When the Philippines challenged China’s claim to territory in the South China Sea in July, the website of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague was taken offline by someone in China, Bloomberg reported Thursday. The revelation comes at a moment of continuing tension as governments in the region try to increase their abilities to deal with cyberattacks.
“Whenever you see island-dispute issues flare up you also see cyber activities spike as well,” Tobias Feakin, director of the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, told Bloomberg. “If it is being used in coordination with the prodding that the Chinese do in a physical way, it surely shows you see a strategic advantage in the use of that power.”
ThreatConnect Inc., a U.S. company, conducted an analysis and said that the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration website was infected with malware that originated in China. Southeast Asian countries involved in the South China Sea dispute, including the Philippines and Vietnam, are much more vulnerable to cyberattacks from China with small budgets devoted to the area.
The Philippines challenged China’s claim to over 80 percent of the South China Sea in July, however China did not take part in the hearing. The hackers in China used code that infected the computers of people who visited the court's website, leaving diplomats and lawyers involved in the case vulnerable to information theft.
The Chinese government has come under increasing fire in recent months for its cyberespionage. While the U.S. and China agreed to stop corporate cyberespionage when U.S. President Barack Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, the pact still has not been finalized and does not cover international organizations.
Military and coastguard patrols have increased in the South China Sea, with the U.S. even planning to sail its own ships in the region. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that some countries were flexing “their military muscles” in the region, a reference to the U.S., BBC News reported Wednesday.
"We will never allow any country to violate China's territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands, in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight," she said.