In a report detailing Chinese military might, the Pentagon has for the first time publicly accused the Chinese government and military of conducting cyber-espionage against the United States. Computer analysts tracing hacker activity have blamed China for cyber-attacks in the past, but the new Department of Defense report is the first time the Obama administration has publicly linked the attacks to government agents.
“China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs,” reads the 83-page report, released Monday. “The information targeted could potentially be used to benefit China’s defense industry … and military planners building a picture of U.S. network defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”
The People’s Republic of China has, of course, vehemently denied these activities. Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the country’s foreign ministry, on Tuesday said China had “made clear its position on cyberattacks and is firmly against any forms of cyberattacks.”
She added the U.S. Defense Department had made “irresponsible comments about China’s normal and justified defense buildup, and hyped up the so-called China military threat.”
In addition to internet-based threats, the Pentagon report said Chinese military has conducted tests of electromagnetic jamming tools designed to disrupt communications, radar, and GPS satellite navigation systems: “Chinese [Electronic Warfare] doctrine emphasizes using electromagnetic spectrum weapons to suppress or deceive enemy electronic equipment. [The] strategy focuses on radio, radar, optical, infrared, and microwave frequencies, in addition to adversarial computer and information systems.”
The bolder stance from the Pentagon comes three months after a U.S. cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, completed a report tracing a large number of hacker attacks against U.S. companies to a 12-story military building outside Shanghai, known as Unit 61398.
In spite of China’s continual protestations of innocence, the magnitude of sophisticated cyberattacks and their geographic links to powerful states reveals the modern reality of warfare: Malicious operations and spying activity over internet lines and invisible airspace are top tools for military intelligence agencies. Leaked information has revealed the United States also used a computer worm in an offensive cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear program.
Besides spotlighting China’s capabilities over the internet, the Pentagon report described other advances in the country’s military technology, supported by a defense budget estimated at between $135 billion and $215 billion. China tested its second advanced stealth fighter aircraft last October, and is building up a small fleet of nuclear-powered submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles 4,600 miles.
China also conducted 18 space launches in 2012, highlighting its ability to loft satellites needed for military surveillance and communication.