BEIJING, China. The key to world dominance lies in the Internet. While Russia and the United States spend billions of dollars on new submarines and air fighters, the Chinese army heavily invests in computer experts.
The Chinese army hopes to achieve “electronic dominance” over other world powers by 2050. Should this happen, hackers hidden somewhere in one of Beijing’s bunkers will be able to severely disrupt any military action of the United States, Russia, Japan, or South Korea. The Pentagon alone uses over five million computers connected by some 100,000 networks around the world. Military officials admit that hardly any order can be issued without the use of computers. What they don’t dare saying is that if someone managed to hack the chain of command, consequences would be fatal.
A conflict between the United States and the Republic of China is not as inconceivable as most of us think. “[I]n many Chinese military manuals they identify the US as the country they are most likely to go to war with. They are moving very rapidly to master this new form of warfare,” Larry M. Wortzel, the author of the US Army College report told the Times of London. The reason why very few people realize how tense the situation between both countries is, is that modern warfare takes place in the sterile environment of computer laboratories.
What nuclear warheads were to the Cold War, computers to the twenty-first century military competition. The Pentagon confirmed that in 2005 there were almost 80,000 attempts to hack its system; fewer than 1,300 ended successfully. In the following years, these numbers increased, giving the U.S. central command a serious headache. At one time the US Army College’s network was hacked and the computers had to be shut down for over a month. In most cases there was no doubt who stood behind the attacks: the Chinese.
In February 2007, the small Baltic state of Estonia fell prey to a massive Internet attack that left its government and military in a shambles for several days. In the country where over 70 percent of the population has access to the Internet and most of paper work is done online, almost every single computer refused to work. What is more, on the websites of the ministries of defense and foreign affairs appeared pieces of information that were obviously faked. Police experts from all over Europe and Israel worked hard to find the perpetrator. The investigation was stopped when all the evidence led to the Kremlin.
China has gone one step further and organizes special contests for hackers from around the world. The winner usually finds lucrative employment in the Chinese army. “These guys are very good,” admitted one former computer analyst from the Department of Defense. Being of various nationalities and working as individuals without official ties to the communist regime, hackers offer Beijing an invaluable opportunity to attack foreign systems with no strings attached.
Washington says it is ready to counter any cyber attack, be in from China or Russia or any other state or organization. But although the American military is years behind any other army in the world, the example of Estonia proved that you do not need billions of dollars to destabilize a country. One Pentagon official told the Fox News shortly after Estonia was attacked: “It’s a constant game of cat and mouse. This was a wake-up call for us.”
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