The Great Firewall Of China

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Investor's Business Daily
Wed Sep 5, 7:00 PM ET

Defense: The hacking of a Pentagon computer network by the Chinese military is evidence of China's development of "asymmetrical warfare." Was this computer attack part of preparation for a digital Pearl Harbor?

Pentagon sources have confirmed that in June hackers traced to the Chinese military broke into a computer system containing unclassified e-mail accounts in a section of the office of the defense secretary that deals with policy and administrative matters.

While the area hacked was considered unimportant, the complexity of the attack was impressive and demonstrated China's aggressive interest in "asymmetrical warfare" -- not matching an enemy tank for tank or plane for plane but searching for weaknesses and exploiting them to the fullest.

William Schneider of the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in March that China was "acquiring asymmetric capabilities that reflect a studied assessment of U.S. civil and military vulnerabilities," including our reliance on computers.

This wasn't the first time. In August and September 2006, Chinese computer hackers penetrated the State Department and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security. These attacks forced the government to replace hundreds of computers and take others offline for a month.

Buried in a recent Pentagon annual report on China's military capabilities is a section on the development of methods of attacking computer systems by the Chinese military. The report noted that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) sees computer network operations as "critical to seize the initiative" in establishing "electronic dominance" in a conflict with a potential enemy.

High technology is our military's greatest strength but potentially its greatest weakness. The Pentagon today uses more than 5 million computers on 100,000 networks at 1,500 sites in 65 countries. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne says America's nerve center "resides in cyberspace. Our military command and control, and precision strike capability all rely on ensured access to the electronic spectrum." China knows this.

The Pentagon logged more than 79,000 attempted intrusions into its computer systems in 2005. About 1,300 successfully gained access to a Defense Department computer, and some actually reduced the Army's military capabilities temporarily. Among the units that have been successfully "hacked" are the Army's 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the 4th Infantry Division.

As the Pentagon report warned, "The PLA has likely established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks, and tactics to protect friendly computer systems and networks."

Also noted was the fact that recent military exercises have included information warfare as a component and that "recent exercises have incorporated offensive operations, primarily as first strikes against enemy networks."

China's military planners know that it will be a while before they can seriously challenge the U.S. in terms of military hardware and global reach. But they hope to exploit our reliance on computers for functions such as command and control and real-time battlefield intelligence.

As the congressionally mandated U.S.-China Security Review Commission (USCC) states, "The Chinese realize they cannot win a traditional war against the U.S. (in Asia) and are seeking unorthodox ways to defeat the U.S. in any such conflict," such as an attack on Taiwan.

According to the USCC, China's potential cyber target list includes "forward-based command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence nodes, air bases, aircraft carriers and sea- and space-based command and control platforms."

Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee in June that "Chinese capabilities in this area have evolved from defending PRC networks from attack to offensive operations against adversary networks."

The threat is considered so serious that last year the Pentagon created a new cyberspace command to coordinate offensive and defensive operations. Lt. Gen. Robert Elder of the 8th Air Force is to head this new command being set up at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

So far, most of the attacks have been merely annoying, sort of like drive-by shootings using a water pistol, but they've been growing in number, sophistication and effectiveness. Unless we're prepared, our next Pearl Harbor may not begin with an ominous "Tora, Tora, Tora" but with the innocent-sounding "You've got mail."

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