US Congress report says China is already beating the USA in cyber warfare
Congressmen fear the USA could lose the race for military dominance in cyberspace. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warns in its annual Report to Congress on the security situation of the two countries that "China’s current cyber operations capability is so advanced, it can engage in forms of cyber warfare so sophisticated that the United States may be unable to counteract or even detect the efforts", and that China is investing heavily in order to strengthen its position in space and cyberspace. Chinese military strategists, says the report, regard the USA's dependence on space satellites and information technology as a weakness, so military investments in this area would give China an "asymmetric" advantage, and any conflict between China and the USA would be extremely likely to "involve – offensive and defensive – actions directed against each other’s space systems’ assets".
The Commission, made up of six Democratic and six Republican Congressmen, says in its 400-page report that the number of attacks from China on computers of the US Government, the arms industry, and other companies have greatly increased. According to the Pentagon, five million computers in the USA were targeted by 43,880 attacks in 2007, almost one-third more than in the previous year. A US Air Force general is quoted as saying the Chinese had downloaded "10 to 20 terabytes of data" from US computers.
The report says that, by some estimates, "there are 250 hacker groups in China that are tolerated and may even be encouraged by the government to enter and disrupt computer networks." Toleration at least must be assumed, since the government "closely monitors Internet activities" and "devotes a tremendous amount of human resources to cyber activity for government purposes", many persons being trained at military academies.
Cyber attacks are regarded as especially dangerous because they "travel at the speed of light and require little physical preparation", so that "the victim’s ability to retaliate accurately is hindered or eliminated." Identifying an attacker would be difficult, and the danger exists that a successful attack on government or military networks that depend on the internet could paralyse the USA. "Cyber attacks can target power grids, financial systems, and other critical infrastructure, rendering them inoperable, thereby constituting the same effect as a kinetic attack", but retaliating kinetically could be regarded by other nations and multilateral organizations as "both unjustified and escalatory." There is also "no clear consensus on when a cyber attack constitutes an act of war."
A warning is given that many components of communications technology come from China, so there is a danger, "at least in theory", of the Chinese government installing secret programs that could be activated in the event of conflict, to disrupt networks or manipulate information. The authors of the report recommend additional funding for "programs that monitor and protect critical American computer networks", and "urge the administration to engage China in a military dialogue on its actions and programs in cyber and space warfare, including threat reduction mechanisms, transparency initiatives, and international laws of conflict as they apply to the cyber and space domains".