China must master cyber-warfare as the Internet emerges as a crucial battleground for opinion and intelligence, two military officers said yesterday, two days after Google revealed hacking attacks it said came from China.
The researchers from the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Academy of Military Sciences did not mention Google’s statement that hackers apparently based in China had tried to steal into the Gmail accounts of hundreds of users, including US officials, Chinese rights activists and reporters.
However, the essay by two PLA academics, Senior Colonel Ye Zheng (葉徵) and his colleague Zhao Baoxian (趙寶獻), in the China Youth Daily stressed that Beijing is focused on honing its cyber-warfare skills and sees an unfettered Internet as a threat to its Communist Party-run state.
“Just as nuclear warfare was the strategic war of the industrial era, cyber-warfare has become the strategic war of the information era, and this has become a form of battle that is massively destructive and concerns the life and death of nations,” they wrote in the Party-run paper.
Google said on Wednesday that the hacking attacks appeared to come from Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province and home to an intelligence unit of the PLA.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday dismissed Google’s statement as groundless and motivated by “ulterior motives.”
Recent Chinese reports about efforts to nurture a “blue army” of specialist troops to strengthen defenses against hacking have also given a rare glimpse into the PLA’s advance into online battle.
The Chinese military has been holding simulated cyber battles pitting a “blue army” unit using virus and mass spam attacks against “red teams” in an effort to strengthen troops’ readiness for online attacks, the Liberation Army Daily said last month.
“I’d guess every defense ministry in the world has faced hacking attacks, and we also face attacks. So we’ve formed a blue army to train our military to deal with this,” said Xu Guangyu (徐光宇), a researcher at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association and a retired PLA major general.
“It represents the hacker threat, and other units using digital and Internet capabilities have to stop it. It uses lots of virus and other means to try to get into your Web site, and you have to prevent it,” he said.
Last year, contention over Internet policy became an irritant between Beijing and Washington after US President Barack Obama’s administration took up Google’s complaints about hacking and censorship from China. Google partly pulled out of China, the world’s largest Internet market by users, after the dispute.
So far, neither Google nor Washington has outright blamed China for the hacking attacks. Both governments have sought to steady their relations after last year’s turbulence, and they may want to avoid another escalating feud.