China's Cyber-War Against U.S. IT Assets Demands a Strong Response

NEWS ANALYSIS: For a long time nobody in the government wanted to talk about the stealthy cyber-war the Chinese government was waging against the U.S. It's time to shine some light on what's been going on.

The news broke over Washington like the flash of an exploding meteor. China, according to The Washington Post, had hacked its way into the computers of virtually every institution in the city.

Every government agency, every defense contractor, and nearly every human rights group, Congressional office, law firm, embassy and news organization. The attacks on the nation's capital were so massive that it probably would be easier to list the organizations that had been missed, assuming there are any.

Worse, the attacks have been mostly successful. The Chinese state-sponsored hackers have collected terabytes of information. In fact, the collection of information is so massive that the biggest question isn't what they got, but how they plan to process it all.

What's worse is that the Chinese hacking attempts have been so massive that there are many indications that cyber-spies from Russia, France and Israel have also been snooping around Washington institutions, using the hacking activity by China as cover.

Right now, it's not clear how successful those three nations have been because they've either covered their tracks so well that we can't find out or they never accomplished much. Considering the players involved, my guess is that Russia and Israel probably got what they wanted and left without evidence. The motives and goals of the French are less clear.

But what is clear is that the Chinese attacks on Washington and on the U.S. government and its contractors are tantamount to waging a true cyber-war. These attacks aren't like the ones reported by Mandiant in which the spying was economic and was aimed at benefiting Chinese businesses and economic activity. The attacks on Washington are military spying, pure and simple.

So the question is why aren't U.S. government officials talking about it yet? Sure, there are many news organizations, including The Washington Post, that are admitting that they've been penetrated. Plenty of security experts are giving specifics of who or what has been attacked by whom and revealing details on what was taken. But the U.S. government is silent on the topic.

Initially, it was easy to see why this might be so. The U.S. military and intelligence community didn't want to admit their networks and databases had been penetrated, because they didn't want the Chinese to know how successful they'd been. But that time has passed. Everyone knows what the Chinese are up to, and everyone has been hacked. So, why the secrecy?

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...