In sharp contrast to this year’s Pentagon report on Chinese military power, this year’s report from Congress’s U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission includes a number of startling revelations.
Perhaps the most notable is the report that the Chinese diverted 15 percent of global Internet traffic to Chinese servers at one point. This incident, which occurred on April 8 of this year, involved a Chinese Internet service provider that redirected traffic from 37,000 networks around the world to China. Intriguingly, the report notes that rerouted traffic included information from the U.S. Senate, the Department of Defense, and NASA.
As with most cyber-related activities, it would be difficult to make a firm attribution of responsible parties for such an action. After all, as the famous New Yorker cartoon once observed, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Or a “patriotic hacker” or someone working for the Chinese government.
However, when taken in conjunction with other recent Chinese cyber activities, a disturbing pattern emerges. In 2003, for example, at the 10th National People’s Congress, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced the creation of “information warfare units.” In 2004, the PLA noted that its priority would be fighting and winning Local Wars Under Informationalized Conditions, and that information was the keystone to future wars.
More recently, in 2009, Canadian researchers identified “Ghostnet,” a cyber-espionage effort that had infected computers in over a hundred countries. Many of the Internet protocol addresses associated with Ghostnet are Chinese in origin. Then, in March of this year, Google accused the Chinese of attempting to hack into the company’s secure e-mail servers and chose to end its business operations in the PRC as a result. And, at about the same time as the 18-minute episode, Canadian researchers again identified computer attacks originating from China aimed at India and the Dalai Lama, this time attributed to Chinese criminal elements.
All of this suggests that, from China’s view, a global conflict is already underway—in the virtual world of cyberspace. The ability to redirect vast amounts of data constitutes a threat not only to national security but also to private companies and individuals, as their information, too, has now been put at risk. That so many of these attacks appear to originate in China only raises the question of just how much cooperation one can expect from Beijing in maintaining the security of the global commons, including cyberspace.