Several times already, the Chinese "cyber army" has broken into the US Department of Defense computer systems.
Earlier this year, Germany claimed that Chinese hackers had infected its government computers with spyware.
Attacks by Chinese hackers are far from rare, but the Chinese cyber army is more than just a few lone hackers.
In 1999, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) officially established its cyber army, which has been constantly expanding. Its cyber army is part of the regular organization of the PLA, and "cyber warfare" is part of China's "asymmetric warfare" and "unlimited war" strategies. Currently, its main activities are interfering with or hacking into the computer systems of other countries and infecting them with computer viruses.
As early as the turn of the millennium, the US Department of Defense issued a warning that China had the ability to hack into civilian and military computer systems that didn't have sufficient protection. Its report this year Military Power of the People's Republic of China, addressed the issue of the Chinese cyber army developing viruses to attack computer networks. US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless urged Congress in June to guard against underestimating the power of Chinese cyber attacks.
However, the cyber army's invasions have been limited to some non-classified Web pages, causing a "denial of service" server overload by bombarding Web sites with requests for data, or changing images on a Web site. Chinese hackers have never actually hacked into important, classified systems. It is especially difficult to gain access to the classified parts of the US Defense Department or other military systems.
Apart from that, China is facing many difficulties in developing its cyber army. It is reliant on imports for most of its computer hardware and software. More than 90 percent of the computer operating system used by China's government and military is imported from the US. The overall security of China's informatics and Internet is lacking and it does not have security controls for imported technology and equipment. Also, economic relations between China and the US are becoming more entertwined, so if the cyber army were to wage war on the US economy, it would easily create problems for China. None of these factors are beneficial to the development of China's cyber warfare.
Nevertheless, we cannot assess cyber warfare from a traditional military point of view, as a technical or conceptual breakthrough could eradicate the advantage that the US and European countries have in information warfare, and this is something that many people with insight into the situation are worried about. It is by now undisputed that China's cyber army is growing in strength. We will have to be very careful.
Cheng Ta-chen is an independent defense analyst.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout