It was recently announced that the Wall Street Journal and New York Times had been hacked by the Chinese.
The reason behind the hacks was retribution for explosive articles outlining immense wealth of Chinese leaders written by those news agencies. It has also been said that the attack on the Times was committed by the Chinese military. (2)
If true, then this means that the Chinese government has illegally broken into US property and stolen information. In the real world this would be akin to the People’s Liberation Army soldiers breaking into the offices of US New Agencies.
While the fact that a country such as China would use governmental resources to hack private US business is bold enough, it pales in comparison to any state-sponsored attacks on strategic US resources which could result in catastrophic failure.
Unfortunately, the groundwork for such attacks may have already been laid. Such attacks could be considered an act of war depending on their scope. The US has said that hostile acts in cyberspace would be “..treated as any other hostile threat to our country”. (3)
Furthermore, the Pentagon has stipulated that:
“Needless to say, if any cyber-attack is directed at the U.S. –rather than by the U.S.–it will be instantly depicted as an act of unparalleled aggression and evil: Terrorism. Just last year, the Pentagon decreed that any cyberattack on the U.S. would be deemed “an act of war.” (3)
Is China Pursuing Cyber War?
Although Beijing’s intent is unclear, the implications can be crippling. China typically hacks into commercial and military assets to pilfer trade secrets and tech, but this is the tip of the iceberg. (1) Aside from stealing billions of dollars’ worth of intellectual property (IP) secrets, the Chinese have also set up malicious backdoors or dangerous code to sensitive US assets such as the power grid. (4)
Such code usually serves no other purpose than to be activated at a later time in order to render such systems useless or even cause catastrophic damage.
Even more troubling is the news that US government computers, which control nuclear commands, were invaded by Chinese hackers as well. (5) Some argue that according to the sophistication and purpose of the attacks it signals a level of government involvement, but this is hard to prove. (6) With China actively probing US resources and planting nefarious code the question arises: Is China preparing the battlefield for war?
This article will expose why the United States is so vulnerable, examine specific Chinese cyber threats, explore the problem in determining if Chinese actions can be considered an act of war and potential solutions.
Chinese Cyber Threat
The Chinese are stealing billions of dollars’ worth of US technology and potentially millions of jobs as well.
Such exploits have been exposed and documented for quite some time. Due to the fact that oppressive regimes such as communism tend to stifle creativity and innovation, the Chinese have resorted to theft. In the business world this could erode America’s competitive edge, but in the military it could be worse.
Glaring examples of Beijing “cloning” US tech can be seen in the “similarities” between the US and Chinese (7) stealth fighter planes. (8)
Ever the ones for detail, the Chinese even pirated the heads up display and cockpit. (9)
The Red Army’s newest in Chinese stolen tech appears to be a twin of its American counterpart, the C-17. (10)
Of course, the Chinese claim that a plane is a plane and cosmetic differences are happenstance. They deny purloining any sensitive US technology and call it preposterous.
Admittedly the current author is no aviation expert, but it would appear that the Chinese expertise in copying seems to be at work in aesthetics at least.
Aside from Beijing copying US know-how, their covert actions in cyber-espionage are far more dangerous. (11) The Chinese have not only stolen military technology, but have broken into key US assets and left cyber booby traps.
Beijing also has the ability to shut down the US telecommunications infrastructure, (12) just as the US did to Iraq before invading them.
Aside from this, China has the ability to scan and read (13) over 80% of the world’s communications. (14)
Let that soak in for a second and then re-read it.
China has the ability to scan and read (13) over 80% of the world’s communications. (14)
In addition to this, the Chinese have high jacked a high percentage (15) of Internet data several times over the past few years. (16) And if that is not enough, it was also discovered that a “Made in China” chip designed to control US nuclear power plants and weapons has a secret backdoor etched into its surface. (17)
By exploiting the backdoor, hackers could cause irreparable harm. Control over such a strategic asset would leave the US naked and vulnerable in time of war. By controlling such a broad spectrum of the Internet and telecommunications, the Chinese would be a formidable opponent.
It would appear that strategic US assets are in the gun sights of the Chinese army and it is only getting worse. What this proves is that China has the cyber capabilities to minimize US military advantages due to their hacking skills. The question remains: What is Beijing’s endgame, what do they gain by breaching US security?
Preparing the Battlefield
“Cyber war has begun. In anticipation of hostilities, nations are already “preparing the battlefield.” They are hacking into each other’s networks and infrastructures, laying in trapdoors and logic bombs—now, in peacetime. This ongoing nature of cyber war, the blurring of peace and war, adds a dangerous new dimension of instability.” (18)
Richard Clarke is worried, in his book he claims that the US is not ready for a cyber war and is at a tremendous disadvantage, and he should know. Mr. Clarke dedicated his life to protecting the United States. (19)
In his career he acted as the chair for the Counter-terrorism Security Group and many other key positions. His work within the system has put him on the front lines of the battlefield and he believes we are not prepared.
A major concern he and others have is that due to the open nature of the net and lax security protocols the US could be hosting dormant malignant code. This code may have been planted in order to “prepare the battlefield” to be accessed in times of war.
This term signifies how a country will plant nefarious programs, logic bombs or script in key assets of foreign countries. These logic bombs and other nefarious code will lie dormant until called upon to act.
Much like secret agents or spies, they are hidden deep within the innermost reaches of the US infrastructure. If nothing is done to find and destroy them, they could be called upon by their masters and create chaos across a broad spectrum of resources across the country.
References & Image Credits:
(1) Washington Post
(2) Extreme Tech
(4) Free Republic
(5) Fox News
(7) The Diplomat
(8) Shad Olsen Show
(9) The Blaze
(11) Foreign Policy
(12) Tech Powerup
(17) Christian Science Monitor
(18) Cyber War (Clarke, Richard A.;Knake, Robert)
(21) Computer Virus