Chinese military warns of U.S. cyberwar threat

The official newspaper Liberation Army Daily says China must beef up its online defenses and create a "strong Internet army," lest the U.S. seize the high ground.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

The Chinese military wants to beef up its cyberdefense efforts as it anticipates greater threats originating from the U.S.

"The U.S. military is hastening to seize the commanding military heights on the Internet, and another Internet war is being pushed to a stormy peak," the Chinese military wrote in its official newspaper, Liberation Army Daily. "Their actions remind us that to protect the nation's Internet security, we must accelerate Internet defense development and accelerate steps to make a strong Internet army."

Though Liberation Army Daily isn't an official mouthpiece for the Chinese government, Reuters, which first reported on the story, points out that it typically reflects the official opinion of China's ruling party.

The Chinese military's calls for a stronger "Internet army" comes as China finds itself under fire for alleged hacking attempts on U.S. corporations and government organizations.

Earlier this month, Google announced that the Gmail accounts of top U.S. government officials and Chinese political activists were targeted in a phishing attack designed to gain access to the users' accounts. Google stopped short of blaming the Chinese government, but the search giant said that the attacks seemed to originate from Jinan, China, home to a Chinese government intelligence division.

That breach followed a hacking attempt in 2009 against Google and several other companies across the finance, technology, and chemical industries. Google said at the time that the "highly sophisticated and targeted attack," which also appeared to originate in China, led to the theft of the company's intellectual property.

In both cases, the Chinese government denied charges that it was behind the attacks.

Earlier this year, RSA was targeted in what it called an "extremely sophisticated cyberattack" aimed at stealing data shielded by its SecurID platform, which is widely used by the U.S. government and major corporations. The stolen information was used last month in attacks on Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and other U.S. government contractors, forcing Lockheed to replace 45,000 SecurID tokens.

Though the Chinese government was not specifically targeted in the attacks, former U.S. national security official Richard Clarke wrote in The Wall Street Journal yesterday that the U.S. knows where to place blame.

"Senior U.S. officials know well that the government of China is systematically attacking the computer networks of the U.S. government and American corporations," Clarke wrote in the op-ed piece for the Journal. "Beijing is successfully stealing research and development, software source code, manufacturing know-how and government plans."

Even worse, Clark said, the U.S. government "has no strategy to stop the Chinese cyberassault." But the U.S. doesn't seem to be alone. The Chinese military wrote that the country's "Internet security defenses are still very weak."

At this point, it seems that both sides are focusing on what Clarke calls "active defense," a term that he says the Pentagon uses to mean "offense," amid a "daily guerrilla cyberwar" between the two countries.

There's no telling where the cyberwar between the U.S. and China is headed. But the Wall Street Journal reported last month that the U.S. is mulling a policy that would define cyberattacks as an act of war, paving the way for the government to respond with military might in the event that it's attacked via the Web.