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Cyber War Between the US and China Looms

Cyber War Between the US and China Looms

chinese-hacking.jpgIs there a cyber war between the US and China going on right now? How does it affect you?

With the presidential election right around the corner, it looks like the candidates will have a new kind of threat to handle: the threat of a cyber war between the US and China. According to intelligence security experts, the number of attacks coming from hackers in association with China’s People’s Liberation Army is small, but they are still doing more than enough damage to U.S. security and economic competitiveness. Many experts are saying that the damage that has been done so far is nothing if not extensive. How can we defend ourselves from a truly invisible threat?

Thus far, China’s efforts have all been aimed at stealing both military secrets and intellectual property from the US.  However, Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the Pentagon’s joint Cyber Command established to counter such campaigns, said in November that, “We see a disturbing track from exploitation to disruption to destruction.”  Alexander wasn’t just talking about the Chinese, but many experts still say that Beijing is the basis for many cyber war attacks. Alexander is also notable for saying that he believes that hacker group Anonymous will be able to hack the power grid within two years.

The big question that is facing many security experts is what can be done about the whole situation.  To date, the majority of US efforts have gone to security and defense rather than offense; they first want to stop attacks before going on the offense.  The National Security Agency and other U.S. security organizations are known to have developed their own network-attack capabilities, but former White House cyber-security advisor Richard Clarke has warned that it would be dangerous for the U.S. to step up its own campaign against Chinese networks while U.S. safeguards against retaliation are so weak.

Under the leadership of a few forward-thinking policymakers such as former Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, the Department of Defense and intelligence community have greatly strengthened their information defenses and begun helping industry to protect critical infrastructure.  But insiders say the asymmetries between U.S. and Chinese society make it hard to cope with China’s cyber onslaught.  Not only is America a much more open and porous place, but U.S. agencies and private companies have a lot more information that’s worth stealing.

The U.S. is also well ahead of most other countries in moving both its security apparatus and commercial economy onto the Internet, which was not designed with security in mind.  Cyber experts say that Internet operations are intrinsically vulnerable to attacks by the kind of highly-skilled agents that China’s government employs, a problem that may be exacerbated as economic forces pressure federal agencies and corporations to outsource information resources to “the cloud.”  Not only is it easy to conceal the source of cyber attacks, but the Internet crisscrosses political boundaries in a manner that greatly diminished the effectiveness of traditional law-enforcement techniques.  As one former intelligence official said, “If I think China is attacking me but it’s using the server for the Chicago municipal hospital system, what am I supposed to do – take down the server?”

AUTHOR - Michael Peros

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