China is a lead cyberattacker of US military computers, Pentagon reports
China is especially interested in gleaning how best to defend its own computer networks from cyberattack, says a Pentagon report on cyberwar threats. But China is also improving its offensive abilities.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Now, a new Department of Defense report warns that not only is China responsible for many of the cyberattacks on US military computer systems, but that the country continues to launch cyber operations that threaten the US economy as well, making the Chinese "the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage."¬†
These developments are ‚Äúsomething we continue to pay very, very close attention to,‚ÄĚ David Helvey, acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Asia security, said Friday. ‚ÄúI think their continued efforts in this area reflect the importance that they‚Äôre placing on developing capabilities for cyberwarfare.‚ÄĚ¬†
True, China is particularly interested in how best to defend its own computer networks, but more troubling, senior defense officials say, is that the Chinese military is bettering its ability to launch cyberattacks as well.¬†
‚ÄúWe note that China‚Äôs investing in not only capabilities to better defend their networks, but also they‚Äôre looking at ways to use cyber for offensive operations,‚ÄĚ added Mr. Helvey during a Pentagon briefing.
The People‚Äôs Liberation Army has set up a dedicated cyberunit to develop cyberwarfare technologies. ‚ÄúThere is the potential for these types of operations to be very disruptive,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúI mean, that‚Äôs one of the things about military operations in cyberspace ‚Äď that there can be cascading effects that are hard to predict.‚ÄĚ
One such impact includes cyberespionage on US companies, which US officials estimate has cost America billions of dollars in revenue. A report released last year by the US intelligence agencies called China‚Äôs cyberespionage a ‚Äúpersistent threat to US economic security.‚ÄĚ¬†
Two US House members went further:¬†"Every morning in China, thousands of highly trained computer spies now wake up with one mission: Steal U.S. intellectual property that the Chinese can use to further their economic growth," Reps. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) of Maryland, chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,¬†wrote in an op-ed article last month. "American companies are hemorrhaging research and development on products ranging from fighter engines, to pesticides, to cutting-edge information technology."
Chinese leaders tend to deny such attacks. ‚ÄúI can hardly agree with the proposition that the cyberattacks directed to the United States are directly coming from China,‚ÄĚ Gen. Liang Guanglie, China‚Äôs minister of national defense, said during a press conference at the Pentagon, where he was visiting, earlier this month.
On this point, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was elliptical as he stood beside his Chinese counterpart. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs true, as the general pointed out, that obviously there are other countries, actors, others involved in some of the attacks that both our countries receive.‚ÄĚ
But ‚Äúsome‚ÄĚ does not account for the ‚Äúmany‚ÄĚ cyberattacks coming from China cited in the most recent Pentagon assessment of Chinese military might.¬†
Helvey declined to point the finger directly at the Chinese government, demurring when asked if that‚Äôs who is ultimately responsible for the attacks. ‚ÄúWhen you say ‚Äėfrom China,‚Äô you mean from the Chinese government, presumably, right?‚ÄĚ a reporter wondered.
‚ÄúI just said it comes from China. I didn‚Äôt specify the specific attribution,‚ÄĚ Helvey responded. ‚ÄúBut we do have some concern about a number of these ... particular operations that appear to originate from China.‚ÄĚ¬†
Even as China develops advanced military capabilities, along with greater proficiency in cyberattacks, US officials stress that the Pentagon must avoid being caught off guard by Chinese advances in other weapons systems as well, such as advanced submarines, space technologies, and missile defense.¬†
‚ÄúThat is something that we have to anticipate and expect. I mean, we‚Äôre paying very careful attention to China‚Äôs military modernization,‚ÄĚ Helvey said. ‚ÄúBut we‚Äôve been surprised in the past, and we may very well be surprised in terms of seeing new weapons and equipment in the future.‚ÄĚ¬†