U.S. forces in Pa­cific vul­ner­a­ble to Chi­nese cy­ber­at­tack

Goal to dis­rupt com­puter sys­tems

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY SHAUN WATERMAN

In a fu­ture war with the United States, China likely would first use cy­ber­weapons to at­tack com­puter net­works of U.S. forces in the Pa­cific rather than strike with con­ven­tional arms, ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional re­port Thurs­day.

The cy­ber­at­tacks would aim to dis­rupt the elec­tronic sys­tems on which U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand re­lies for com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­mand and re­sup­ply, im­ped­ing its abil­ity to fight back against the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA), says a re­port for the U.s.-china Eco­nomic and Se­cu­rity Re­view Com­mis­sion.

“PLA 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,” the re­port states.

The re­port, pre­pared by an­a­lysts for de­fense contractor Northrop Grum­man Corp., also says such at­tacks would take ad­van­tage of con­fu­sion over U.S. poli­cies on how to respond to anony­mous at­tacks over the In­ter­net.

“Even if cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence points to China as the cul­prit, no pol­icy cur­rently ex­ists to eas­ily de­ter­mine ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse op­tions to a large-scale at­tack on U.S. mil­i­tary or civil­ian net­works in which de­fin­i­tive at­tri­bu­tion is lack­ing,” says the re­port.

“Bei­jing, un­der­stand­ing this, may seek to ex­ploit this gray area in U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ing and le­gal frame­works.”

The re­port notes that a suc­cess­ful cy­ber­at­tack might not be­come ap­par­ent un­til af­ter it is over or, worse, un­til con­ven­tional fight­ing has be­gun, as crit­i­cal net­works fail or be­come un­re­li­able.

It is not just mil­i­tary net­works that might fail as a re­sult of Chi­nese cy­ber­war­fare, the re­port warns.

The PLA’S close ties to large Chi­nese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firms mean China’s mil­i­tary has op­por­tu­ni­ties to pen­e­trate the sup­ply net­works for elec­tronic com­po­nents used by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and pri­vate in­dus­try as well as the U.S. mil­i­tary, build­ing se­cret “back doors” or booby traps into vi­tal sys­tems.

Pen­e­trat­ing the U.S. telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sup­ply chain in this way would be com­plex and dif­fi­cult, the re­port notes. But a suc­cess­ful at­tack would “cause a catas­trophic fail­ure of se­lect sys­tems and net­works sup­port­ing crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture for na­tional se­cu­rity or public safety,” it says.

The re­port, based on pub­licly avail­able Chi­nese of­fi­cial and aca­demic publi­ca­tions, says the PLA has been con­duct­ing mil­i­tary ex­er­cises that in­clude cy­ber­op­er­a­tions in an ef­fort to bet­ter in­te­grate cy­ber­ca­pa­bil­i­ties into its war-fight­ing.

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

The re­port says U.S. Trans­porta­tion Com­mand (Transcom) would be an­other likely tar­get of any pre-emp­tive Chi­nese cy­ber­strike in the Pa­cific.

Transcom is the mil­i­tary com­mand that pro­vides cargo and lo­gis­tics sup­port to the na­tion’s armed forces — mov­ing troops, equip­ment and sup­plies into and out of war the­aters. It also pro­vides midair re­fu­el­ing for U.S. air­craft.

Transcom’s com­puter sys­tems have to run on un­clas­si­fied net­works be­cause they are in­te­grated with com­mer­cial air­lift providers. The global sys­tem that man­ages midair re­fu­el­ing mis­sions, for in­stance, is based on the In­ter­net and could be sus­cep­ti­ble to pen­e­tra­tion by Chi­nese hack­ers, the re­port says.

AP PHOTO/ALJIZAH­NEWS VIA APTN

This im­age made from ama­teur video and re­leased by Aljizah­news on Thurs­day pur­ports to show a deputy to Syria’s oil min­istry who iden­ti­fies him­self as Abdo Husamed­dine at an uniden­ti­fied lo­ca­tion.

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