China’s cy­ber­war­fare abil­i­ties gain­ing on U.S.

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

China’s gov­ern­ment is sharply in­creas­ing its in­vest­ment in cy­ber­war­fare pro­grams in what U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say is a ma­jor at­tempt to com­pete with su­pe­rior U.S. mil­i­tary cy­ber­ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The new spend­ing pri­or­ity was de­scribed by U.S. of­fi­cials as a long-term, large-scale re­al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources by the Chi­nese, which is con­sid­ered, along with Rus­sia, to be among the most ca­pa­ble cy­ber­war­fare na­tions.

“There is now data we have that sug­gests that they have redi­rected as much as 20 [per­cent] to 30 per­cent more fund­ing to cy­ber than they have in pre­vi­ous years,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial familiar with de­tails of the Chi­nese ef­fort.

New in­tel­li­gence re­ports in­di­cate Bei­jing has “made a long-term strate­gic com­mit­ment” to bol­ster­ing cy­ber­war­fare ef­forts, the of­fi­cial added.

Ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, the ma­jor in­crease in Chi­nese ef­forts was set off af­ter the Chi­nese con­cluded that their mil­i­tary cy­ber­pro­grams lag be­hind U.S. strate­gic cy­ber­war­fare ef­forts in sig­nif­i­cant ways. De­tails of the amount be­ing spent on the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army cy­ber­pro­gram could not be learned.

But pri­vate an­a­lysts said the fund­ing in­crease by up to a third over past spend­ing could be val­ued any­where from the hun­dreds of mil­lions to bil­lions of dol­lars.

Rep. Mike Pom­peo, Kansas Repub­li­can, said China, through the PLA, has de­vel­oped one of the most so­phis­ti­cated cy­ber­ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the world.

“They have stolen hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty from U.S. busi­nesses and con­tinue to com­mit this theft,” Mr. Pom­peo said. “The Chi­nese have now in­creased their ca­pac­ity to con­duct mas­sive at­tacks and con­tinue to con­sider this weapon as a pri­mary tool in their ar­se­nal.” A CIA spokesman de­clined to com­ment. Chi­nese Em­bassy spokesman Zhu Hai­quan de­clined to di­rectly ad­dress China’s in­creased cy­ber spend­ing.

But Mr. Zhu said: “China ad­vo­cates for the peace­ful use of cy­berspace. Ef­forts should be made by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to pre­vent mil­i­ta­riza­tion of cy­berspace and cy­ber arms race.”

The in­crease in cy­ber­war­fare fund­ing is part of what China’s mil­i­tary calls its “in­for­ma­tion war­fare” pro­gram and was out­lined in the lat­est de­fense bud­get un­veiled in early March. Bei­jing an­nounced March 4 that de­fense spend­ing this year will in­crease by 10 per­cent from last year’s bud­get to around $143.6 bil­lion.

That of­fi­cial fig­ure, how­ever, ex­cludes China’s spend­ing on strate­gic nu­clear forces, for­eign weapons im­ports, mil­i­tary space pro­grams and re­search and devel­op­ment. The Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute es­ti­mates that ac­tual Chi­nese de­fense spend­ing could be 55 per­cent higher than of­fi­cial fig­ures.

China has been sharply in­creas­ing its de­fense spend­ing nearly ev­ery year by dou­ble-digit per­cent­ages as part of an ef­fort to mod­ern­ize its mil­i­tary.

The boost in Chi­nese cy­ber­war­fare pro­grams fol­lowed a meet­ing in Septem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party Polit­buro when Gen­eral Sec­re­tary and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping called for a new in­for­ma­tion war­fare strat­egy.

State-run Chi­nese tele­vi­sion re­ported Sept. 2 that Mr. Xi called for “more mil­i­tary in­no­va­tion in China and a new strat­egy for in­for­ma­tion war­fare amid a global mil­i­tary revo­lu­tion.” The di­rec­tive was made dur­ing a Polit­buro meet­ing Aug. 29.

“Xi Jin­ping en­cour­aged the army to change fixed mind-sets on mech­a­nized war­fare and cre­ate a con­cept of in­for­ma­tion war­fare as the coun­try faces es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions on in­tel­li­gence is­sues with other coun­tries,” the re­port stated.

Chi­nese mil­i­tary hack­ing into both gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor U.S. com­puter net­works prompted the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­dict five PLA hack­ers last May.

Dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late

De­fense spe­cial­ists said de­ter­min­ing the amount China spends on cy­ber­war­fare pro­grams is dif­fi­cult as the pro­grams are among China’s most se­cret op­er­a­tions.

Richard A. Bitzinger, a spe­cial­ist on Chi­nese de­fense is­sues at the S. Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Sin­ga­pore, said China does not dis­close de­tails of its mil­i­tary bud­get, although it has said that about a third of its spend­ing, or around $45 bil­lion a year, is spent on “equip­ment,” in­clud­ing re­search and devel­op­ment and pro­cure­ment.

“How much of this is for cy­ber, I can’t begin to guess,” he said. “I can imag­ine that it’s in the bil­lions na­tion­wide, and cer­tainly in the hun­dreds of mil­lions within the Chi­nese mil­i­tary. It’s likely that even a ball­park fig­ure is un­ob­tain­able, given how dis­parate China’s over­all cy­ber­ac­tiv­i­ties are.”

Cy­ber­war­fare and in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties also are spread out among the mil­i­tary and its elec­tronic in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, the civil­ian Min­istry of State Se­cu­rity as well as semi-of­fi­cial tech­ni­cal in­sti­tutes and uni­ver­si­ties. Paul Rosen­zweig, a cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­pert and for­mer Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity pol­i­cy­maker, said China re­gards it­self as a close com­peti­tor of the United States in the cy­ber­do­main and views cy­ber­ca­pa­bil­i­ties as a way of “lev­el­ing the play­ing field.”

