US military worried about China's cyberwarfare capabilities

The US military is becoming increasingly concerned about China’s cyberwarfare capabilities, with the Department of Defense relasing a report detailing its fears.

The report states that “China’s cyber attack capabilities are a mystery,” but the US is aware of a number of Chinese projects to build space and cyber assets, including the launch of intelligence satellites and an electronic spy network.

“In 2009, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. Government, continued to be the target of intrusions that appear to have originated within the [People’s Republic of China (PRC)],” the report said. “These intrusions focused on exfiltrating information, some of which could be of strategic or military utility.

“The accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks. It remains unclear if these intrusions were conducted by, or with the endorsement of, the PLA or other elements of the PRC government. 

“However, developing capabilities for cyberwarfare is consistent with authoritative PLA military writings,” the report added, revealing US fears of China’s focus in this area. The People’s Liberation Army has already stated that cyberwarfare will be a primary focus of its renewed military programme over the next decade, stating that it wants to close the gap with the US, which is seen as the dominant player in the virtual battleground.

The report also uncovered knowledge of a Chinese digital spying system that affected over a hundred countries: “In March 2009, Canadian researchers uncovered an electronic spy network, apparently based mainly in China, which had reportedly infiltrated Indian and other nations’ government offices around the world. More than 1,300 computers in 103 countries were identified.”

The report highlighted PLA investment in electronic countermeasures, defences against electronic attack, and computer network operations (CNO). It revealed China’s efforts to develop electronic and infrared decoys, angle reflectors, and false target generators, as well computer network attacks, computer network exploitation, and computer network defence.

If that were not enough, the PLA is also apparently working on developing viruses to attack enemy computers and networks, even devoting entire information warfare units for this single goal.

The report found that China lacked transparency on the goals of its military buildup and transformation, which is causing nearby countries and global partners significant concern. It said that if it were more forthcoming about its plans it would reassure the world and prevent misunderstanding and miscalculation.

The US called for “sustained and reliable” military relations between the two countries, which it said would “reduce mistrust, enhance mutual understanding and broaden cooperation.” However, it’s also apparent that the US military’s lack of knowledge about China’s cyberwarfare programme is one of the pivotal reasons for it wanting stronger relations, so that it can better defend itself from any future cyber attacks.

The report also detailed China’s efforts to modernise its military, including the development space and counterspace capabilities, anti-access technologies, missile programmes, and a superior navy.