Tuesday, October 28, 2014

China’s Cyberespionage against the U.S. Is Just the Opening Gambit

By Jim McFarlin

The world is becoming increasingly hostile. The evidence is mounting: struggles with ISIS in the Middle East; Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine and the California coast; Iran’s nuclear bomb; and China’s aggression in the South China Sea, not to mention her new boomer subs.

Of these, China’s aggression is perhaps the most subtle -- and most concerning.

China has been conducting cyberattacks against the U.S. for years, collecting intellectual property from businesses, the government and our military. Their strength in the cyberattack realm? Stealth. Networks can be probed, malware planted, and secrets whisked across the Pacific, often without so much as a chirp from the victim’s cybersecurity perimeter guards defenses.

Because these attacks are non-lethal, life in the U.S. goes on without alarm – but these seemingly minor attacks may lead to a more urgent situation. As Winston Churchill remarked about Chamberlain’s so-called peace pact with Hitler, “This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup.”

And Churchill was right: Hitler had negotiated in bad faith. When World War II ended, it had consumed more than 50 million people.

Indeed, seemingly small actions can quickly lead to ruinous results.

China vigorously denies cyberattacks against the U.S., but several irrefutable facts blow their cover. One is the little matter of a comprehensive forensics study by American cybersecurity firm Mandiant, which clearly proved not only China’s cyberattacks on America but also narrowed the deeds down to China’s very own People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The second piece of proof? In May of 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted five Chinese PLA officers for hacking and economic espionage against the United States.

Several clues indicate a possible motive for China’s espionage. First is the aggression in the South China Sea, where U.S. warships and planes are far from welcome. Second is news of China’s four new nuclear-tipped atomic submarines, which have been roaming that part of the world and the Indian Ocean in a show of bravado. These submarines can easily get well within range to hurl their missiles at any target in the U.S.

Washington believes China wants to hold all the cards in their region of the world to stop the U.S. from intervening in a conflict over Taiwan, or with Japan and the Philippines.

Deploying sophisticated military assets for a purpose is one thing, but understanding U.S. potential reactions and communications capabilities makes their moves tremendously more powerful.

And what better way to understand how the U.S. might respond than to steal that knowledge through cyberattacks?

This conclusion explains the U.S. indictments: the Chinese are on official notice that we’re on to them and that their actions are unacceptable. With good fortune, the U.S. will continue pressuring China to back off their cyber espionage through diplomatic, legal, military and other means.

To do less only serves to be complicit with their plans, thus taking the first sip from the bitter cup that may include a future military confrontation in the South China Sea.

("China Flag Stock Image" by jannoon028/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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