they have to say with a grain of salt, given Washington’s own transgressions in this arena as well as their poor track record in cyber defense.

So far, the African Union has not responded to the alleged hack and if they do, they probably won’t have much to say on the issue, similar to back in 2018 when Le Monde reported that AU servers were mysteriously sending massive amounts of data every night to Shanghai. 

Just as individuals have virtually no defense against malicious cyberbullies, AU officials also acknowledge that there’s really not very much they can do to defend themselves against these kinds of intrusions if one of the world’s major powers is determined to get in.

It’s just the way the world is today. 

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