China’s cyber warfare capabilities have reached a point where they would pose a danger to the US military in the event of a conflict, according to a report prepared for the US Congress released on Thursday.
The report by defense contractor Northrop Grumman for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has placed great emphasis on what is known as “information confrontation.”
“(PLA) leaders have embraced the idea that successful warfighting is based on the ability to exert control over an adversary’s information and information systems,” the report said.
“PLA analysts consistently identify logistics and (command-and-control) infrastructure as US strategic centers of gravity, which they would almost certainly target in the event of the conflict,” it said.
The report said “Chinese capabilities in computer network operations have advanced sufficiently to pose genuine risk to US military operations in the event of a conflict.”
In the event of a US defense of Taiwan, for example, the report said the PLA would target US systems with “electronic countermeasures weapons and network attack and exploitation tools, likely in advance of actual combat to delay US entry or degrade capabilities in a conflict.”
Difficulty in attributing responsibility for a cyber attack could hamper the US response, the report warned.
“Even if circumstantial evidence points to China as the culprit, no policy currently exists to easily determine appropriate response options to a large scale attack on US military or civilian networks in which definitive attribution is lacking,” the report added.
“Beijing may seek to exploit this gray area in US policymaking and legal frameworks to create delays in US command decision making,” it said.
The report also said that Chinese companies, some with foreign partners supplying critical technology, were giving the PLA access to cutting edge research and technology.
The report warned that the PLA’s ties with large Chinese telecommunications firms “creates an avenue for state sponsored or state directed penetrations of supply chains for electronics supporting the US military, the US government, and civilian industry.”
This has the potential to cause the “catastrophic failure of systems and networks supporting critical infrastructure for national security or public safety,” it said.
“The report highlights China’s extensive development of cyber tools to advance the leadership’s objectives,” said Michael Wessel, a member of the commission.
“It’s getting harder and harder for China’s leaders to claim ignorance and innocence as to the massive electronic reconnaissance and cyber intrusions activities directed by Chinese interests at the US government and our private sector,” Wessel said. “There’s clear and present danger that is increasing every day.”
The commission was created by Congress to report on the national security implications of trade and economic relations between China and the United States and the report comes as the Senate debates cybersecurity legislation.