China is awash with nondescript new office buildings so the 12-storey tower on the outskirts of Shanghai’s Pudong area hardly looked likely to cause global headlines.
Not even propaganda posters on walls surrounding it or People’s Liberation Army guards standing at the gates made the building stand out.
Yet last week an American private security firm identified it as the headquarters of Unit 61398, a PLA army grouping suspected of waging cyberwarfare.
The study revealed that 150 highly sophisticated cyber attacks against targets in the US had originated from inside. Last week international journalists and TV crews suddenly descending on Unit 61398 were chased away.
But the real story was not the existence of the building or the hackers inside. It was that it was merely the tip of an iceberg of cyberwarfare that is now rising dramatically into view.
For years experts have warned of a global epidemic of hacking. But now those dire predictions have come true.
It is clear that the world’s emerging superpower, China, is now engaged in a battle with an older superpower, the US.
It is a fight raging across the internet in a proxy for the old spy versus spy games of the Cold War: except that it drops honey traps and prisoner exchanges at Checkpoint Charlie in favour of the planting of malware, beating firewalls and hijacking servers.
But this new world is not just about rivalries between Beijing and Washington. Other governments or those acting on their behalf, such as India and Russia, are also big players.
Crime has moved online. From hacking into private computers to access bank details, to scams aimed at the naive promising instant riches, to all-out identity theft, the PC sitting in your house is no longer an innocent device.
It is a trapdoor that can lead straight to the darkest corners of the web. (Guardian News Service)