The Chinese government recently prevented a wave of hacktivism, an Air Force official told reporters last Tuesday. According to Maj. Gen. John Bradley (USAF), the department had expected to come under attack this May by masses of Chinese hackers replacing U.S. military websites with the Chinese flag.
It would have been the one year anniversary of when, allegedly, Chinese hacktivists protested the collision of an American signals intelligence plane with a Chinese fighter jet. The American spy plane was forced to land in China, and disagreement on the cause of the accident led to weeks of tension between the two nations. According to reports in the American media, Chinese hackers had responded to the incident with "hundreds" of attacks on U.S. military websites. It was widely reported that the message "China have atom bomb too!!!" appeared on one hacked page and Chinese flags appeared on others.
Yet if the attack did occur, it was of minute proportions. Out of all the "hacked pages" mirrors around the net, we couldn't locate any sites matching the descriptions offered by the news media. Just one victim was ever even named - a site at www.peoarbs.navy.mil - but Naval Sea Systems Command, who operates the site, would not return emails from 2600.
Why did the U.S. military sell an overblown hacktivism story to the media? And why is the Air Force now saying that the Chinese government was able to stop its hackers just by asking? In trying to answer these questions, the most important clue may be China's silence. The absence of any stories in China's state-run news regarding the alleged first attack and the potential for a second one, coupled with the lack of evidence, suggests that both of these hacktivism scenarios were largely fabricated by the U.S. government/media. The reasoning behind this strange "news" then becomes clearer.
If members of the legislature become convinced that China can prevent its hackers from striking, they will be forced to assume that China can cause its hackers to attack as well. In the U.S., this would turn the image of China's hacker community into one of a state-controlled army, and transform the image of China itself into one of a cyber-superpower. Indeed, in a UPI story, Maj. Gen. Bradley was quoted as using the term "state-controlled" to describe the alleged quelling of hacker activity.
From the U.S. military's perspective, the existence of a competing cyber-superpower would be to our advantage. It is accepted that the United States has been seeking a new bipolar global conflict since the disintegration of the USSR. The old "Cold War" between the USA and USSR generated defense jobs, controlled proliferation of weapons technologies, and didn't lead to any bloodshed at home. The U.S. has repeatedly attempted to parlay its edgy relationship with China into a new cold war, and Tuesday's charade would seem to be the latest attempt to advance towards this goal.
In addition to its effect on the world stage and various economies, a hot or cold cyber-war would become the basis for controlling "cyber weapons," in much the same way as nuclear weapons were controlled in the past. This agenda is already on the table, most notably in the U.S. and Britain where certain security-related software has already come under tighter controls. Many more possibilities exist for such freedom-abridging actions under the premise of a cyber-war.
So far, nothing on the scale of a cyber-war has ever occurred, despite years of governmental panic-mongering. It would be unwise for any government to precipitate or "invent" such a conflict.
According to UPI, Maj. Gen. Bradley's comments came at an unnamed electronic warfare conference, and a meeting of the Old Crows.