Circumstantial and indirect evidence has long implicated the Chinese government and its surrogates in numerous incidents of digital espionage and other hacking into US corporations’ and government-owned websites and databases. The infamous Gmail hacking episode that triggered Google’s censorship protest and “withdrawal” from the Chinese search market is only one example.
The Chinese themselves have vigorously and indignantly denied any and all such accusations, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Now new evidence of Chinese state-sponsored “cyberattacks” comes in the form of a broadcast on state TV.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “Chinese state television has broadcast footage of what two experts on the Chinese military say appears to be a military institute demonstrating software designed to attack websites in the U.S.”
What was shown during the Chinese TV report does appear to be an “admission” of Chinese state-sponsored hacking and thus puts the US and North American corporations in an extremely awkward position. China is the single largest holder of US debt and numerous companies depend on Chinese manufacturing — the PC and mobile phone industries for example — for their products.
Compounding the problem and diplomatic challenge, earlier this year the US Defense Department issued a statement that cyberattacks can be considered “acts of war” and may be met with a conventional military response. According to a May, 2011 article in the NY Times:
The Pentagon, trying to create a formal strategy to deter cyberattacks on the United States, plans to issue a new strategy soon declaring that a computer attack from a foreign nation can be considered an act of war that may result in a military response.
Given the increasing body of evidence that China itself is behind persistent hacking directed against North American and EU corporations and government secrets, how should the US and Europe respond? Given the interdependency of the US and China a direct military response is clearly out of the question.
However we’re likely to see hacking and corresponding counter-measures stepped up behind the scenes in the coming years, even as the nations affirm their “partnership” — much like the public smiles and diplomacy that masked reciprocal espionage between the West and Soviets during the post-WWII era.
Welcome to the new Cold (cyber) War.