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Jan 21, 2010, 12.17 PM IST
Google Inc's threat to quit China over cyber attacks and censorship highlights US fears that a more powerful Beijing is tapping government and corporate computer networks to steal secrets and to prepare for potential conflicts.
Ties between the United States, the world's largest economy, and China, a rising rival, are already strained by jockeying for resources, regional influence, currency exchange rate advantages, trade protectionism charges and arms sales to Taiwan, among other things.
US intelligence agencies for years have warned government officials and corporations that Chinese hackers have been piercing sensitive networks and preparing for any clash as bilateral ties wax and wane.
Outsourcing, a cost-cutting strategy adopted by many
"Companies that locate their research and development in
"They learn the holes in the system and the codes to access programs to do software updates -- trapdoors that leave the
Moving hardware, chip and server production to
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to deliver on Thursday what was being billed as a major speech on Internet freedom. "The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy," said Kurt Campbell, the department's top official for
Skills could help wartime attacks
Google owns the world's most popular Internet search engine. It jolted U.S.-China ties with its Jan. 12 announcement that it had faced a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" in mid-December allegedly from inside
Targeted at the same time, Google said, were more than 20 other companies in finance, technology, media and chemicals. At issue, it said, was more than a simple security breach, though Google said a primary target was dissidents' email accounts.
The U.S. State Department is pressing
While most penetrations are fishing expeditions, Willard told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee "the skills being demonstrated would also apply to wartime computer network attacks."
"As China is more than ever integrated with the rest of the world through, and reliant on, the Internet, it has no reason to do anything that will harm or backfire on its own interests," Wang Baodong, an embassy spokesman, said by email.
Last February, Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, said state and non-state foes were targeting
Chinese hackers' tracks have been detected inside some
"Do I worry about those grids, and about air traffic control systems, water supply systems, and so on? You bet I do. Our networks are being mapped," Brenner told an April 3 forum at the
James Mulvenon of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, a consultant to
"The Chinese military appears to believe that they can use hacking to exploit our perceived dependencies on cyber systems, and thereby disrupt our deployment to a regional contingency," Mulvenon said in an email interview.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission told Congress two months ago that Chinese authorities seem to be recruiting skilled cyber operators from information technology firms and computer science programs into the ranks of "Information Warfare Militia units."
The Daily Beast last week cited what it called a classified FBI report that estimated China's army has more than 30,000 cyberspies plus more than 150,000 private-sector computer experts assigned to steal U.S. military and technology secrets. The FBI declined to comment.
"Corporate intellectual property is being stolen in many fields: information technology, bio-technology, defense industrial base, financial, transportation, energy, and others," said Wells, now at the
In June, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the creation of the military's first headquarters to mesh Pentagon efforts in the emerging cyberspace battlefield and computer-network security arenas. The new command will develop offensive cyber weapons as well as defend against them.
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