Chinese cyberwarriors on the rise?

06/09/2007 Written by Boris Mutina

chinaLast days brought to whole world really inter­est­ing news. After Mrs. Merkel vis­ited China and spoke about hacker attacks against Ger­man min­istries, also Finan­cial Times revealed, that Pen­ta­gon was tar­get of such attacks from China. If this is not enough, also Guardian recently reported about such attacks on gov­ern­men­tal net­works in UK. Titan Rain — as US called the rais­ing Chi­nese hack­ing activ­i­ties, seems to be stronger than we could imag­inne.

Gen­eral assump­tions from spe­cial­ists are, that behind these attacks is PLA — People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army — or if you want: Chi­nese army. This assump­tion is sup­ported by the sev­eral facts, like tar­get selec­tion, attack lev­els (even IT secu­rity world would for sure invite more details on how the attacks were per­formed). It is also another known fact that China trained hack­ers already years ago. Then why this all is sur­pris­ing some of us?

Before answer­ing this ques­tion, let’s sum­ma­rize some points.

On deface­ments, there is more or less clear, who’s the attacker — he leaves his sig­na­ture. If some­one intrudes into your net­work unob­served, you can maybe check your logs to see the ori­gin of the attack from IP address, but can you say for sure, this is the real ori­gin of the attacker? Inves­ti­ga­tion on orig­i­nat­ing sys­tem can show, that also orig­i­nat­ing sys­tem was compromised…But your offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tion can be destroyed, you reside for exam­ple in US and the orig­i­nat­ing sys­tem is from… China…

On the other hand, to show the real iden­tity can be a part of strat­egy. Such demon­stra­tion of tech­no­logic advan­tage and attack meth­ods can be only the inno­cent wargame com­pared to real dig­i­tal con­flict. Remem­ber the cold war? There were many demon­stra­tions of power and tech­no­logic advance on both sides. Any­way times has moved on and also tech­nol­ogy, only the mes­sage that has to be pro­vided, remains: “you should be scarred, because we are strong and we are pre­pared”.

Small army of skilled cyber­war­riors could change the face of war on the globe and China is pos­si­bly aware of that. You don’t need to move to your target’s coun­try to cause dam­ages, you just need to have Inter­net con­nec­tion. Dr. San­dra Bell from Royal United Ser­vices Insti­tute aready stated that for Chi­nese there is no dif­fer­ence between asym­met­ric war­fare and con­ven­tional war­fare. Well it is no won­der, some­times small group of attack­ers can cause much big­ger dam­ages than big expen­sive army.

China is big coun­try, its mil­i­tary and eco­nomic power is undis­putted. Apro­pos, eco­nomic inter­ests could be also one one of more expla­na­tions used to build the real rea­son of these inci­dents.

Except the Pen­ta­gon attack, attacks on Ger­many and UK might indi­cate, that there is big strug­gle to get sen­si­tive infor­ma­tions about approach to China and its import from Europe and EU. Nova­days you can find lot of stores with cheap ware from China start­ing from under­ware through shoes, toys (some­times dan­ger­ous) up to elec­tron­ics. Since Europe already found out that cheap import cuts work­places in EU mem­ber coun­tries, their pres­sure on decreas­ing import from China to Europe will rise. This could be also rea­son for found Chi­nese (?) spy­ware on Ger­man Min­istry of Econ­omy.

Some of you would say: “and what if the Chi­nese are say­ing the truth, what if some other coun­try or group of country-​independet attack­ers is respon­si­ble for that and they mis­used Chi­nese sys­tems?” Well, this is also opin­ion, but old Slavonic say­ing says, that leaves on trees will not move with­out a blow of wind. Who didn’t get the point: China is really a giant, not only eco­nomic, in num­ber of pop­u­la­tion, but also in tech­nol­ogy. Dig­i­tal attacks and other kind of such activ­i­ties are noth­ing new.

Now let’s place the answer to the ques­tion from begin­ning: why this all is sur­pris­ing us? Because many of peo­ple around the world still did not get, that IT tech­nolo­gies and Inter­net are not only to their amuse­ment, email and news­pa­per read­ing. IT tech­nolo­gies and Inter­net are means of crime, pro­pa­ganda, espi­onage and also war. And we depend on it.

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