In the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal for Monday, 13 July 2015, there was an article posted by L. Gordon Crovitz entitled Portents of World Cyberwar. The article is a short and well done read about a possible future conflict.
The fictional opposition is China in a book called “Ghost Fleet” in the article. However, the reality is that China and Russia are two of our current adversaries. The Chinese and Russians have been identified in some very high profile cyber attacks recently.
The Russians are currently sanctioned by the US and EU for its activities in Ukraine. The “war” is already on. The Russians have even flown bombers directly off the coast of Alaska and more alarmingly California on the 4th of July. This while Putin was calling President Obama to extend a “warm” message.
The Chinese are currently building air strips and military bases on coral islands in a multilateral disputed territory in the South China Sea. The US has already threatened overflights, and naval vessels passing within the 12 nautical miles of the islands.
The Chinese has successfully infiltrated into some of our most secure data. The direct damage and collateral damage will shortly become more apparent. Since we don’t know the names of the disclosed foreign contacts as the American public, we will never really be sure of who is caught in the web. The NSA, FBI, and CIA will need to make a concerted effort to keep track of these individuals to see if the Chinese government detains, imprisons, or worse. The collateral damage could be providing that information to foreign governments in an effort to secure favor. We know that the Chinese military-industrial complex is largely state-owned. As a result, it can be expected that it can use that intelligence to its benefit.
In a number of countries, political leaders would be placed in a bad position with their citizens if the extent of their involvement with our government. The Chinese could easily use this information to discredit, or blackmail these leaders for favors.
The article mentions the Chinese activities with regards to stealing information on the F-35 in 2009. The technical data can be used to develop weapons to detect and destroy these aircraft. It also provides the Chinese with R&D for free. American technology will be used to develop the next generation of Chinese fighter aircraft.
The reality is that these sophisticated weapons systems require lots of electronics. The majority of these electronics come from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. The latter three countries are within striking distance of China in its current military state. This would deprive the US of vital materials needed in a war. The possibility of making fab-labs in the US in a timely manner is not realistic. It takes a significant amount of time and experienced personnel. The reality is that those experienced personnel are largely in the countries noted. Another sobering issue is that the equipment to build these fab-labs are also largely made in those countries. This represents an Achilles heel to our national security objectives. This is expected to be further exacerbated by companies like Intel building more facilities overseas.
Is the fantasy about crippling code built into the chips really that much of a stretch? May I remind the reader that is exactly what some intelligence agency did to the Iranians to damage their Uranium enrichment centrifuges. The code caused the machinery to operate in a degraded manner, or fail. So is it possible to send a triggering command to shut off the electronics on an F-35? The flight controls are fly-by-wire. So, it is even possible to crash them into the Earth without a shot being fired. Do you think that is fantasy? A recent Black Hat conference demonstrated how to hack the systems in your automobile.
The opening salvo has been fired. What will be our response? Measured?