China’s increasing use of cyberattacks to weaken military and domestic infrastructure of countries claiming ownership of the islands in the South China Sea is causing concerns among U.S. military leaders.
In July, a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack knocked offline at least sixty-eight Philippine national and local government websites, in what seems to be a response to an international court ruling that denied China’s territorial claims to the islands. A few days later, Vietnam’s national airline and several of the country’s airports were victims of cyberattacks by the Chinese hacking group 1937CN.
The United States’ surveillance missions in the South China Sea are also at risk of cyberattacks from China. A 2013 report in the Chinese journal Aerospace Electronic Warfare describes in technical detail how China’s military can “use network warfare to attack and even control America’s network” by disrupting the connection between satellites and aircraft. Disrupting GPS signals could be one of the largest cyberthreats to the U.S. drone program. It has been widely speculated that Iran used similar technology to hack and shutdown a U.S. surveillance drone in 2011.
The U.S. military is preparing for these sorts of attacks, according to its new cyber strategy released last year, which outlines how cyber defense will be incorporated in all aspects of military planning. The challenge, however, is whether the U.S. military’s cyber defenses will be quick enough to adapt to new and relatively inexpensive cyber weapons employed by both state and non-state hacking groups.
Techcrunch notes how a small group of hackers using simple spear-phishing tactics can have massive impact on military installations, government operations, critical infrastructure, and weapon systems. What is certain is that the United States still has a clear conventional military advantage over its adversaries. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, in response to a question on how cyber attacks against the United States will be addressed whether through “deterrence or through actual actions” said “in some cases, a cyberattack may not get a cyber response……we want to make sure a national command authority has a full range of options.”