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April 28, 2017

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A closer look at Mandiant, the cybersecurity scourge of Chinese hackers

WASHINGTON -- A private technology security firm on Tuesday described in extraordinary detail efforts it blamed on a Chinese military unit to hack into 141 businesses, mostly inside the U.S., and steal commercial secrets. China denies the claim. Here's a look at the company, Mandiant, and why its report is significant.

What is Mandiant?

Headquartered in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, Mandiant was started in 2004 by Kevin Mandia, a retired Air Force officer who carved out a lucrative niche investigating computer crimes. Mandiant says it can detect and trace even quiet intrusions, such as the theft of employee passwords or trade secrets that a company otherwise might not be aware is happening.

Mandiant was most recently noted for its work in helping The New York Times trace an attack on its employees' computers to China, following a Times investigation into China's Premier Wen Jiabao. The newspaper publicly acknowledged Mandiant's role in the case.

Are there other companies like Mandiant? Why not just call the FBI?

There are other companies that specialize in cybercrime response and forensics, including CrowdStrike, Kroll Advisory Solutions, and Stroz Friedberg in New York. Others specialize in establishing and testing a company's computer defenses and monitoring traffic to detect hackers or suspicious behavior.

Companies can be reluctant to call the FBI. Businesses don't want to hand over their most sensitive information — including computers and proprietary data — to the government and would rather maintain control of the investigation. Many companies are less concerned about tracing the origin of an attack than resuming business to make money. They also don't want their vulnerabilities discussed in a courtroom or leaked to news organizations or shareholders, which can happen if the government were involved. Companies like Mandiant have a big financial incentive — and signed confidentiality promises — to keep names of clients secret.

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