USCC warns of Chinese cyber threat
As the Chinese Government continues to invest in its cyber capabilities, particularly for attack, defence and exploitation, the US believes its national security is at risk from this ‘clear and present danger’, a report has revealed.
Released by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) on 8 March, the ‘Occupying the Information High Ground: Chinese Capabilities for Computer Network Operations and Cyber Espionage’ report claims that the US suffers continual cyber attacks that are either ‘sanctioned or tolerated by the Chinese government’.
‘The report highlights China's extensive development of cyber tools to advance the leadership's objectives,’ commissioner for the USCC Michael Wessel said in a statement.
‘It's getting harder and harder for China's leaders to claim ignorance and innocence as to the massive electronic reconnaissance and cyber intrusions activities directed by Chinese interests at the US government and our private sector,’ the report stated.
Created by Northrop Grumman on behalf of the USCC, the report is a follow-on to a similar report released by the commission in 2009.
Based on openly available information, the report stated that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has concentrated its efforts on modernising C4ISR infrastructures in recent years, illustrating its advances in developing destructive cyber capabilities.
‘This priority on C4ISR systems modernisation has in turn been a catalyst for the development of an integrated information warfare (IW) capability capable of defending military and civilian networks, while seizing control of an adversary’s information systems during a conflict,’ the report read.
Although the PLA has not disclosed a distinct computer networks operations (CNO) strategy, the report said that instead it seems to be looking towards the integration of CNO into its broader framework which has been dubbed ‘information confrontation’.
‘This concept, as discussed by the PLA, seeks to integrate all elements of information warfare, electronic and non-electronic, offensive and defensive, under a single command authority,’ the report said.
As China develops this strategy, the report predicts that using cyber as either a deterrence tool or an offensive weapon capable of destroying a nation’s infrastructure ‘will present US leaders and the leaders of allied nations with a more complex risk calculus when evaluating decisions to intervene in Chinese initiated conflicts such as aggression against Taiwan or other nations in the Western Pacific region.
‘PLA analysts consistently identify logistics and C4ISR infrastructure as US strategic centres of gravity suggesting that PLA commanders will almost certainly attempt to target these systems with both electronic countermeasures weapons and network attack and exploitation tools, likely in advance of actual combat to delay US entry or degrade capabilities in a conflict.’
Another area of concern for council is collaboration between US and Chinese information security firms, which may lead to illicit access to sensitive network vulnerability data directed against US commercial and government entities.
On 11 March it was reported that a NATO official, Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis, had been targeted by imposters who set up a fake Facebook account in order to acquire personal information.
Stavridis was in charge of official operations in Libya and although NATO has not revealed who was behind the attacks, evidence is reported to be pointing at China. Officials at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) confirmed that the admiral had been targeted.
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