Foreign and Military Affairs

US cyber strategy dangerous: Chinese experts

Updated: 2011-06-02 17:08


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BEIJING - The Pentagon's reportedly first formal cyber strategy is extremely dangerous, with possible consequences of arms races and even wars between countries, a Chinese military expert warns.

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Citing three US defense officials who have seen the strategy document, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Pentagon concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can count as an act of war and the United States may respond using traditional military force.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the same day that a cyber attack on the United States would not necessarily warrant a cyber response and all appropriate options would be considered, according to media reports.

Li Shuisheng, a research fellow with the top military science academy of the People's Liberation Army, told Xinhua, "(The cyber strategy) appears to be a warning to potential cyber attackers on the US of the consequences, but is fundamentally an attempt of the US to maintain its unparalleled global military superiority."

The cyber strategy provides a new pretext for the United States to flex its traditional military muscles, he added.

The White House on May 16 issued an international strategy statement on cyber security which stated in plain terms that the United States "will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country."

"We reserve the right to use all necessary means - diplomatic, informational, military, and economic - as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our nation, our allies, our partners and our interests," the strategy statement said.

Although Pentagon officials are still in the process of figuring out what kind of cyber attack would constitute an act of war or a use of force, one idea gaining momentum at the Pentagon is the notion of "equivalence," the Wall Street Journal reported.

The logic follows that "If a cyber attack produces the death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption that a traditionally military attack would cause, then it would be a candidate for a 'use of force' consideration, which could merit retaliation," according to the Wall Street Journal report.

According to Li, the criteria for defining cyber attacks as a "use of force" and other issues, including identifying the origin of attacks, are complicated.

Fang Binxing, president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said in an interview with Xinhua that in most cases it's very difficult to be certain about the origin of attacks because hackers are readily able to conceal their real identity.

Tracking down the real IP address of hackers faces many difficulties as hackers usually launch attacks by camouflaging their own IP addresses or controlling computers of others.

The Pentagon believes that the most-sophisticated computer attacks require the resources of a government, such as taking down a power grid, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

But Li said it's a very complex matter to find out whether and to what degree cyber attacks are related to a government, noting that the United States clearly aims at sovereign nations in retaliating to cyber attacks, given the difficulty in identifying origins.

Given the current international situation, no country is likely to launch an attack on the United States, the world's only superpower, he said.

He further warns that a mistake by the United States in identifying attackers' origins could lead to wars between countries.

Fang pointed out that the United States is more often on the offensive not the defensive side in cyber warfare, as its dominance over cyber resources and technology easily shields itself from cyber attacks and enables it to launch attacks on others.

"Therefore, the US can fulfill its political and military purposes, including interference in domestic affairs of other countries and military intrusion, by making up technological effects on the Web," Fang said.

American defense and intelligence officials said that they had tracked a number of cyber attacks from Russia and China, and implied the governments and the military of the two countries were behind these attacks.

Li dismissed these accusations as "ungrounded guesswork and libel," noting that China is a primary object of cyber attacks worldwide and its cyber-security strategy is centered on defense with no intent or ability to attack the United States.

The United States initiated its cyber-security strategy under the Clinton Administration, which evolved over the years from being primarily defensive in nature to more offensive under the Obama Administration.

"In extending military competition from the real into the virtual world, the US explicitly demonstrates an ambition to enhance its hegemony," Li said.


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