The much-delayed 2011 Department of Defense (DOD) report on Chinese military and security developments highlights the growing Chinese emphasis on cyber security and cyberwarfare. As the report notes, “PRC military writings highlight the seizure of electromagnetic dominance in the early phases of a campaign.”
Coinciding with the release of the DOD report, media coverage has emerged of a China Central Television (CCTV) video clip of Chinese cyber activities aimed at dissident organizations. The clip, shown on CCTV-7, the official military channel of the state-run CCTV network, included screenshots of a computer program intended to allow a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack against a religious dissident group (Falun Gong). A DDOS attack often takes down an organization’s website, and such attacks have been used against Estonia and Georgia in recent tensions. The clip would seem to confirm that Chinese government entities are testing the means to seize electromagnetic dominance.
Strikingly, the six-second video clip indicates that the program can also mask itself by substituting a different electronic address, so that the attack, if traced, would be ascribed to third parties (in this case, reportedly the University of Alabama at Birmingham).
While the specific clip is undated and may be several years old, the program itself would seem to belie the Chinese claim that Beijing has no hand in the various cyber intrusions and activities that are regularly traced to Chinese Internet addresses. It also suggests that attacks traced to third parties may actually originate in China.
The program shown on the Chinese video underscores the problem with the Obama Administration’s assumption that the solution to growing U.S.–Chinese security tension is greater dialogue. The 2011 DOD report asserts that “the fundamental purpose for two countries to conduct military-to-military relations is to gain a better understanding of how each side thinks about the role and use of military power in achieving political and strategic objectives.” This assumes that the Chinese side wants what the U.S. side wants, “contacts at all levels that can help reduce miscommunication, misunderstanding, and the risks of miscalculation.” In short, it hopes that the Chinese are as eager as President Obama to extend an “open hand.”
But the creation of programs designed to mask IP addresses and mislead cyber-forensic specialists about the origin of DDOS attacks and other cyber activities is not a means of reducing miscommunications and misunderstanding, much less facilitating “common approaches to challenges… [and building] more productive working relationships.” Rather, it suggests a policy of seeking military advantage—something that the DOD report recognizes, but the Administration apparently does not.