What do we know about China's global cyber operations?

A tranche of leaked documents offers new insight into Beijing's sprawling mercenary hacking operation

Photo composite of I-Soon offices, computer blueprints, text and maps
Leaked documents illuminate the murky contours of who Beijing is watching, and who it's paying to watch
(Image credit: Illustration by Stephen Kelly / AP / Getty Images)

Throughout much of former President Donald Trump's administration, national attention was focused on various allegations, insinuations, and affirmations of massive Russian hacking efforts to penetrate and influence various American cyber targets. For many, it was their first real exposure to the shadowy, clandestine world of cyber warfare that has become a major pillar of geopolitical jockeying. But while Russia and its digital sorties may have grabbed headlines over the past decade or so, a tranche of newly leaked files from Shanghai-based data collection firm iSoon has opened a rare window into China's massive cyber warfare operations. The leak, posted this month to GitHub, not only raises questions about Beijing's sprawling digital capacity but also highlights the intricate network of for-hire hackers China allegedly uses to expand its reach throughout the world — and snoop on its own citizens. 

While the exact source of the leak remains at the moment unknown, the nearly 600 documents that comprise this breach have been widely verified as legitimate by numerous cybersecurity experts. Although the tranche does not include much in the way of specific data harvested by the Chinese hackers, it does illuminate the otherwise murky contours of who Beijing is watching, and who it's paying to watch. 

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