By Michael Gold and J.R. Wu
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan wants to join a major anti-hacking drill conducted by the United States to strengthen cyber security ties with its staunchest ally, its vice premier said on Monday, a move which would help safeguard against constant targeting by hackers in rival China.
Many hacks into Taiwan systems have been traced to sites belonging to China's People's Liberation Army, Vice Premier Simon Chang told Reuters in an interview, without elaborating on the locations.
"Taiwan has no enemy in the international community except you-know-who. Who in the world would try to hack Taiwan?" Chang, a former director of Asia hardware operations for internet giant Google Inc, said.
China has vehemently denied accusations of cyber theft.
Making the case for Taiwan's inclusion in the "Cyber Storm" drill, Chang reiterated the long-held view that China's 'cyber army' regularly uses Taiwan as a 'testing ground' for its most advanced hacking attempts.
"The U.S. has the Cyber Storm drill – we were not invited. We would like to be invited," Chang said.
The drill is held biennially, according to the website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, though the timing for the next one is unknown.
Taiwan had invited U.S. officials to observe its own mock drill against cyber attacks in 2013.
Cooperation between Taiwan and the United States would aim to strengthen defenses against hackers looking to steal government, military and industrial intelligence.
Taiwan was the most-targeted country in the Asia-Pacific region during the first half of 2014 for hacking attempts aimed at penetrating computer systems to steal data, according to U.S. data security firm FireEye Inc.
Chang said the percentage of cyber attacks on government systems originating from mainland China was "very high", and warned that there was potential for hackers to use Taiwan as a back door into the U.S. systems.
"The possibility is there," Chang said, while emphasizing that the main purpose of Chinese hacking attempts into Taiwan is not to steal U.S. data and that he has "no way of knowing" if an incursion into Taiwan has led to any U.S. intelligence leaks.
Despite a raft of recent trade deals between the two historical foes, China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it back under its control.
The two sides' shared language, culture and political animosity make Taiwan a particularly high-profile target for Chinese hackers.
Chang warned in January that all of Taiwan's government departments were subject to "staggering" numbers of hacking attempts, including departments that were not related to cross-straits matters but could be used as spring-boards to gain access elsewhere.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in Washington, published a paper in January that noted Taiwan could be a major asset for exercises like "Cyber Storm".
"Taiwan is uniquely positioned to assist the international community in protecting itself from cyber theft," the authors wrote.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama told Reuters he was concerned about Beijing's plans for a far-reaching counter-terrorism law that would require technology firms to hand over encryption keys, the passcodes that help protect data, and install security "backdoors" in their systems to give Chinese authorities surveillance access.
Taiwan is not discussing cyberspace with China, Chang said.
"I don't think raising this issue is any help," Chang said. "You're only going to let them know that you know what they're doing. It's only going to make them more cautious and more crafty."
(Editing by SImon Cameron-Moore)