One day during last year’s presidential campaign, FBI agents notified Barack Obama’s campaign that its computers had been hacked. Later, they told McCain’s campaign the same thing.
Both attacks almost certainly originated in China.
These were not isolated incidents. China, or free-agent hackers on their payrolls, has penetrated computer systems of the State Department, US nuclear weapons labs and defense contractors.
It has stolen files on political dissidents from members of Congress, disrupted e-mail servers used by the Secretary of Defense and launched a spyware attack on electronic devices used by the Commerce Secretary during a visit to Beijing.
Last April, then-National Counterintelligence Executive Joel Brenner famously reported that the Chinese had penetrated “certain of our electricity grids” with malicious code that could be activated at a later date, perhaps bringing it down altogether.
Officials can’t know exactly what has been stolen or how badly US systems have been exposed, but they do know why China has become an aggressive cyber threat.
“This is the way they plan to thwart US (military) supremacy in a potential conflict,” Robert Knake, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow told the Washington Post. “They believe they can deter us through cyber warfare.”
Chinese officials scoff at the accusations. “Allegations that China is behind cyber attacks against the US are irresponsible,” said Wang Baodong, a Chinese Embassy spokesperson.
“Since the US serves as the hub of the international information highway, attacking the US in cyberspace equals attacking one’s own cyberspace assets. . . . What’s the logic?” Wang added.
Amid the furor, US cyber policy expert James Lewis said it best, “I’m not going to get upset about China spying on us, because we spy on them. The only thing I’m going to get upset about is if we don’t do better.”