China a major cyberthreat, commission warns

2006 Report to Congress

China is fielding information warfare units and developing anti-satellite capabilities aimed at countering U.S. military technology, according to a U.S. congressional commission.

China’s cyberwarfare strategy has switched from a defensive to an offensive posture, with the goal of attacking enemy networks and denying adversaries access to information, said the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) in its annual report, released Nov. 16. Chinese strategy focuses on U.S. systems that perform command and control or deliver precision weapons, the report states.

China is enhancing its advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in response to U.S. progress. China now has mobile command and control centers that use wireless and satellite communications to relay battlefield information.

“It’s very clear from the doctoral writings of the [People’s Liberation Army] that they take cyberwarfare as one of the main ways they must be ready to attack the United States,” said USCC Chairman Larry Wortzel in an interview. “Their overall doctrine holds that a modern war in the 21st century involves cyberwarfare, electronic attack and warfare in space.”

The PLA has an extensive cyberwarfare infrastructure, including its own engineering and electronic warfare schools and cyberwarfare regiments, Wortzel said. “China may be a potential or latent military threat, but the cyberwar is on,” he said.

The PLA is using private-sector expertise to maximize their efforts. But the army often uses shady tactics to procure military assets, according to the commission.

“To bolster its armed forces and their capabilities, China makes concerted efforts to obtain foreign military and military-related goods and technologies, and tries to acquire these through legal and illegal means, including espionage,” the report states.

An attack traced back to a Chinese server compromised a network at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security last month. The bureau was forced to replace hundreds of computers. Part of its responsibility is to determine restrictions on technology exports to China.

In May, four Chinese Americans were convicted of illegally exporting sensitive technology to a Chinese research institution, including components used in radar and electronic warfare. These technologies could then be exported to other hostile states or terrorist organizations, the commission said.

The commission recommends Congress investigate the federal procurement process to ensure computer security. Also, it said that because more computer components are manufactured in China, there is a risk of supply disruption if political unrest there increases.

The Defense Department’s 2006 annual report to Congress on Chinese military power states that the PLA is developing information warfare reserves and militia units and has begun incorporating them into broader exercises and training. Also, China is developing the ability to launch pre-emptive attacks against enemy computer networks in a crisis, it said.

The PLA seeks to combine computer network operations with electronic warfare, kinetic strikes against C4 nodes and virus attacks on enemy systems, to form what PLA theorists call “Integrated Network Electronic Warfare,” the report states.

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