China’s military has established a 30-person strong Internet security task force to protect China from cyber attacks. State media today reported that the ‘Blue Army’ was not intended to create a hacker force and would be used solely for defensive purposes.
AFP reports that the People’s Liberation Army has invested tens of millions of yuan in the cyber warfare project.
“Cyber attacks have become an international problem affecting both civilian and military areas,” the Global Times quoted China’s defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng at a briefing this week.
“China is relatively weak in cyber-security and has often been targeted. This temporary programme is aimed at improving our defences against such attacks,” Yansheng said.
The ‘Cyber Blue Team’ falls under the Guangdong military command in southern China, and will carry out “cyber-warfare drills”, the Global Times said.
The establishment of the cyber warfare unit has caused concern in many Western countries, such as the United States, Australia and Germany, which accuse China of being behind high profile hacking events.
In February US cyber firm McAfee, which markets anti-virus products, said that Chinese hackers had infiltrated the networks of oil companies around the world, stealing financial documents and other sensitive information.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has published US diplomatic cables that reveal the United State’s belief that China was behind hacking against search giant Google and Western governments. One cable says the US embassy in Beijing learnt from a Chinese contact that the government was behind hacks into the computers of the United States, its allies and the Dalai Lama.
The Global Times responded to such allegations by saying that, “China’s capability is often exaggerated. Without substantiated evidence, it is often depicted by overseas media as the culprit for cyberattacks on the US and Europe. China needs to develop its strong cyber defence strength. Otherwise, it would remain at the mercy of others.”
In early March a top US intelligence official told a Senate panel that China’s growing capabilities in cyber-warfare and intelligence gathering were a “formidable concern” to the United States.
“The Chinese have made a substantial investment in this area, they have a very large organization devoted to it and they’re pretty aggressive,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“This is just another way in which they glean information about us and collect on us for technology purposes, so it’s a very formidable concern,” he said.
The intelligence chief said 2010 saw a “dramatic increase in malicious cyber-activity targeting U.S. computers and networks.” Clapper cited an April 8, 2010, incident in which state-owned China Telecom advertised erroneous network routes that instructed “massive volumes” of U.S. and other foreign Internet traffic to go through Chinese servers for 17 minutes. “This incident affected traffic to and from U.S. government and military sites, including sites for the Senate, the Army, the Navy, the Marine corps, the air force, and the office of the Secretary of Defence, as well as a number of Fortune 500 firms,” he said.
When that incident was revealed in late 2010, China Telecom denied that it hijacked U.S. Internet traffic. China’s standard response to cyber-attack allegations has been to deny any connection to them and say it is also a victim of such attacks.
From hacking attacks aimed at information theft and commercial espionage to the Stuxnet computer worm believed to have been designed to attack Iran’s nuclear programme last year, information warfare is rising rapidly.
More and more countries are setting up their own cyber warfare divisions and experts predict that cyberspace is likely to be a key battleground for states in the 21st century -the United States and Britain have set up cyber warfare facilities and Germany is doing so this year.