China vs Russian Cyberwarfare

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    With the West still reeling from Russian attempts to influence political processes (and scrambling to tighten its cyber defences before its next election cycles), the mainstream European and American media have let another threat shift out of focus. The idea that Moscow has managed to influence events without the use of Cold War-era tools such as infiltrators and defectors has proved alarming enough to allow a different danger from the east remain forgotten or unrecognized.

    At Silicon Valley’s RSA Conference of early March, Rob Joyce, the NSA’s senior cyber security adviser, evaluated the two greatest cyber security threats in an apt and succinct fashion. “I kind of look at Russia as the hurricane, coming in fast and hard,” he told journalists in attendance. “China is climate change: the effects are long, slow, pervasive.”

    At the same conference, Chris Krebs of the Department of Homeland Security echoed his NSA counterpart’s concerns. “Russia is trying to disrupt the system,” he said. “China is trying to manipulate the system to its long-term advantage.”

    It might appear strange that Chinese cyber aggression has not been subject to the same intense media scrutiny as its Russian equivalent, especially as much of President Trump’s election rhetoric centered on dealing with Beijing’s subversive foreign and economic policies; this is stranger still when one remembers that Chinese hacking was a concern for US politics even as far back as the presidential elections of 2012, long before Russia’s own cyber attacks shook the columns of Western power.

    Perhaps a more coherent Western awareness of Russian and Chinese cyber attacks might have been achieved if they were assessed, discussed and evaluated as part of a greater Eastern threat to European and American cyberspace. The dangers posed are, of course, as different as Moscow and Beijing’s political approaches to the outside world (indeed, to expand and adapt Joyce’s analogy, Russia’s foreign policy might be described as a sledgehammer, with Beijing more of a scalpel), but the severity of both dictate that neither is more cause for concern than the other.

    In recent years, Russia’s foreign policy has been extremely aggressive, deploying military forces to no fewer than three countries and sanctioning assassinations of public opponents both at home and abroad. China’s oppressive behavior has been more domestic, with the exception of customary saber-rattling over Taiwan. However, while it may not be invading its neighbors in the style of its Russian allies, its economic and commercial interests are still a cause for concern.

    Beijing has invested billions in infrastructural projects in Africa, a soft power play that may well merit comparisons to the empires of Europe that now belong to history. Countries that receive the benefit of Chinese money (including Kenya and Ethiopia, which received railway developments valued at $3.2 billion and $475 million respectively, along with Guinea, which was granted a hydro-electric dam valued at $526 million) are now demonstrably inclined to vote in favor of Chinese-proposed motions at the UN Assembly, a stark change from the Cold War, when most of Africa followed the lead of the United States. Having secured political influence over much of the continent, the Chinese government has also paved the way for investment from the private sector: Chinese companies investing in Africa are showing substantial profits, as Western enterprises once did when labor and costs in China itself were cheap.

    This commercial aggression has extended to the cyber realm, with China being repeatedly accused of promoting hacking efforts to steal American intellectual property. Indeed, a US government study in 2017 estimated the total cost of Chinese hacking to be between $255-600 billion in counterfeit goods and pirated software and patents. Later, in December 2018, the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand together declared that China was behind a twelve-year hacking campaign that led to the acquisition of patents and private information from corporate IP addresses in twelve countries, affecting almost every professional field in the world.

    This is not, of course, to say that China’s cyber attacks are entirely without a military edge. Plans of the F-35 5th generation fighter aircraft were suspected of being stolen by Chinese hackers, with Beijing allegedly then adapting parts of the design for its own stealth interceptor model, the J-20. In addition, as of October 2018, the US Navy broke a longstanding tradition of not publishing the names and roles of its senior officer corps due to fears that they may become targets of Chinese cyber assaults.

    However, defending and responding to Chinese threats is more complicated than responding to Russian interference. Sanctions placed on Moscow have little overall effect on the West, but China is a major trading partner; it is already becoming something akin to a superpower, and so the prospect of sparking a trade war (or, indeed, taking any hostile action that might lead to an actual war) against a rising and increasingly integral part of the global economy would hardly be punitive, and may only increase the number of Beijing-sponsored cyber attacks.

    With the USA bracing itself for a turbulent 2020 election, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that insidious Chinese hacking will slip further out of sight from the Western public and media, especially in light of the focus on online Russian attacks in the previous presidential race. Yet with Xi Jinping having consolidated his power for the foreseeable future (and perhaps beyond), Beijing’s cyber aggression is likely to remain as firmly entrenched as the country’s leader; a comparison that is arguably as accurate as it is concerning.


    Great article.

    what interest me the most that the war has shifted from guns and tanks to computers and information war.

    the one who will control the most information and cyber space will win in the long run.


    It’s a very delicate subject.
    One sensitive leaked information will alter the course of elections or agreements with neighboring countries.
    which is kind of Scary.


    I would hardly say the level of Cyber Warfare displayed by China could be labelled as soft power. In this day and age, it is in fact real power. The only thing soft about the Chinese at this point is.. Well, we’ll leave that one to the imagination. In all seriousness however, the U.S. has taken far too long to begin its preventative measures and at this point, they should surely expect there to be a decent level of meddling in state affairs in the 2020 election run. Real power is no longer merely displayed through military warfare, but instead, in tech and online.


    I’d highly disagree with you mate. It’s still soft power when people are not being bombed and blown to bits. Get your facts straight before you make such inordinate claims. The losses which could be incurred from a full fledged military attack far outweigh the damage done by hacking and stealing bits and pieces of information off computers. You have clearly not observed the downsides and damages incurred by warfare, and here’s hoping you never have to, as you’d be in for a rude awakening.


    The way things seem to be headed with Russia’s development of its cyber sector, and its dominance in the intelligence field, as well as China’s rapid and prolific economic development, it seems to me that the U.S. is soon find itself knocked off the #1 spot, as it is quickly and surely regressing into a state of political disarray and misguided leadership. As left wing ideology, political correctness, and impractically increase, this article’s content shall prove to be a dark cloud over Americans, as it shall manifest even more strongly.


    I heard Chinese hackers are good, and by heard I mean I saw that in the PC Game Command and Conquer Generals, you can actually recruit hackers when playing as China that just sit around a laptop and dollar signs start flashing up. I actually thought that was a world of fun to be honest. I want to learn how to sit behind a computer and just have dollars floating into my account ever so gracefully. The world is a weird place I have to tell you.


    If the 2016 electoral run was any indication, the Russians are quite well versed in cyber warfare, and will go a long way and take big risks in the pursuit of their interests. The Chinese however, are a people to be contested with. It will be interesting to see how this one pans out.


    The worrying aspect is that the Americans seem to be left out of this debate on cyber warfare, which goes to prove that the real battle is between the Russians and the Chinese, who have performed marvellously in their advancement with cyber tactics, and have employed methods that their counterparts have failed to mimic. I truly believe that the 2020 election run will resemble that of 2016, or worse, unless the Americans really put in the work this time.


    I like how the title reads China vs Russian Cyberwarfare, with the U.S. being excluded. This goes to prove that we are truly lagging behind in the real of cyber security, and it has arrived at the point where the world’s two other superpowers really pose a significant threat to us. We ought to wisen up and start diverting a ton of funding into this field, if we ever hope to catch up, or even safeguard ourselves from further meddling and damage.

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