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"Patriotic Hackers"

4:18 PM, May 6, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Josh Rogin, who covered the cybersecurity beat for FCW before becoming the defense reporter for CQ, knows this issue as well as anyone. Yesterday he dropped a major piece on the growing cyber threat from China, which is in "constant attack mode" and almost certainly responsible for the "dramatic upsurge in breaches" of American networks. If you follow this issue at all, you'll want to read this one in full. Here's a sample:

China has made no secret of its broader agenda to establish effective control over civilian cyberspace. Since the mid-nineties, Chinese officials have made "information dominance" a central military priority, said James Mulvenon, director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, a private firm that provides clients with open-source intelligence on China. "The Chinese government regards cyber as a legitimate overt tool of national power, whereas for the U.S. it's still largely a compartmentalized, classified kind of capability," Mulvenon added.

Strategically, China is looking to exploit its edge in cyberwarfare to offset U.S. advantages in conventional weaponry. Chinese military planners, for example, have a declared strategy to disable U.S. military logistics and communications networks long enough to allow a successful invasion of Taiwan.

That sort of long-term thinking is what has cybersecurity experts worried. "I view all of this as intelligence preparation of the battlefield," Mulvenon said.

The Chinese experience also highlights the kinds of strategic disparities that U.S. counter-efforts suffer. Gen. Kevin Chilton, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said the chief goal of U.S. cyberforces is to "maintain freedom of action" in cyberspace. Chilton noted that U.S. operatives can go on the offensive to prevent pending attacks, but critics of the U.S. approach say it doesn't come close to competing with China's strategies for cyberdominance. China is also working with legions of hacker recruits for its dominance scheme. The government reportedly works with an army of 50,000 to 100,000 "patriotic hackers" who may not have direct association with the ruling Chinese Communist Party but who act in concert with the party's national aims.