Following a suspected recent Iranian cyberattack against a US water treatment facility, government officials are now alleging that the Chinese military has been targeting a number of water and power installations across the country.
Transportation systems are among the apparent targets, with the assaults supposedly being carried out to develop a broader attack playbook that could be deployed if war were to break out between the US and China.
Crippling key infrastructure after an outbreak of hostilities would slow logistics, create potential hysteria within population centers, and ultimately destabilize the nation.
Five Eyes on China
The attacks are being carried out by groups affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, and the groups have infiltrated twenty to thirty sites across the country. according to unnamed officials who spoke to the Washington Post.
Among the targets were water infrastructure in Hawaii, the operator of the Texas power grid, a port on the West Coast, and at least one oil and gas pipeline. While attacks against these sites are serious, apparently no critical control systems were breached.
The group behind many of the attacks, Volt Typhoon, has links to China’s People's Liberation Army and employs a wide range of sophisticated tactics such as 'living off the land techniques', which uses built-in network administration tools to perform attacks.
The group has been referenced in a number of attack reports released by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), as well as being named in warnings released by Microsoft researchers and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Brandon Wales, the executive director of CISA, said, “It is very clear that Chinese attempts to compromise critical infrastructure are in part to pre-position themselves to be able to disrupt or destroy that critical infrastructure in the event of a conflict, to either prevent the United States from being able to project power into Asia or to cause societal chaos inside the United States — to affect our decision-making around a crisis.
“That is a significant change from Chinese cyber activity from seven to 10 years ago that was focused primarily on political and economic espionage.”
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Benedict Collins is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Pro covering privacy and security. Before settling into journalism he worked as a Livestream Production Manager, covering games in the National Ice Hockey League for 5 years and contributing heavily to the advancement of livestreaming within the league. Benedict is mainly focused on security issues such as phishing, malware, and cyber criminal activity, but he also likes to draw on his knowledge of geopolitics and international relations to understand the motives and consequences of state-sponsored cyber attacks.
He has a MA in Security, Intelligence and Diplomacy, alongside a BA in Politics with Journalism, both from the University of Buckingham. His masters dissertation, titled 'Arms sales as a foreign policy tool,' argues that the export of weapon systems has been an integral part of the diplomatic toolkit used by the US, Russia and China since 1945. Benedict has also written about NATO's role in the era of hybrid warfare, the influence of interest groups on US foreign policy, and how reputational insecurity can contribute to the misuse of intelligence.
Outside of work Ben follows many sports; most notably ice hockey and rugby. When not running or climbing, Ben can most often be found deep in the shrubbery of a pub garden.