Threat Management

New NATO report claims China’s cyber-space influence continues to grow

A new report by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE) has detailed the evolving Chinese cyber-structures, showing developments in both internal governance of information and its self-named firewall and cyber-espionage activities.

The report titled, “China and Cyber: Attitudes, Strategies, Organisation” is part of the NATO CCD COE series on national organisational models for ensuring cyber-security summarise national cyber-security strategy objectives and outline the division of cyber-security tasks and responsibilities between agencies.

Opening with a bold statement, the report says, “It is undeniable that China has developed into a key actor in world politics, and other states cannot overlook or ignore its opinion or intentions on whichever considered terrain. With its immense and growing influence over the whole planet, cyber-space is no exception.”

The report says Chinese thinking on asymmetric warfare in general and particularly on cyber-war, was laid down in Unrestricted Warfare – a book written by two PLA colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in 1999 to provide a strategy of how China as a weaker country could defeat a technologically superior foe outside the scope of using hard military power.

Despite being widely misunderstood by Western media as a Chinese plan to destroy the US, the report claims China stands out in its approach to internet governance, for reasons including extensive industrial espionage, and increasing military focus on cyber-operations.  

The report highlights that, “A step suggesting their increasing desire to manage their cyber-operations more efficiently can be seen in the recent creation of the Central Internet Security and Information Leading Group, for which president Xi Jinping has taken personal responsibility to define China's cyber-strategy.”

It continues: “This also stands as a good example of how the Chinese understand cyber as something strongly integrated with society, and do not separate it from the general flow of governance. Admittedly, the challenges that originate from such a distinctive approach to cyber have great potential to affect the Western world's activities in cyber-space for a number of reasons.”

Mikk Raud, the report's author says that there is significant evidence that the Chinese government, together with the Chinese military, private corporations, and unaffiliated citizens, conduct intrusions against major Western powers as well as in the neighbouring region every day, targeting academia, industry and government facilities for the purpose of amassing technological secrets.

For example, Raud says that the Chinese have, among other high-tech weapon system designs, obtained those of the F-35 stealth fighter – America's most expensive military investment ever. The underlying purpose of these activities is to gain advantage in the economic, political and military fields, and often simply show the extensive harm they are capable of causing should the need arise.

According to the report, the West has demonstrated firm responses to such attacks. For instance, several Chinese telecommunication companies such as Huawei have been banned from contracting and acquiring any broadband network providers in the US and Australia.

The report says, “It seems that whichever direction the Chinese offensive cyber-capabilities develop, the West is unwilling to accept any growing danger to its private information, cyber infrastructure or security in general.”

“The Chinese perception of disproportionate Western dominance in shaping the global internet's future means it promotes sovereignty-based internet governance. This approach allows states to regulate cyber-space as it wishes,” argues Raud. He explains that this position is based on China's view of information as a strategic weapon to achieve an asymmetric advantage, while being aware of the potential threat free information constitutes to the regime.

The editor of the series, Kadri Kaska, emphasises that China does not treat cyber as a distinct policy but as a part of their integral approach to attain the country's long-term geopolitical objectives, which are economic and military superiority and an axiomatic influence in world affairs.

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