Book review: Death by Red Hacker: From Chengdu's 'Dark Visitors' to Manchurian Chips.
Navarro is a Harvard-educated trade adviser of US President Donald Trump while Autry, a noted strategist and assistant clinical professor of the University of Southern California, serves as the White House liaison to National Aeronautics and Space Administration, among other things.
'To date,' they said, 'China's 'Red Hacker' brigades have infiltrated Nasa, the Pentagon, and the World Bank; hit the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security so hard it had to trash hundreds of computers; emptied the hard drives of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project; and virtually carpet-bombed the US Air Force's air-traffic control system. They have also hacked the computers of reform-minded Congressmen as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee.'
'During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Beijing's Red Hacker brigades even broke into the e-mail servers of both the Obama and McCain campaigns as well as the Bush White House. And in one of the most brazen breaches, the laptops of the United States Commerce Secretary and several of his staff were kidnapped and loaded with spy software during a trade mission to Beijing,' Navarro and Autry said.
'In addition, while traditional spy craft has often relied on the 'honeypot trap'-a Mata Hari mistress to extract secrets during pillow talk or a lady of the night to put potential marks into compromising positions-China's virtual spymasters are now using a new variety of digital honeypots to hijack data from computers,' they said.
'Indeed, beyond the usual prostitutes and bugged hotel rooms in Shanghai, China's agents are now offering virus-laden memory cards and even digital cameras as gifts. According to Britain's MI5 secret service department, when attached to the victim's computers, these nefarious digital honeypots install software that allows hackers to take control,' Navarro and Autry explained.
'In fact,' they said, 'being a hacker in China is 'sort of like being a rock star,'' says China-hacking expert and author of The Dark Visitor, Scott Henderson. 'It's even a career that reportedly up to one-third of Chinese school kids aspire to.'
'Like an online mirror of China's distributed spy network, large cadres of amateur hackers handle much of the grunt work in what is a massive cyberwarfare effort. Every day, thousands of these so-called hacktivists continually probe, vandalize, and rob the institutions of the West-as well as Asian rivals like Japan and India,' they said.
They added: 'In considering the extent of the Chinese cyberwarfare threat, it is useful to identify the major goals of cyber espionage. The simplest is to disrupt the operations of Western systems by vandalizing web sites or by overwhelming the servers with a 'denial of service' attack.'
'A second obvious goal,' they said, 'is to steal valuable information: credit-card numbers and identities at the individual level; technologies, bid documents, corporate financials, and trade secrets at the industrial level; and weapons systems at the military level.'
'Still a third goal of cyberwarfare is to corrupt data in a way that causes significant downstream damage. For instance, by compromising stock or bond market trading systems, China's Red Hacker brigades might disrupt trading, manipulate transactions, or skew reports and thereby incite a financial panic.
'Finally, hackers can impact the real world by taking control of systems that control physical assets. For example, a team of Chinese cyber patriots might shut down the electricity grid of New England to 'punish' America for an action like welcoming the Dalai Lama to the White House or selling arms to Taiwan.'
According to them, 'What all the major activities of China's Red Hacker brigades have in common is that they are conducted at arm's length and under the supervision of China's Communist Party. Of course, the Party maintains its distance precisely so it can always issue a plausible denial for whatever outrage bubbles up to the surface-a bold hack on the Pentagon, the hijacking of a big chunk of the Internet for 18 minutes, an attack on Google's source code, and so on.
'But make no mistake about it. China's so-called hacktivist militia would not exist but for the guiding hand of Beijing. As James Mulvenon at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis explains, 'These young hackers are tolerated...provided that they do not conduct attacks inside China. They are sort of useful idiots for the Beijing regime.'
'Useful idiots' indeed. While Los Angeles has its infamous 'Crips' and 'Bloods,' China's hacktivist militia has organized into thousands of small groups with names like 'Green Army Corps,' 'the Crab Group' and even all-girl ensembles like 'Six Golden Flowers.' They work together to improve their skills, share tools and techniques, and inflame each other's nationalistic passions. Combined, these cybergangs form an amorphous ideological-driven coalition with colorful names like the 'Honkers.'
Navarro and Autry explained: 'China even has hundreds of 'hacking schools' to teach young computer whizzes the dark arts. Large professional ads for cyber espionage training and tools may be found in public places, and, says Wang Xianbing of hackerbase.com, they 'teach students how to hack unprotected computers and steal personal information.' Meanwhile, China's central government allows groups like the China Hacker Union to openly operate and even keep business offices while ripping off foreigners-so long as they don't hack into domestic Chinese sites or software.'
Navarro and Autry said: 'Lest anyone doubt that China's hacktivists operate under the protection of the central government, consider that China has the most heavily controlled Internet in the world. The idea that any rogue hacker could exist for any extended period within China and beyond the reach of Beijing's army of censors is patently absurd.
'In fact, whenever a hacker group breaks Beijing's biggest unwritten rule-never attack the Chinese government-retribution is swift and sure. For example, when several members of a hacker group exploited a hole in China's Green Dam censorship software-an important tool used by Beijing to spy on Chinese Internet users-the hackers were promptly arrested. So, too, was a hacker from Hubei Province who, according to the China Daily, replaced 'a picture of an official on a government web site with a girl in a bikini.' This cyber prankster got off light by Chinese standards-only a year and a half in prison.'
'Of course, it is precisely these kinds of occasional crackdowns that keep China's Red Hacker brigades focused on foreign institutions and governments. And these brigades can always be whipped up quickly into a nationalistic frenzy with just a wink and a nod from the Communist Party leadership,' they warned.
Whatever the book says, though, it can be misconstrued by those unfamiliar with the seriousness of cyber-security issues as merely a medium of brinkmanship considering that America is still China's friend and a big borrower at $1.13 trillion as of February 2019, according to Google news.
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|Publication:||Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)|
|Date:||May 28, 2019|
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