By Jennifer Martinez - 05/07/13 01:54 PM EDT
The Pentagon is directly accusing the Chinese government and military of cracking into U.S. government computer systems to steal valuable intelligence.
The report said the attacks were aimed at culling intelligence about industrial base sectors that support U.S. defense programs. That intelligence could potentially be used to benefit China's defense and high-tech industries and help Chinese military planners spot "related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis," according to the report.
"In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military," the report reads. "These intrusions were focused on exfiltrating information."
In the previous year's report, the Pentagon said many of the cyberintrusions against U.S. government-owned computer systems and American companies "originated within China," but stopped short of directly attributing those attacks to the Chinese government and military.
While China's cyberspying and theft of valuable data "is a serious concern," the Pentagon also noted in its recent report that "the accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks."
The Chinese Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment. In a story about the report, China's state-run news service Xinhua said a Chinese military expert called the Pentagon's claims "groundless accusations," arguing that they could harm the trust between the two countries.
The White House has been hesitant to point fingers at the Chinese government for cyberattacks launched against the U.S. government and American companies, but has sharpened its tone to Beijing in recent months. The strongest comments from the Obama administration have come from Tom Donilon, the president's national security adviser.
In a March speech, Donilon urged China to acknowledge the "urgency and scope" of cyberattacks against U.S. computer systems stemming from hackers based within their borders. Donilon urged China to take "serious steps" to stop the hackers, though he did not accuse the Chinese government of being responsible for the attacks.
Reports of Chinese hacker attacks against U.S. companies have grabbed headlines this year. Information security firm Mandiant released a report earlier this year that said more than 100 U.S. companies have been targeted by an elite Chinese hacking unit based in Shanghai.