Google apologists like myself often answer concerns that the search-and-advertising giant can scan your email with something like “yes, but they’re doing it with robots and scrubbing it clean of all identifying information.”
China, however, is not so concerned with your privacy or its own image. In fact, monitoring otherwise-harmless civilians probably proves valuable to the renegade nation by illustrating the best means of tricking US netizens into installing backdoor viruses on their systems.
The most important point this article makes, in my view, is that China is playing the long game on cyberespionage efforts. As David Feith reports in the Wall Street Journal piece linked to above:
The essence of China’s thinking about cyber warfare is the concept of shi, he says, first introduced in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” about 2,500 years ago. The concept’s English translation is debated, but Mr. Thomas subscribes to the rendering of Chinese Gen. Tao Hanzhang, who defines shi as “the strategically advantageous posture before a battle.”
They’re not going to take down any infrastructure any time soon, but if and when they want to, their current efforts will probably go a long way to helping them learn how to do it.
This stuff is not just a headline: it’s been happening for some time, is still happening, and is likely only to increase. Mr. Feith’s article at the Journal is well worth reading.