It is becoming increasingly clear that Chinese computer hackers may have penetrated American military and civil critical infrastructure in ways that could cripple a US response to Chinese armed aggression from the outset. Certainly that would align with Beijing’s strategy, familiar from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, which is to win the war before a shot is fired.
In the modern digital context this entails preemptive cyber attacks not just against its enemies’ military forces, but also on the pillars of social and economic security, including communications, transport, energy, water and health systems. The aim is to damage opponents so badly that battle would never be joined, or only briefly before they collapse into domestic disarray and disaster.
To achieve this, China must first access data on the targets it wants to disrupt, and then devise cyber attacks that will avoid preventive measures and create sudden, irreversible havoc. The US is now desperately hunting for malicious software discovered inside the power grids and communications systems that supply its military. The tools for a pre-emptive first strike against the West could already be in place.
It seems that US intelligence became aware of a serious threat to national security in February, around the time of the spy balloon episode. Since May, according to Microsoft, Chinese hackers have been secretly accessing data from the State Department and Commerce Department, among other targets including Western European entities.
These developments are part of an established pattern. A Chinese attack in 2021, compromising the Microsoft exchange server, was blamed by the UK Foreign Office and National Cyber Security Centre on the Chinese Ministry of State Security. A year later, the directors of the UK and US security services together announced that China “posed the biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security”. At the same time Nato, at its 2022 Summit, declared that “the PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target allies and harm alliance security”.
The US military is scrambling to find out how badly Chinese cyber warfare has compromised America’s defences. The UK lags far behind; despite years of clear warnings by the intelligence and security community, there has yet to be a proper UK response. However uncomfortable it may be to accept for beneficiaries of the faux “Golden Era” when Beijing bought its way into the UK establishment, the CCP was then, and is now, waging relentless hybrid warfare against us and our Allies and partners.
Beijing was shamefully welcomed into our nuclear sector, and deeply embedded in much else. It is to be assumed that they are hoovering up vast quantities of British data, encrypted and unencrypted. What they can’t read now, they are believed to be storing against the day that evolving quantum computer technologies crack the codes.
Before it’s too late, not only America but all of its Western allies and partners must grasp that the Chinese Communist Party – and not the unfortunate citizens it rules over – looks like an enemy and acts like an enemy because it is our enemy. Will it take catastrophic cyber attacks on our civil critical infrastructure and our militaries being brought to their knees before a shot is fired for our politicians to wake up?
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