A new Pentagon report released Tuesday morning officially blamed the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army, for numerous cyberattacks on U.S. computer systems. While Chinese hackers have thought to be the source of hundreds of cyberattacks, including the recent infiltration of a sensitive military database of dams, this report marks the first time the Obama administration has taken an official stance and explicitly accused China.
“China is using its computer network exploitation (CNE) capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs,” stated the 84-page Pentagon report, which also details information on China’s first aircraft carrier, stealth aircraft, and plans for Taiwan.
“The information targeted could potentially be used to benefit China’s defense industry, high technology industries, policymaker interest in U.S. leadership thinking on key China issues, and military planners building a picture of U.S. network defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”
The Pentagon report condemned China for making offensive cyberwarfare weapons a central part of the PLA’s. It cited two “military doctrinal writings” that identify cyberwarfare as integral to gaining information for military advantages, though neither source provided criteria for employing a cyberattack.
In many ways, this echoes the policy of the United States toward cyberwarfare. While the Pentagon report criticized China’s cyberwarfare policy in great detail, it makes no mention of the 13 teams the Pentagon plans for taking offensive cyberwarfare attacks. The Pentagon also says it will keep secret its new rules of war governing when a cyberattack merits a military response and what that response will be.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the Pentagon’s accusations are unwarranted and that the source of cyberattacks cannot be determined simply by the location of an IP address. Indeed, hackers often work independently or in collectives like Anonymous, and route their attacks through foreign servers to avoid detection.
‘‘China has repeatedly said that we resolutely oppose all forms of hacker attacks,’’ Chunying said. ‘‘But we are firmly opposed to any groundless accusations and speculations, since they will only damage the cooperation efforts and atmosphere between the two sides to strengthen dialogue and cooperation.’’
Cybersecurity is increasingly a part of foreign relations with China. In March, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with Chinese officials to discuss state-sponsored hackers. But the Pentagon report states that China has followed Russia’s lead in pushing for more government control over the flow of information on the Internet. It accused both countries of disrupting Western efforts to establish transparency.