China has the ability to shut down or cripple the American power grid and other critical infrastructure within the US – and it would all be done through cyberattacks, top-ranking government officials in both countries say.
President Obama is so concerned about Chinese cyberwarfare that he raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a September meeting in Washington, CNBC reported. During the meeting the two leaders failed to reach an agreement on power grid attacks but did agree not to steal intellectual property.
Frighteningly, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has acknowledged that it has a massive cyberwarfare effort and extensive cyberwarfare capabilities. It did so in an official document, the Science of Military Strategy, that also outlines Chinese military philosophy and strategic thinking. It indicates that China’s military commanders view cyberattacks as a legitimate weapon of war. Intelligence experts consider the document to be an outline of China’s military strategy.
“This is the first time we’ve seen an explicit acknowledgement of the existence of China’s secretive cyberwarfare forces from the Chinese side,” intelligence analyst Joe McReynolds told The Daily Beast in March.
China’s cyberwarfare efforts would include the targeting of critical infrastructure such as the electric power grid, McReynolds said.
Michael Rogers, National Security Agency (NSA) director and US Cyber Command commander, did not mention China during testimony before a House committee but did acknowledge – upon questioning — that some nations essentially can turn the grid “off.”
“Once you’re in the system … it enables you to do things like, if I want to tell power turbines to go offline and to stop generating power, you can do that,” Rogers said. “It enables you to shut down very segmented, very tailored parts of our infrastructure.”
Why You Should Be Concerned
There is some evidence that Chinese hackers may have already gained access to critical infrastructure in the US.
Some disturbing incidents uncovered by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and revealed to Defense One included:
- Unidentified cybercriminals stole information that could be used for sabotage from 23 gas pipeline companies between December 2011 and June 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported. Forensic evidence indicates that the attack may have been based in China, Defense One.
- Hackers penetrated the computers of 48 companies in October 2011, among them chemical and defense companies. The attacks may have originated in the Chinese city of Hebei. The penetration was part of a massive cyberattack that lasted for six months.
- Google reported that an attack had penetrated the networks of 30 US companies. Google blamed the attack on China and reported that Gmail accounts and passwords were among the targets.
- The NSA believes the Chinese government is staging a massive cyber assault on all sectors of the US economy, NBC The network obtained an NSA map that detailed hundreds of Chinese cyberattacks, including attempts to “steal corporate and military secrets and data about America’s critical infrastructure, particularly the electrical power and telecommunications and Internet backbone.”
US Chinese Tensions Growing
Tensions between the US and China have been growing because of disputes over artificial islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese claim parts of the sea are their territory, while the US says the specific parts of the sea are international waters.
Meanwhile, five Chinese naval vessels came within 12 naval nautical miles of US territory in early September, The New York Times reported. The US Defense Department stated that put the ships in US territorial waters off the coast of Alaska.
What do you think? Are you concerned about a cyberattack on the power grid? Share your thoughts in the section below: