Get Ready for Cyberwars
New California Media
by Ron Chepesiuk, © Pacific News Service
Thursday, 23rd August 2001 - Many may not know it but China and the
United States have been at war — not with soldiers or bombs, but rather with
geeks and computers. In May, American computer hackers mounted attacks on
Chinese Web sites and their Chinese counterparts began retaliating in earnest.
The "cyberwar," so far, has been pretty tame. That could change, however.
When the cyberwar finally ended in mid-May, analysts took stock of the damage
and estimated that the hackers had struck a few hundred Web sites with messages
paying tribute to the Chinese government. But the analysts also downplayed
the episode and the media’s use of the term "cyberwar" to describe what happened.
"It was a geek war, minor stuff, that didn’t directly involved the Chinese
and U.S. governments," said Adam Keiper, president of the Center for the Study
of Technology and Security in Washington, D.C. "The damage was minimal. After
all, no banks were broken into, no electric power grids crashed, and no air
service was disrupted."
The Web site for the White House Historical Association, is a typical example
of the extent of damage hackers inflicted. When the Historical Association
received e-mails asking the strange question, Why do you have Chinese flags
on your web site?, the manager found on the home page, the PRC flag, which
didn’t exactly mesh with the pictures of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington
next to it.
Keiper added that the U.S.-China hacker spate did do one positive thing:
" It drew attention to the potential dangers that cyber attacks pose to economic
and security systems and to the serious consequences that might result from
What happened in cyberspace between China and the United States last spring
foreshadows how conflicts will be fought in the future. Cyberspace will be
the major battlefield of the 21st century, analysts have predicted, and a
country’s primary military objective will be to shut down the enemy’s computer
system, not blow up its military installations or shoot down its planes. Such
a scenario will have serious implications for businesses and economic systems.
"I see no evidence to indicate that the United States is doing enough to
protect its economic system," said Chris Rush, president of Chris Rush and
Associates, a White Plains, N.Y.-based consulting firm.
Added Rush: "Cyber hacking has become a worldwide problem. I don’t think
there is a country in the world that hasn’t experienced it at one time or
Indeed, there have been several incidents in the last two years that give
a chilling picture of the type of cyber warfare that will fought in the future:
— In April 1998, computer hackers threatened to sabotage Indonesia are banking
system if the country rejected the upcoming vote on East Timor independence.
East Timor resistance leader Jose Horta warned that hackers were designing
a dozen computer viruses to infect computers if the ballot on the territory’s
future was fraudulent.
— Last February, computer hackers from the China launched hacker attacks
against major Japanese companies as retaliation against what they perceived
as Japan’s increasing hard-line against China. Slogans put on the defaced
Web pages included "Down with Japanese militarism" and "Kill all Japs."
— From March 1999 to April 2000, there were 89 hacker attacks on 60 government
agencies in Malaysia, which included sensitive data carrying departments such
as the treasury, immigration, public works and social security. Also hit were
several non-government sites, including Hong Leong, Malaysian Airlines and
MidValley Mega Mall.
— On May 15, a South Korean government security agency blamed the Sino-U.S.
cyber war for the 164 cyber attacks on South Korean Web sites that had occurred
since the previous May 4. Computer analysts told the Times of India that American
and Chinese hackers were using Korea to get into rival countries’ computer
systems without revealing their identity. South Korea has extensive computer
links with both China and the United States.
The reported cyber attacks are just the tip of the iceberg, the experts
say. "Many governments and companies consider it bad practice to reveal that
they have become a victim of a successful computer attack," Keiper explained.
On the Defense
Many countries have moved to defend themselves against cyber conflict by
developing the capacity to launch counter attacks that can wreck havoc on
the enemy’s computer systems. In addition to the United States and China,
these countries include North Korea, Britain, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, Israel, France
Since the late 1990s, China and Taiwan have been in a hacking war. In August
1999, for example, after Taiwan President Teng Hui-Lee propounded the "two
state theory" of China, Chinese and Taiwanese hackers bombarded each country’s
Web sites with crude messages. In 1999, the media reported that the PRC was
getting ready to spend billions of dollars on a high-tech upgrade of the People’s
Liberation Army to prepare the country for future cyber war with Taiwan and
its allies. In January 2000, Agente France Press reported that to defend itself,
Taiwan had developed approximately 1,000 computer viruses.
"Taiwan has one of the world’s largest computer
software and hardware manufacturing bases," said D.K. Matai,
managing director of the British-based mi2g. "The
computer software programmers in Taiwan are world class. Our view is that
getting involved in any kind of conflict with Taiwan, given the kind of intellectual
capacity the country has, may prove detrimental."
The Chinese government has been quite open about its future strategic military
objective. In paper appearing in the spring issue of China Military Science
journal, a member of the Chinese Committee of Science, Technology and Industry
of the System Engineering Institute, wrote: "We are in the midst of a new
technology in which electronic information technology is the central technology.
The technology provides unprecedented applications for the development of
new weaponry … Military battles during the 21st century will unfold around
the use of information for military and political goals."
Meanwhile in the United States, the U.S. Space Command has been building
offensive computer weapons to use against its enemies, it announced in fall
2000. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has ranked cyber warfare a major
national security threat and made the protection of intelligence, communications,
logistics, navigation and military computer functions the United State’s top
What kind of viruses will the United States unleash against its enemies
if cyber war becomes a reality? They include so-called "Trojan horse" viruses
that can be put into an enemy’s computer systems; logic bombs that can be
triggered on command; "sniffer" programs that eavesdrop, monitor and then
steal data from networks; and programs called worms that can reproduce themselves
and cause networks to overload.
In the past decade, information technology has become critical to the global
economy. That means Asian American businesses need to protect themselves against
the threat, security analysts advise. Businesses need to determine what resources
they want to protect, what valuable data is stored in their computer system,
and what security risks are associated with it. In a recent University of
Michigan study, 93.6 percent of the 200 businesses surveyed said computer
crime struck their operation at least once.
"Hackers view the United States as a special challenge," Rush said. "Just
because a business is small doesn’t mean that it isn’t vulnerable to cyber
attack. A business, whatever its size, should have cyber security measures
But preparing for disaster is only the beginning. As the Internet evolves,
information systems will become more complicated and hacker skills more sophisticated,
the ability to protect ones interests can only become increasingly difficult.
Said Keiper: "The vulnerability to cyber attack will increase as we become
more and more dependent on the Internet in terms of information technology."