New cyber threats among the US Report on US military activity in China

(To Andrea Puligheddu)

The Chinese government and the PLA (People Liberation's Army) are strongly involved in a series of targeted investments and operations structured in the cyber domain, aimed at redefining a superiority in the sector by the Republic of China and damaging, through extremely damaging cyber attacks, the information infrastructures prepared for defensive purposes by the US.

This is essentially what emerges from the report by 156 pages from the US Department of Defense for 2016 dedicated to Chinese military activity, released annually and presented to the Congress, now the subject of heated debate between the respective diplomatic corps of the two countries.

The report draws a scenario in itself known in the framework of globally understood cyber security, which however had not yet received such clear clarification from sources close to an executive power of a democratic republic, as well as direct rival of China and Russia in contending for dominance on the cyberwarfare scenario.

First of all, note that China, as a member of several international organizations such as the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations ) and in collaboration with some of the most economically important states on the planet (Brazil, Russia, South Africa and India), formally assumed a role of active collaboration in the fight against cyber terrorism and widespread cyber crime, declaring itself the promoter of the need to identify one international standard for the processing of cyber - norms dedicated that include the principles of state sovereignty and mutual non-interference. In fact, China would therefore be among the leaders of this sector in the Eurasian area, protecting the rights and guarantees of individuals against cyberspace threats.

This has also had considerable implications for internal politics during the 2015. In fact, eight were defined at government level "strategic tasks"That the PLA must be ready to put in place, in terms of defense and management of the territory and its structures. One of these concerns the preservation of China's interests in new domains, such as space and cyberspace, highlighting it as a strategic priority for the development of the Republic.

On this point, the Report begins to highlight the alleged danger of how this dynamic was conducted. In fact, it is noted that China has also carried out a series of more critical operations, aimed at exponentially strengthening the cyberwarfare sector, including deterrence drills and simulations linking to sensitive objectives of other nations. In particular it is reported that the PLA, in the conception of its activities, considers the EW (Electronic Warfare) the privileged battlefield on which to destroy the advantage of the US in the field of war. In particular, the PLA would use weapons of innovative and secret development, which through the electromagnetic spectrum would be able to deactivate the opposing equipment. Radio, radar, infrared, viewers, instrumentation that uses micro waves as well as computers and computer systems are immediate and vital targets of this type of weaponry. Even if these types of armaments are certainly not to be considered a new topic (the EMP is a technology that is now outdated), it seems that the instruments in question have an innovation coefficient such as to be a real threat to international security. The EW would therefore be the "fourth dimension”Through which China could definitively close the game on the armaments side and acquire a new value of international deterrence.

The report states precisely that "Cyberwarfare capabilities could serve PLA operations in three key areas. First and foremost, they allow the PLA to collect data for intelligence and potential offensive cyber operations (OCO) purposes. Second, they can be used to constrain their actions to slow response time by targeting network-based logistics, communications, and commercial activities. Third, they can serve as a force - multiplier when coupled with kinetic attacks during times of crisis [...]".

In other words, what is found is that the primary use of data collected in the course of its cyber activities by the Chinese army would find in the context of a conflict, as it is natural to assume, a primary use in the intelligence field. , allowing it to acquire an advantageous position to hit sensitive objectives, reduce the opponent's response time by targeting its logistic, communication and commercial infrastructures, and exploit what has been acquired as a key element in case of conflict. In other words: we are talking about a potentially offensive use of the data, which would be clearly contrary to the indications of cooperation on cybernetic terrorism expressed in locations already mentioned and to which China itself is fully adherent.

However, the main problem is yet another. According to the Report in question, the exercise operations described above seem to have been tested also against real objectives and with very specific offensives. The Department claims that "In 2015, there are numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the US Government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be These and past intrusions were focused on accessing networks and exfiltrating information. China is using its cyber capabilities to support the US diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base that supports US national defense programs. The targeted information could potentially be used to benefit China's defense industry, high-technology industries, and provide CCP insights into US leadership perspectives on key China issues. Additionally, targeted information could inform Chinese military planners' to build a picture of US defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis. The accesses and skills required for these intrusions are similar to those necessary to conduct cyberattacks. "

The scenario described also refers to the acceleration detected by the Chinese government for the development of infrastructures built on an artificial island in the South China Sea area, in the Spratly Islands which would be considered an occult military base from which China could potentially hitting other critical targets through cyber attacks or even nuclear nature directed in Japan or Vietnam. A similar theater would therefore be rather critical, and would highlight a concrete and expressed offensive action distributed both under the lens of objectives and under that of the structure of actions.

For its part, the Chinese Ministry of Defense has denied such an interpretation of the exercises carried out, affirming that the US Report is once again a distortion of the real Chinese policies in this area and distorts the legitimate strategic actions made in it by passing them through improper acts . Even the construction of the island would be, according to the dicastery, aimed only at civil uses, and not at favoring military operations, as also reiterated in the past 2015, at the time of the first construction.

Pending further developments, it will be necessary to see what the responses from the countries concerned will be within the Asian area and what the cyber-level responses they will be will be.

(photo: US DoD)