There it is, buried deep in a seemingly routine annual report the Pentagon has just released: The Chinese government has been carrying out cyber-raids on the U.S. government.
They aren’t actual cyber-attacks – attempts to destroy, disable or take over enemy information systems. They sound like sophisticated attempts to scrape this nation’s security secrets. According to the Defense Department’s May 6 update on Chinese military capacity:
“China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs.”
The purpose, the Pentagon believes, is to get “a picture of U.S. defense networks, logistics and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.” What’s more, the techniques used in these penetrations “are similar to those necessary to conduct computer network attacks.”
For reasons of his own, President Barack Obama kept this finding at arm’s length by trickling it out through a Pentagon brief. Still, his administration has crossed a threshold, officially accusing its third-largest trade partner of operating as an enemy in cyberspace.
The important takeaway may be as much about cyberwarfare in general than about China in particular.
Malware attacks on networks are increasingly common and increasingly the work of governments — such as North Korea and Iran — as opposed to criminal syndicates.
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