A growing band of civilian units inside China is writing malicous code and training to launch cyberstrikes into enemy systems.
And for many of these units, the first enemy is the U.S. Defense Department.
Pentagon officials say there are more than three million daily scans of the Global Information Grid, the Defense Department’s main network artery, and that the United States and China are the top two originating countries.
“China has downloaded 10 to 20 terabytes of data from the NIPRNet (DOD’s Non-Classified IP Router Network),” said Maj. Gen. William Lord, director of information, services and integration in the Air Force’s Office of Warfighting Integration and Chief Information Officer, during the recent Air Force IT Conference in Montgomery, Ala.
“They’re looking for your identity so they can get into the network as you,” said Lord, adding that Chinese hackers had yet to penetrate DOD’s secret, classified network. “There is a nation-state threat by the Chinese.”
People’s Liberation Army writings in recent years have called for the use of all means necessary, including—or particularly—information warfare, to support or advance their nation’s interests.
To China’s PLA, attacks against DOD systems would be the first salvo in a long-term strategy to cripple the U.S. military’s ability to communicate and deliver precision weapons.
A big part of the strategy is the PLA’s civilian units—IT engineers drawn from universities, institutes and corporations. The PLA views these militias as its trump card and a way of asserting virtual dominance to paralyze the United States and other potential adversaries.
The U.S. military is familiar with China’s approach. In fact, its own strategy in cyberspace is similar to the PLA’s—the countries’ doctrines and strategies almost mirror one another.
It is unclear how aggressive a posture the United States is taking when it comes to defending against cyberattacks. But DOD certainly is paying attention to China’s offensive aggression, and even considering offensive actions of its own, Lord said. “But the rules of engagement have to change before we’re fully engaged in cyberspace.”
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