Cyberspace: China Launches Attack in America’s Latest Battleground

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

“We Americans think of military doctrine and ‘domains’ — land, sea, air, space. As part of our military thought, we now think of cyber as a domain,” said former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden nearly two months ago in an interview with Spiegel. His interview proved portentous as Monday saw the U.S. Justice Department accuse Chinese military of cyber espionage against the U.S. economy via attacks on American companies. Months ago, Hayden discussed how America has been accused of militarizing cyberspace, and it own role in how the internet is changing.

Around the time U.S. Cyber Command was created, McAfee did a survey of cyber security experts around the world. One of the questions they asked of them was, ‘Who do you fear most in cyberspace?’ The answer for the Americans was the Chinese. With the plurality of people around the world, it was the Americans,” said Hayden. “Nations conduct espionage. Mine, too. We’re very good at it … The problem is that since the Snowden revelations we’re talking about American espionage, British espionage, and Australian espionage, but not about Chinese or Russian espionage.”

Hayden is right to point out the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal’s new emphasis on the balance between free internet, security, and surveillance. Americans have been speaking with more and more concern about online and technology related privacy issues, while the U.S. defense administration has been placing greater emphasis on international cyber threats. In January, Defense News conducted a United Technologies-backed poll of U.S. national security leadership. Nearly half of the 350 senior defense leader respondents named cyberwarfare as the most serious threat that the U.S. faces. That group tended to be more right leaning, 38.5 percent Republican versus 13.5 percent Democrat, and in military groups even more so, with 56.9 percent Republican to 7.7 percent Democrats. Both Independents and Republicans easily put terrorism behind cyberwarfare, while Democrats were more likely to pick climate change over terrorism, but cyberwarfare came before both for the greatest number.

The dangers of cyber espionage are hardly arguable and certainly not unknown, but the recent economic attack from China has refocused attention on the need for defense as well as privacy. Five members of the Chinese military are being accused of targeting American companies including aluminum corporation Alcoa, U.S. Steel, the U.S. Steelworkers Union, Westinghouse, a nuclear energy and electricity company, Allegheny Technologies Inc., and SolarWorld. The perpetrators stole information such as intellectual property, blueprints that could be used to cut research and development costs for competing companies, business plans, pricing, and agreements.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at a press conference in Washington D.C. on the charges being made, the first ones ever made against “known state actors for infiltrating U.S. commercial targets by cyber means.” While Hayden admitted that the U.S. participates in international espionage, Holder emphasized that the economic nature of the attack made it reprehensible beyond other activity. “The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of business here in the United States,” said Holder. “This is a tactic that the U.S. government categorically denounces. As President Obama has said on numerous occasions, we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or U.S. Commercial sectors.”

Ultimately, he made clear just what hinges upon national security in cyberspace — the U.S. economy. “Our economic security and our ability to compete fairly in the global marketplace are directly linked to our national security,” said Holder. China’s Foreign Ministry was anything but apologetic in response, however, claiming that the U.S. is spreading falsehoods and has made cyber attacks against china in its turn.

The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets. The U.S. accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded with ulterior motives,” said Qin Gang, Foreign Ministry spokesperson. “This U.S. move, which is based on deliberately fabricated facts, grossly vioaltes the basic norms governing international relations and jeopardizes China-U.S. cooperation and mutual trust,” said Gang, noting that China immediately had protested the indictment and requesting that they withdraw it. Gang also claimed that the U.S. had taken committed “cyber theft, wiretapping and surveillance activities … cyber intrusion” as well as “wiretapping and surveillance activities against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities, and individuals.”

The confrontation is only the latest in Cyber threats, but offers a clear demonstration of possible interests that could be affected through such means, and the extent of the damage conductible, clarifying why so many in the defense administration consider it a threat greater than terrorism at present. The accusations against the U.S.’s are made that much more salient though, in light of recent privacy oversteps by the U.S. intelligence community.

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