By Benjamin Cost
The war of the future may not be decided by tanks on a sandy embankment or by the nuclear arsenals of various countries, but rather on a keyboard. Experts state that China demonstrates incredible prowess in the cyber-warfare arena, boasting the capacity to sabotage the US power grid, hack into the Federal Aviation Administration’s flight database, and even crash its financial markets (or at least, crash them again) – capabilities that China might employ should a conflict arise between the US and China concerning Taiwan’s self-governance.
And while the US militarily has always prized its command skills and communication networks – resources it used to great effect in the Gulf War (1990-91) – these could prove futile when pitted against China’s cyber-weapons.
Asia Times Online reports:
Chief among China’s asymmetric tactics is the role of cyber-war in disrupting key channels of communication upon which America’s command and control operations rely. As the Grumman report for the USCC suggests, one possible scenario where this would be appropriate is during a conflict over Taiwan. As only one example, the report notes that if the Chinese could redirect US air-refueling tankers away from where they are needed to refuel fighters and bombers, China could successfully delay a US attack.
The report points out that the US military software that runs and coordinates refueling capability is a “Web-based application that integrates data from multiple related databases supporting different aspects of the air-refueling mission”. It goes on to state: “Disrupting the ability to coordinate air refueling has the potential to temporarily ground or delay the movement of fighters, strike aircraft, and valuable heavy airlift into the theater.”
But regardless of whether the US and China go toe-to-toe over Taiwan, China may hack into other important US institutions, something it’s pulled in the past. Chinese hackers famously infiltrated NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory this past year and breached Google security in 2010, accessing sensitive files and personal accounts in both instances. They even “spearphished” their way into the US Chamber of Commerce and gained administrative level clearance.
These alarming breaches of US security have prompted many to question the US’ competency at fending off cyber-attacks as well as its possible naivete to the threat. Some even ask, “has the US been too trusting of China?”
However, the US’ hands also prove dirty and carpal-tunneled as similar to China, it recruits “cyber warriors” to aid various infiltration missions (we can already see recruitment posters replacing your standard army youth with a bespectacled, zit-ridden keyboard warrior).
Nonetheless, Chinese hackers might be the top dogs in the cyber-warfare department and who US intelligence describes as cyber-espionage’s “most active and persistent perpetrators.”
We can certainly expect cyber-espionage to be one of the next legs of a China-US power race which has seen rampant military and economic dick-measuring on both sides.