“They have pre­vi­ously de­voted sub­stan­tial re­sources to cyberespionage and theft,” Mr. Rosen­zweig said. “It is un­sur­pris­ing that they are, like­wise, in­vest­ing heav­ily in more ‘con­ven­tional’ cy­ber­war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

Over the longer term, “China’s vi­sion of com­bined op­er­a­tions, with cy­ber as a strong com­po­nent of its ca­pa­bil­ity, will sig­nif­i­cantly chal­lenge Amer­i­can free­dom of ac­tion in the Pa­cific,” Mr. Rosen­zweig added.

While the cy­ber­war­fare and cyberespionage pro­grams are se­cret, Chi­nese mil­i­tary writ­ings have pro­vided some in­sights into Bei­jing’s think­ing.

“It is an­tic­i­pated in the fore­see­able fu­ture that it is ex­tremely likely for cy­ber­war­fare to as­sist or even re­place con­ven­tional fire­power dam­age means as a ma­jor player in mod­ern and fu­ture wars,” states an Oct. 1, 2013, tech­ni­cal pa­per in the jour­nal China Mil­i­tary Science.

“In con­ven­tional war­fare, ma­te­rial me­dia as­so­ci­ated with ki­netic en­ergy, such as knifes, bul­lets, ar­tillery shells and mis­siles are used as the dam­age me­dia,” the re­port said. “In cy­ber war­fare, com­puter tech­nol­ogy rep­re­sented by the In­ter­net, or ‘in­for­ma­tion flow’ is used as the war­ring me­dia. War­ring par­ties only need to click a mouse to com­plete the en­tire at­tack­ing process.”

Cy­ber­at­tacks also are not limited to mil­i­tary per­son­nel but can also be car­ried out by civil­ian hack­ers, and can be con­ducted anony­mously in or­der to com­pli­cate ef­forts to re­spond, the re­port said.

The Snow­den fac­tor

An­other fac­tor that may have con­trib­uted to the de­ci­sion by Chi­nese lead­ers to in­crease cy­ber­war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties was dis­clo­sures of U.S. cy­ber­op­er­a­tions by rene­gade Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den.

Late last year, NSA doc­u­ments pro­vided to Ger­many’s Der Spiegel re­vealed that the NSA has de­vel­oped ex­tremely ca­pa­ble cy­ber­pen­e­tra­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The doc­u­ments re­vealed that NSA is so pro­fi­cient at cy­ber­op­er­a­tions that it can break into the com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works used by for­eign spy agen­cies and steal the data they are col­lect­ing clan­des­tinely from agents.

The tech­nique was called “I drink your milk­shake” in the NSA doc­u­ments, a ref­er­ence to a line in the 2007 film “There Will Be Blood” about covertly drilling oil from some­one else’s well.

Rick Fisher, a China mil­i­tary af­fairs ex­pert with the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter, said gaug­ing Chi­nese cy­ber­war­fare ef­forts is dif­fi­cult be­cause of Bei­jing’s lack of trans­parency. How­ever, the Chi­nese ef­fort could be re­lated to the Snow­den dis­clo­sures, Mr. Fisher said.

“Snow­den’s rev­e­la­tions, ob­tained by Chi­nese and then Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, which they likely shared, also likely be­trayed su­pe­rior U.S. cy­ber­ca­pa­bil­i­ties — some de­tailed in sub­se­quent press re­ports — that China is now try­ing to match or ex­ceed,” Mr. Fisher said.

“China to­day al­ready poses the most per­va­sive cy­berthreat to the world in terms of its ra­pa­cious ap­petite for gov­ern­ment, cor­po­rate and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion,” he added, not­ing the in­creased ef­fort could be dubbed a “Snow­den ef­fect” that will in­crease the cy­berthreat to the United States.

The U.S. mil­i­tary is seek­ing $5.5 bil­lion for cy­ber­ac­tiv­i­ties in the fis­cal 2016 bud­get, a fig­ure that was ques­tioned last month by Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

“Un­for­tu­nately, as it turns out, the bud­get is dis­pro­por­tion­ately fo­cused on net­work in­fra­struc­ture, with only 8 per­cent of that $5.5 bil­lion al­lo­cated for Cy­ber Com­mand and the devel­op­ment of our cy­ber­mis­sion forces,” Mr. McCain said on March 19.

Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand, tes­ti­fied that cy­berthreats are “per­va­sive,” and he said ad­ver­saries are grow­ing in so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

“Our mil­i­tary net­works are probed for vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties lit­er­ally thou­sands of times per day,” Adm. Rogers said at a Se­nate hear­ing last month. “The very as­sets within our mil­i­tary that pro­vide us for­mi­da­ble ad­van­tages over any ad­ver­sary are pre­cisely the rea­son that our enemies seek to map, un­der­stand, ex­ploit and po­ten­tially dis­rupt our global net­work ar­chi­tec­ture.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The build­ing hous­ing Unit 61398 of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army is seen in the out­skirts of Shang­hai in 2013. Cy­ber­at­tacks that stole in­for­ma­tion from 141 tar­gets in the U.S. and other coun­tries have been traced to the Chi­nese mil­i­tary unit in the build­ing. The new spend­ing pri­or­ity was de­scribed by U.S. of­fi­cials as a large-scale re­al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources by the Chi­nese, which is con­sid­ered to be among the most ca­pa­ble cy­ber­war­fare na­tions.

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