Wednesday, November 11, 2009

China proves to be an aggressive foe in cyberspace

The Washington Post checks in with a re-hash of China's cyber espionage and cyber warfare capabilities. Theres not much new information here but for those new to the field its worth the read.

From the article ...

China is significantly boosting its capabilities in cyberspace as a way to gather intelligence and, in the event of war, hit the U.S. government in a weak spot, U.S. officials and experts say. Outgunned and outspent in terms of traditional military hardware, China apparently hopes that by concentrating on holes in the U.S. security architecture -- its communications and spy satellites and its vast computer networks -- it will collect intelligence that could help it counter the imbalance.


Vincent said...

Something that caught my eye in this article was how the groups conducting these cyber attacks were referenced: The Chinese People's Liberation Army with their "information warfare units" and China's Academy of Military Sciences establishing "information-warfare militias". These groups of people are not longer being references as hackers. They are being viewed as strong military assets. Based on our discussions in class it is likely that the US is also developing similar programs.

This raises a questions that I would like to ask the class - What is more valuable from a military standpoint, a group of fighter jets or an "information warfare unit"?

My personal opinion is the information warfare unit is more valuable.
Harder to monitor the progression of new hacking techniques than the newest fighter jets.
Harder to trace the source. As the article mentions it allows government officials to displace blame.
Allows other governments to obtain valuable information about the fighter jets & other military weapons/assets.
The true damage potential is unknown. Malicious sleeper codes can be activated in the case that two countries really go to war.

Should we be spending millions developing fighter jets, or millions developing IT warfare units?

Chris said...

While China’s IT capabilities are certainly troubling in respect to cyberwarfare between nation-states I think China’s information infrastructure within its own country is extremely troubling. As China has transitioned towards a free-market economy in the last twenty or so years, the demand for the free flow of information has increased dramatically. However, as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still an authoritarian state, this demand for the free flow of information has presented the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with a significant dilemma: How to harness the economic potential of the free flow of information via the Internet while still limiting political dissidence and thereby maintaining absolute political control. Thus far the CCP has utilized its absolute control over the infrastructure (both physical and technological, i.e. software) of the Internet to limit political dissidence while allowing for economically advantageous communications.
Since data networks first emerged in China in the 1980s, the CCP has established two types of Internet networks in China: interconnecting and access networks. Interconnecting networks are closely linked to government agencies and are the only networks capable of connecting China with the World Wide Web. Access networks, on the other hand, can be privately owned but must operate through one of the interconnecting networks in order to be licensed to operate. According to Tamara Shie, “This effectively creates a large China-wide intranet with only a few controlled portals to the global World Wide Web.” This infrastructure has allowed the CCP to tightly control all access points to the World Wide Web from within China, thereby limiting domestic access to any international sources of information.
With the help of U.S. based Cisco Systems the Chinese government also has established the “Great Firewall of China” and an overarching router device. It is no surprise then that the CCP has essentially established a surveillance state. While the Chinese government does not have one hundred percent absolute control over the Internet, the threat of surveillance alone has caused the self-censorship of the Chinese people and has significantly repressed free speech in China. As Daniel J. Solove notes, “surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action.” I am extremely surprised by the willingness of companies such as Intel and Cisco Systems to collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party to censor the thoughts, convictions, and beliefs of the Chinese people. Capitalism 1 – 0 Democracy.

Olivia said...

While I read article, I was only reminded of the discussion that often comes up in class: how detrimental could China be in terms of "cyber warfare", and, realistically, how dangerous is cyber warfare as a whole?

We hear so much about China's Cyber Capabilities and The Next Big Threat In Information Warfare, but when you go past those headlines the article is usually vague and imaginative. Hiding behind a cloud of National Defense-induced secrecy, the people writing these articles start to come off as sensationalists rather than discussing the true ramifications of a real technological development.

While I'm not writing off the whole idea of cyber war, I just hate to read articles when they all have the same cryptic message about the Chinese government "boosting its capabilities in cyberspace as a way to ... hit the US government in a weak spot".

I liked how the article at least defined some parameters for a part of this abstract vulnerability (like the description of "US security architecture" in paragraph 4), but other than that it still came off as sensationalism. I just have a hard time seeing cyber threats for what they could be when all I have to read are articles that seem like sci-fi Armageddon stories and technical papers that I couldn't understand without earning a few different degrees.

Sydney said...

As time passes China becomes more and more of a threat to the United States. A growing population, a growing army, a growing economy, all at rates greater than our own. But now they are becoming more advanced in another area, as well: cyberspace.

China may be developing a bigger army, but the more eminent concern is that of a cyberattack by the Chinese government. With so much critical information about our nation and its security and infrastructure online, a cyberattack could and would cause serious damage to the United States. The article states that nuclear weapons labs, defense contractors, and the State Department, among others, have all been infiltrated. This is a frightening thought. These departments hold key information about our defensive capabilities and offensive strategies. If opposing nations have access to this information, it is basically worthless.

The most frightening thing about this action, in my opinion, is that we don't seem to know exactly how much information, or how many systems, were compromised. That leaves a lot of room for guessing, and a huge margin of error. Without this knowledge, how do we know that we are not still infected? How do we know that we are not being tracked and watched right now?

Keith Levinsky said...

I agree with Olivia's comment that this article seems to sensationalize China's threat to the United States. As has been discussed in class, the economies of the United States and China are so interconnected that any attack on the United States would cripple China as well. The article just seem to generalize and use inflated diction in order to characterize China as a threat. Headlines seem to scare people into seeking security against cyber warfare. As discussed in class, these attempts could be attempts by the government to set red lines. People need to know about attacks to defend against them as well. Cyber-espionage, however, clearly poses and has posed a threat to the United States.

Simone said...

While it may be true that this article is a tad sensationalist, as Keith and Olivia said, it is still scary that China can attack targets in such a manner. It is scary to think that China can target the US without consequence or responsibility by using hackers to compromise systems. It is fairly suspicious that China has stolen information (10-20 TB, at that) from our government. The threat is probably exaggerated, but I can't help but think that China is a threat. No country who has a great interest in us would still attempt to compromise our systems and infiltrate secure networks within the US.

Even though all of the attacks cannot be traced to the Chinese government, it is obvious that many of the hackers were trained or provided incentives by the Chinese government.

David Noble said...

I think that given the exciting nature of our emerging capabilities, we have a tendency to overstate the capabilities of cyber warfare. Cyber warfare would only be effective against a well defined, nation state-styled enemy. While it’s easy to view our military capabilities through this state-on-state perspective, most of our military activities today take place against much less well formed, less technologically dependent adversaries.

Cyber warfare would be nearly impossible to employ against an enemy like Al Qaeda. While their internet presence has growth considerably since 9/11, Al Qaeda is still a very low tech operation dependent on little more than email and a string of poorly put together websites. While our new capabilities are awe inspiring, more of our fighting takes place on the other end of the technological spectrum. I vote fighter jets.