WASHINGTON China's military modernization efforts initially aimed at fielding "networked forces" that can operate throughout Asia are also spurring development of a new cyber warfare capability, according to a report by a congressional advisory panel.
The study, "Capabilities of the People's Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation," was released Thursday (Oct. 22) by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. It was compiled for the commission by a unit of Northrop Grumman Corp., one the nation's largest military contractors.
A key tenet of Chinese military modernization is to link its forces through a networked architecture that would allow the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to coordinate military operations on land, sea and air and across the electromagnetic spectrum. A networked force would also allow the PLA to adopt a regional defense posture beyond its traditional focus on Taiwan.
"This doctrinal focus is providing the impetus for the development of an advanced [cyber warfare] capability, the stated goal of which is to establish control of an adversary's information flow and maintain dominance in the battle space," the 88-page report warned.
"The growing importance of [cyber warfare to the PLA] is also driving it to develop more comprehensive computer network exploitation techniques to support strategic intelligence collection objectives and to lay the foundation for success in potential future conflicts," concludes the report, prepared by Northrop Grumman's Information Systems Sector (McLean, Va.).
Many of China's cyber warfare efforts mirror those already in use by the U.S. and other military forces, including integrated electronic warfare networks and greater use of other electronic countermeasures like computer network attacks.
"China is likely using its maturing computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. Government and industry by conducting a long term, sophisticated, computer network exploitation campaign," the report asserts. "The problem is characterized by disciplined, standardized operations, sophisticated techniques, access to high-end software development resources, a deep knowledge of the targeted networks and an ability to sustain activities inside targeted networks, sometimes over a period of months."
Beijing also is said to be making greater use of "black hat" programmers to develop tools for exploiting commercial software vulnerabilities before they are discovered by vendors.
Growing U.S. concerns about the Asian security situation were underscored this week when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Japan to meet with officials from the Democratic Party of Japan, which ended 50 years of one-party Japanese rule in August. Gates reportedly pressured incoming Japanese officials not to drop long-standing security agreements designed in part to contain China's regional ambitions.