U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts warn that the Chinese military is increasingly attempting to infiltrate essential infrastructure, utilities, communication, and transportation services in the United States.
According to The Washington Post, anonymous U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts recently noted that hackers linked with China’s People’s Liberation Army have infiltrated roughly two dozen essential service entities throughout the past year.
The anonymous officials and experts claimed that China’s infiltration of critical entities is part of its widespread plan to disrupt or destroy essential services if a conflict occurs between China and the United States in the Pacific region.
According to the information obtained by The Washington Post, hackers linked with China’s People’s Liberation Army infiltrated services such as a water utility in Hawaii, an oil and gas pipeline, and a West Coast port. Hackers also attempted to infiltrate Texas’ power grid, as well as multiple entities outside of the United States.
While the anonymous U.S. officials told The Washington Post that none of the hacking attempts impacted industrial control systems such as the operation of pistons, pumps, or other crucial functions, the officials noted that the hacking attempts on a water utility in Hawaii, a shipping port, and logistic centers could indicate that the Chinese military is planning to use cyber attacks to prevent the U.S. from responding to any potential conflict in Taiwan.
“It is very clear that Chinese attempts to compromise critical infrastructure are in part to pre-position themselves to be able to disrupt or destroy that critical infrastructure in the event of a conflict, to either prevent the United States from being able to project power into Asia or to cause societal chaos inside the United States — to affect our decision-making around a crisis,” Brandon Wales, executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said. “That is a significant change from Chinese cyber activity from seven to 10 years ago that was focused primarily on political and economic espionage.”
Morgan Adamski, director of the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, told The Washington Post that China’s Volt Typhoon hacking operation “appears to be focused on targets within the Indo-Pacific region, to include Hawaii.”
Joe McReynolds, a China security studies fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, explained that hackers are trying to secretly “build tunnels” into infrastructure that can eventually be used in a cyber attack.
“Until then, you lie in wait, carry out reconnaissance, figure out if you can move into industrial control systems or more critical companies or targets upstream,” McReynolds said. “And one day, if you get the order from on high, you switch from reconnaissance to attack.”