China Accused of Launching Cyberattacks

Today, the New York Times published an article by David Sanger and John Markoff in which they discuss cyberattacks against Google that were allegedly launched by Chinese hackers who were probably supported by the Chinese government if the allegations are true.  The reporters speculate that the intruders were trying to do one of the following things:

1. Gain commercial advantage.

2. Insert spyware.

3. Break into the email accounts of Chinese dissidents and American experts on China who frequently exchange email messages with administration officials.

Other technology companies might also have been targets, including Yahoo, Symantec, Adobe, Juniper, Northrop and a prominent research organization with ties to the White House. 

Aside from the commercial implications of the attacks, there are also national security aspects to cyber threats.  Two years ago, a computer system in the Office of the Secretary of Defense was penetrated, and US officials believe the Chinese government was behind the effort, although there was no definitive proof that China was culpable.  The difficulty of pinpointing the exact source of an attack complicates the task of defending against them and taking retaliatory measures. 

There is a high probability that cyberwarfare would be part of any Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan or take away its de facto independence through coercion, and American military forces could be vulnerable in the event of a conflagration because they rely heavily on computer systems for things like communication and targeting.  China has already successfully tested anti-satellite missiles that could take out military hardware in space and seriously disrupt US naval and air operations if America intervened in the conflict, and there is strong reason to believe that the Chinese would use non-kinetic means for similar ends.

Naturally, American defense personnel are waging defensive cyberwarfare against hackers from China and elsewhere.  After the aforementioned incident at the Department of Defense, the US reportedly warned Chinese officials that further attacks against America’s national security apparatus would not be tolerated, which suggests that America maintains offensive cyberwarfare capabilities that could be used to retaliate against attackers or preemptively in the early stages of a conflict.

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