Information Warfare: November 7, 2002


The United States is trying to come up with ideas on how to deal with China's formidable army of "hacker irregulars." In the past few years, whenever there is dispute between the U.S. and China, especially one that makes a big splash in the media, young Chinese computer enthusiasts make attacks on American web sites. This first happened after the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia was accidentally bombed in 1999. Another flurry of attacks occurred after the May, 2001 collision of a Chinese fighter with an American naval patrol aircraft. The Chinese government maintains that it has no control over these patriotic young Chinese hackers. But when May 2002 rolled around, accompanied by months of chat room and email discussion of a first anniversary attack on U.S. web sites, nothing happened. Why? It seems the Chinese government issued a statement a few days before the anniversary suggesting that any hack attacks on U.S. sites would not be a good idea. 

So far, none of the Chinese attacks, as far as anyone can tell, were much more than a nuisance. But year by year, the attackers have shown more skill. Now it is pretty certain that the Chinese are formally organizing some of these "patriotic hackers." By maintaining the myth that these young Internet users are operating independently, the government can unleash these kids on any nation without being tagged as a warmonger. This deception won't stand much scrutiny. American hackers have been able to back track some of the Chinese attacks to Chinese government computers. If the Chinese were on the ball and well organized, they would not have allowed hackers to use government computers. Or at the very least, they would have made sure the hackers knew how to cover their tracks. 

The Chinese have boasted that their official cyberwarrior units have "weapons grade computer viruses." It would be a trivial matter to slip their "volunteers" some of these military grade weapons and let the kids unleash them. A military grade virus is, in theory, one that does not spread wildly, infecting every PC it encounters, but instead hits a more specific target. Whether or not that kind of technology works, the Chinese have already shown that the "hacker volunteers" gambit already does. 


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