US vs. China: Is the Cyber Warfare Gap Increasing?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

Chinese offensive capabilities in cyberspace are more than ever the subject of great interest by the international community which fears the rise of China as a technological colossus.

In recent days, a summit took place between the U.S. and China with the aim of promoting mutual cooperation in order to restore equilibrium in cyberspace.

Many experts have wondered how to ask to the China, whose cyber operations are of dire concern, to collaborate on a common definition of cyber security.

In fact, the purpose of the meetings is certainly questionable if the expressions of confidence shown by the U.S. towards China during the summit should dissolve as soon as they return to discussing cyberespionage and the possibility of outsourcing US telecommunications services to Chinese companies.

The Pentagon is convinced that China is investing heavily in an effort to improve its cyber stature and ability to conduct offensive operations, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Asia Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey declared:

"China is investing in not only capabilities to better defend their networks but also they're looking at ways to use cyber for offensive operations,"

The principal aspect of the Chinese cyber strategy that worries the Pentagon is the increasing capabilities in cyber espionage with a particular concentration on network exploitation.

The Government of Bejing has always demonstrated a great interest in cyber espionage, acquiring in a short time a sizable advantage that has allowed the nation to perform stealth operations that created a lot of collateral damage, and that have caused the loss of intellectual property and sensitive information.

Helvey also added:

"We continue to see China expressing interest in making investments to improve their capacity for operations in cyberspace, and that is something that we pay very, very careful attention to. There is the potential for these types of operations to be very disruptive, disruptive not only in a conflict, could be very disruptive to the United States, but other countries as well. I mean, that's one of the things about military operations in cyberspace, that there can be cascading effects that are hard to predict..."

The Pentagon has collected information that demonstrates improvement in Chinese capabilities not only in conventional warfare, but also in cyber warfare, and that China is in fact is investing in military systems that can be applied for  attacking targets located far from Chinese Soil.

It's clear that this types of weapons are technologically sophisticated and require advanced capabilities for implementation and deployment.

China is of great concern, in my opinion, for two main reasons:

  • It is a nation with a fast growing market power that is unrivaled in the world economy and has a very aggressive offensive cyber strategy.
  • It is one of the countries that best understands the importance a cyber strategy has on its military might. The government supports all operations for technological development, not excluding the acquisition of foreign technology through cyber espionage operations. The Chinese government's commitment is undoubtedly greater than that of any Western country, something that has given it a definite advantage.

America and all of the West are having to chase Chase China while in a state of great economic disadvantage, and this is the aspect that most worries. Limited capital spending and constantly being under careful review of the government presents tactical limitations.

The U.S. and the West in general have underestimated the military development of nations such as China and India, and aren't evaluating risks related to future confrontation both in the conventional military arena and in cyber warfare.

Awareness today is certainly appropriate even if it comes late.

The social fabric of nations such as the U.S. is now permeated by the presence of Chinese money, and Western companies work daily with those in Asia in the realization of new projects, sharing of information, and sensitive technology.

A step back today is certainly not feasible, but a demonstration of our unwillingness to accept such and aggressive Chinese cyber strategy seems desirable.

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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