My Take

China unfairly cast as the villain in global cyberwar

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 7:37am

Are we seriously to think that cyberattacks only go one way, with PLA-sponsored hackers going after American targets? Come on, both sides are waging an intense cyberwar involving many free agents whose loyalties and political allegiances are murky.

Chinese companies and governments departments are as much targets of foreign hackers as their counterparts in the West.

According to China's National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Co-ordination Centre, 2,194 servers in the US hacked into and controlled about 1.29 million servers on the mainland in the first two months of this year. More than 3,500 mainland websites were attacked by hackers who were traced back to the US in the same period.

The People's Daily website was attacked for nearly two hours on January 28. The websites of more than 85 government agencies were breached between September 2012 and February this year. The e-mail server of was hacked and planted with a Trojan virus last month. Almost half of these attacks originated from US servers.

But, hey, the centre is a government body, you say, so it can't be trusted. You may be right, but it seems to be no more untrustworthy than Mandiant, the US web security firm that traced many global cyberattacks to a crack team of Chinese hackers sponsored by the People's Liberation Army. Before we sink into my-country-is-holier-than-yours mode, let's face it - it's not just the US and China.

In the cyberworld, it's a Hobbesian state of nature - a war of all against all. China, the US and Russia happen to be the bigger players. And why not? It's far less lethal than a physical war. In a highly integrated world economy, it will be too costly for them to start a shooting war. Confining their struggle for supremacy in commerce, technology and cyberspace seems more civilised.

Making China the cyber bogeyman also fits a long tradition of the US making self-righteous and often false accusations to create an enemy, then going to war (Iraq, Panama, Vietnam; the War on Terror, the War on Drugs).

The US is the only one that has openly acknowledged having waged an act of cyberwarfare against another country. Now, it looks set to wage a cyberwar again - and it needs a villain.