Western governments and corporations were facing a growing threat from hackers based in China, who remain strong despite a crackdown by the authorities, Sky News reported Monday.

An estimated 1.6 billion attacks are launched from China each month, with some successful efforts breaching the computer systems of the Pentagon and those of the French, German and British governments.

"Even the strongest security systems have holes," one 21-year-old self-trained hacker said. "Everyone knows that those people haven't realized that there are hackers who can attack them. They probably think they have the best security possible."

The Chinese government claimed it was tackling the illegal activity. Last year, authorities reportedly made several hundred arrests and closed one online hacking school that was said to have 180,000 members -- but other websites offering the same service remained in operation.

Sky News recently gained access to a conference organized by a well-known hacking group in a four-star hotel in Beijing. The event was sponsored by a security firm with alleged connections to the Chinese military. Speakers covered topics such as "Defeat Windows 7" and "Virtual Viruses Infection."

The conference also highlighted the murky connections between hackers and the Chinese government.
One man, who identified himself as a policeman, said, "We're here to see if they have anything we can use. If there is, then we'll get in touch with them and take the next step."

In 2009, investigators discovered that Ghostnet, the largest-ever network of cyber attacks, could be traced back to China. The operation's command and control gained real-time control over 1,200 computers belonging to foreign embassies, international organizations and media groups in more than 100 countries.

However, according to experts, the biggest threat posed by attacks traced to China is the loss of industrial secrets.

Last year, several attacks targeted some of the world's biggest oil and gas companies -- an industry of enormous strategic importance to China's economy.

It was also recently disclosed that the investment bank Morgan Stanley was hit by a six-month attack emanating from China.