China hacking vs. Pentagon whacking: An arms race in cyber-space?

written by Nile Bowie

from RT.com: Fresh allegations of hacking and cyber-theft between China and the
United States as well as resources channeled into cyber-warfare and
digital troops by both superpowers show uncertain diplomatic terrain
ahead.

As the Obama administration imposes gouging cuts on fundamental
social spending, the White House is allocating $13 billion for
the US Cyber Command, tasked with waging ‘offensive cyber
strikes’ to defend the homeland. In 'Pentagonese' that
translates to building malicious computer viruses designed to
subvert disable, and destroy targets and their
computer-controlled infrastructure. 

Gen. Keith Alexander, who leads both the Cyber Command and the
NSA, even claimed that 13 of the 40 existing cyber battalions are
tasked specifically with waging pre-emptive attacks against other countries. 

In keeping with the logic of American exceptionalism, which
supposes that the US maintain unrivalled supremacy in every
tactical or military field, the Pentagon is now working in
earnest to extend its dominance to cyberspace
.  

It’s no secret that China has made the modernization of its armed
forces a top priority. As Beijing develops new types of hardware,
including aircraft carriers, strategic missile submarines and
advanced aircraft, white papers issued by the People's
Liberation Army (PLA) highlight the desire to digitalize the
nation’s military by utilizing modern information
technology.  

Washington is no stranger to scare tactics, and as establishment
figures routinely warn of America’s power grids and financial
systems being overtaken by e-terrorists, the US is positioning
itself to enact that same scenario onto others under the guise of
national defense. 

Related:

While the US gives itself the space to pre-emptively cyber-strike
others with impunity, the Pentagon says that any computer-based
attacks and hacking from foreign countries can be considered acts of war, which could merit a ’use of
force’ retaliation.
  

The US Cyber Command is part of a worldwide offensive cyber
warfare system that includes all branches of the US military, in
addition to our friends in NATO – its chief, Anders Fogh
Rasmussen, even went as far as saying that he wants to “extend
the definition of attacks which trigger activation of the
alliance to include cyber attacks.” While the US devises ways
to warmonger through programming code, President Obama provocatively phoned Chinese President Xi
Jinping immediately after his inauguration in March to demand
that Beijing stop hacking, a charge China vehemently denies.
Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, also called
out China by name during a speech, lamenting how “the
international community cannot tolerate such activity from any
country.” (Except the United States, obviously.)

Crying foul over China 


The Obama administration accuses Chinese hackers of waging
cyber-attacks on a number of US entities, including
billion-dollar corporations and governmental departments, and
Beijing has recently been charged with stealing blueprints for
combat aircraft as such the F/A-18 fighter jet and the F-35 Joint
Strike Fighter, in addition to specs on naval vessels and missile
defense systems.


The Chinese Defense Ministry dismissed the accusations as ridiculous, saying that
the US underestimates the intelligence of the Chinese people and
their capacity to develop tactically competitive military technology.  

US security experts also previously claimed that a 12-story
office building on the outskirts of Shanghai was the headquarters
of an elusive squadron of the PLA operating under the name Unit
61398, tasked with attacking international computer networks and
engaging in espionage. 


Beijing claims that findings lack technical
proof, because the report relied solely on suspicious IP
addresses that originate in China, which the Defense Ministry
suggests can be easily usurped by hackers outside of China. In
truth, there is a glaring absence of any cyber-smoking gun that
definitively corroborates US claims. However, it remains highly
plausible that Beijing would have an interest in obtaining the
intimate tech-specs of Washington’s military hardware to reverse
engineer it and build more reliable defensive mechanisms for
itself. After all, China is being encircled by a pivoting
military power that has waged aggressive wars outside of
international law – any Beijing-backed espionage seen through
this perspective becomes understandable. Ironically enough, the
Chinese embassy in Washington claims it is a victim of computer
hacking that originates in the United States.



Let’s ask the Iranians 

Its common knowledge that Israel and the United States engineered the Stuxnet virus that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear facility in
Natanz, it was even claimed by people close to the matter that it
was President Obama’s personal directive. Stuxnet remains the most
sophisticated malware discovered thus far, the virus targets
industrial systems such as nuclear power plants and electrical
grids from a Microsoft Windows-based PC. The virus exploits
security gaps referred to as zero-day vulnerabilities to attack
specific targets; the Pentagon reportedly pays top dollar to get its hands on such
programming vulnerabilities, which are the essential ingredient
in any cyber-weapon.  


Upon delivery of the Stuxnet payload via USB, the malicious
malware manipulated the operating speed of centrifuges spinning
nuclear fuel to create distortions that deliberately damaged the
machines, while disabling emergency controls. Stuxnet took out
nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges spinning uranium at the
facility, while numerous Iranian nuclear scientists have been
assassinated.  
Even after acts of overt hostility and open sabotage, Iran’s
response has been completely muted. If the shoe was on the other
foot, could the United States ever exercise the same restraint?
By the Pentagon’s definition, it would have the legal right to
retaliate with force if ever found itself on the receiving end of
a Stuxnet-type virus.  


When asked about the Stuxnet worm in a press conference, former
White House WMD Coordinator Gary Samore boasted, “I’m glad to hear they are having
troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the US and its
allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.” Never in any of the detailed
exposés published in the New York Times and elsewhere on the
Stuxnet episode, is there any moral or legal questioning of
Washington and Tel Aviv’s blatantly illegal tactics; mainstream
reports on the subject read more like White House press
statements than anything that resembles journalism. 



Who’s hacking who? 

Congress claims that poor internet security has surpassed
terrorism to become the single greatest threat to the homeland,
and ironically, US tax dollars are flowing to skilled hackers
affiliated with criminal groups who supply government agencies
with vulnerabilities in existing software programs. Because these
vulnerabilities are the main components of cyber-weapons,
security holes in widely used software remain unrepaired.
Reuters has even suggested that Washington is
“encouraging hacking and failing to disclose to software
companies and customers the vulnerabilities exploited by the
purchased hacks.” 

 

Despite the posturing and scare tactics, US Director of National
Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee
that there was only a “remote chance” of a serious
cyber-attack on the US. Clapper also spoke about how cyber-theft
directly threatened “America’s economic competitiveness and
innovation edge,” suggesting that the US Cyber Command serves
a dual economic purpose. 


Washington’s Cyber Command takes a two-prong approach: it’s
tasked with churning out malicious cyber-weapons like Stuxnet
while stringently guarding the intellectual property and data of
major US corporations. Claims of China being involved in hacking
and cyber-theft should not be dismissed off the bat, but if
Beijing is indeed stealing military secrets from the US, it is
likely motivated by genuine defensive concerns and its own IT
sovereignty. Just as Washington partners itself with questionable
figures and organizations to execute its foreign policy
objectives, the Pentagon’s warm embrace of hackers is bound to
create some form of e-blowback in due time. This much is clear –
Cyber-Imperialism is the highest stage of Capitalism – somebody
pass Lenin the memo.

Nile Bowie is
a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today.
He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He
can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.