China Launched Cyberattacks Against Israel, Security Firm Finds

Chinese state hackers targeted Israeli defense, shipping industries

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017
Chinese president Xi Jinping and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 / Getty Images
August 10, 2021

China waged an extended cyber war against Israeli private businesses and government entities in 2019 and 2020, an online security company announced Monday.

FireEye, an international cybersecurity firm, said hackers traced back to the Chinese Ministry of State Security targeted Israeli shipping, defense, and tech companies, as well as government servers, in a hacking campaign stretching more than two years. The attacks zeroed in on a vulnerability in SharePoint, a Microsoft collaborative platform popular in the national security industry.

The attacks are only China's most recent cyber offensive against another country, but the first of this scale against Israel. Sanaz Yashar, an investigator for FireEye, said the Chinese wanted to obtain communications files and advance their "Belt and Road Initiative," a global infrastructure project to sell its goods worldwide. China invested in Israel as a major node in the project.

"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," Yashar said. "There are a lot of Israeli companies that are involved in the very fields at the core of Chinese interests, as reflected in their five-year plans."

The Chinese embassy in Israel denied responsibility for the attacks, instead saying China is one of the world’s largest victims of cybercrime.

"The FireEye report’s baseless accusations against China on cybersecurity issues are defamation for political purposes," a statement from the embassy reads. "China is a staunch upholder of cybersecurity. It has always firmly opposed and combated cyber attacks launched within its border or with its network infrastructure."

The attacks show the mounting aggression from China in cyberspace and a potential fraying of relations between China and Israel. In July, U.S. officials confirmed a massive hack, backed by Beijing, of thousands of Microsoft servers, though the Biden administration declined to sanction any entities involved.

Israel, which enjoyed stronger relations with Beijing than most Western countries, has increasingly faced anti-Semitic rhetoric from China. In May 2020 and April 2021, Chinese embassies posted a political cartoon depicting a grim reaper wearing the U.S. flag while brandishing a scythe dripping with blood and bearing Israel's flag.