Chinese Cyber-Warfare Capabilities a Threat to U.S. Military – Report

China is an emerging power not only in terms of international trade and commerce. According to a report by the congressionaly-created U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission, cyber-warfare activities conducted by the Chinese government could pose a genuine risk to the U.S. military in conflict situations. If war were to break out, China is likely to first use cyberweapons instead of conventional warfare, the report says.

In this Tuesday Jan. 31, 2012 photo, Chinese Air Force J-10 fighter jets take off during a training in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, China. A US Congress report released this week has expressed concerns over China's increasing cyber-warfare capabilities, stressing both civilian and military risks. (AP Photo)

The study is based on publicly-available information, and highlights how Chinese commercial firms and foreign partners provide the Chinese military access to cutting-edge research and technology, Reuters reports.

According to the report, China is “fully engaged in leveraging all available resources to create a diverse, technically advanced ability to operate in cyberspace.” This includes attack, defense, and network exploitation activities, including intelligence collection.

[People’s Liberation Army] analysts consistently identify logistics and [communications, command and control] infrastructure as U.S. strategic centers of gravity, suggesting that PLA commanders will almost certainly attempt to target these systems [with cyber-weapons], likely in advance of actual combat to degrade [U.S.] capabilities in a conflict.

This capability has the potential to cause a “catastrophic failure of systems and networks supporting critical infrastructure for national security or public safety,” says the report. Further, “Chinese capabilities in computer network operations have advanced sufficiently to pose genuine risk to U.S. military operations in the event of a conflict.”

PLA exercises increasingly include network attack, network defense, electronic countermeasures, and psychological operations operating alongside ground, naval, air, and strategic missile forces.

The U.S. has taken an official stance as being concerned over Chinese espionage via computer penetrations, saying that “Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” in a declassified report to Congress by the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive.

The recent reports notwithstanding, U.S. officials have deems themselves still ill-equipped to deal with cyber-warfare vulnerabilities. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says funds are not the problem, and that the concern lies with “[figuring out] productive ways of doing it.”

Aside from military concerns, the analysis likewise points out how Chinese authorities have the ability to penetrate U.S. telecommunications supply chain, through which the military could create secret “back doors” or “booby traps” in vital systems.

Meant to aid in creating cyber-security legislation, the 136-page analysis by the Northrop Grumman Group will be used by American lawmakers in drafting laws that aim to improve security among U.S. networks, such as the U.S. Transportation Command (TransCom), which was pointed out as a likely target for a pre-emptive attack. TransCom provides cargo and logistics support to the U.S. armed forces, but has to run on unclassified networks due to tight integration with commercial logistics providers. As these are Internet-based, these could be vulnerable to cyber attacks, the report says.