China views cyberspace as a critical element to prosecuting a war against the U.S. and is preparing to dominate the information domain in any future conflict, the Department of Defense (DOD) said in a strategy document released Tuesday.
China’s cyber power is intended to reduce the ability of the U.S. armed forces to operate, according to the Pentagon’s unclassified 2023 DoD Cyber Strategy Summary, which deviates from the the most recent 2018 version that mainly singled out China’s intent to steal intellectual property through hacking, according to Politico. The strategy warns that China’s “malicious” cyber activity informs the way it prepares for conflict and comes after news of concerted Beijing-backed cyber attacks at networks that serve U.S. military bases in Guam and elsewhere.
“The PRC in particular sees superiority in cyberspace as core to its theories of victory,” the strategy document reads.
“In the event of conflict, the PRC likely intends to launch destructive cyber attacks against the U.S. Homeland in order to hinder military mobilization, sow chaos, and divert attention and resources. It will also likely seek to disrupt key networks which enable Joint Force power projection in combat,” according to the strategy.
Recent revelations of China’s hacking operations targeting American soil and networks essential to military operations has sparked concern among officials, according to media reports.
In May, Microsoft revealed that a shadowy Chinese government-backed hacking group known as Volt Typhoon attacked critical U.S. networks, including in Guam, where it may have spied on the U.S. to gain an edge ahead of future crises. U.S. government officials said in July they believed the Guam operation represented just one thread in a year-long operation plan to plant malicious code in sensitive networks, The New York Times reported.
Most affected networks control power grids, water supply and communications systems that support U.S. military operations but are connected to civilian systems, according to the NYT. One congressional official described the malware as a “ticking time bomb” Beijing could activate in the event of a conflict with the U.S. or an invasion of Taiwan, which could disrupt U.S. military operations and cripple its response.
“This malicious cyber activity informs the PRC’s preparations for war,” the strategy continued, adding that China has reorganized and modernized its military in pursuit of that goal.
— U.S. Cyber Command (@US_CYBERCOM) September 8, 2023
The strategy offered a rare acknowledgement of DOD’s own offensive cyber operations “below the level of armed conflict.”
“Our adversaries will be made to doubt the efficacy of their military capabilities as well as the belief that they can conduct unattributed coercive actions against the United States,” the strategy reads.
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