Hackers controlled by China penetrate US critical infrastructure. They are thus preparing for the shutdown of communications, transportation and other crucial systems during a future crisis in Asia. So say Microsoft and the intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The warning follows the recent discovery of a “cluster of suspicious activity” by “Volt Typhoon,” a hacker group working on behalf of China, intelligence agencies say.
The hackers are active on a broad front: against communications and utilities, factories, transportation networks, construction, and the maritime, government and IT sectors. Moreover, it is not certain whether only American agencies are targeted. It could be a global operation.
“A striking message,” says IT expert Ronald Prins, who specializes in the vulnerabilities of IT systems. “We have known for a long time that China uses hacking to obtain information. But this is the first time that Beijing has also come out to disrupt critical infrastructure.”
Other countries have long been known to build up that capital: Russia, Iran and North Korea, for example. “But until now, China has been very friendly in that regard,” says Prins.
“That they want to be able to shut down US crisis communication is new. It is part of the global game to cyber capability build on a military level. China also wants to be able to wage cyber war should it come to an open conflict.” Tensions with the US around Taiwan in particular have risen sharply in recent months.
China calls it disinformation
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the warning from the intelligence services. The allegations are a “collective disinformation campaign,” said a spokesman, pointing the finger of blame at Washington. “Microsoft’s participation shows that the US government is expanding its channels of disinformation. But regardless, America is the empire of hacking,” she added.
According to Microsoft, the Chinese hacking operation focuses, among other things, on the US military base on Guam, which plays a crucial role in the Pacific Ocean in terms of defense. The IT giant reports that countering that specific threat can be a difficult job.
Last month, the AIVD and MIVD warned that China spies on Dutch companies and universities on a large scale.