Should We Be Concerned About Chinese Cyber Hacking?

The Chinese have been quite prominent in media headlines over the past few months in relation to computer attacks against US-based information systems. It’s a chilling thought to believe a foreign country could extract data from our protected computer systems, let alone highly-secured government data centers. Security experts investigating the Wall Street Journal hacking, in which Chinese hackers infiltrated U.S. universities to remotely exploit the media outlet, believe the same methods were utilized to attack U.S. military contractors.

Far from Harmless Hacking

These attacks raise speculation that our homeland security systems may be vulnerable, prompting security experts to raise the bar and create a solution to prevent further Chinese intrusions. The Obama Administration isn’t taking the hackings lightly either, issuing a report earlier in the year stating the cyber-espionage “places the security of the U.S. economy in jeopardy.”

Cyber Attacks on All Fronts

Several U.S. companies reported hackings originated from China, including Ford, DuPont, General Motors, Motorola, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. It’s unclear exactly how many corporations have been hacked, due to many companies keeping the attacks behind closed doors. Although Chinese officials have denied culpability in the cyber-attacks, experts are still unsure of the motives.

The capabilities of the malware used in the reported attacks are the real concern. Alan Brill, senior managing director of Kroll Solutions, a computer security team, claims the malware used in an attack on U.S. election campaign computers was highly sophisticated and “designed to stay buried in the infected computers for months, if not years.”

What’s the Response?

It’s clear that our cyber-security vulnerabilities are inching to the top of U.S. security agendas. Interestingly enough, there has been little discussion of retaliation or counter-measures by the U.S. government. Edward Snowden, former contractor and leaker of NSA’s domestic-surveillance programs says the United States is involved in the same sort of hackibasing in other parts of the world, including China. It’s rare to see U.S. based cyber-espionage come up in headlines, but we can be sure the top government computer experts are hard at work retaliating at the Chinese. Also in question is the mode of the US response: will it be sanctions? A similar attack? Economic blackmail? Even a military response?

A Double-Edged Sword

The real diplomatic danger in this attack is escalation. The relationship between the US and China isn’t casual. Each depends on the other for economic viability…even survival. Over one trillion of the US trade deficit is in China’s pocket, and they rely on the US’s buying power to stimulate their economy. Accusations, investigations and evidence could bring the relatively friendly relationship of these two countries to a standstill. Even more haunting are that Snowden’s accusations might be substantiated. The existence of PRISM data-mining and collecting code is confirmed. Although no country has reached an official position yet (other than rhetorical concern), a showdown could happen, with each country casting identical denunciations. Let’s just hope clearer minds prevail.