U.S. commission fingers China as biggest cyberthreat

A U.S. commission has confirmed what many experts already believed: China has become "the most threatening actor in cyberspace," due to a persistent bombardment of U.S. military systems and defense contractors.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is scheduled to release next month its annual report mandated by Congress. A draft of the report obtained by Bloomberg found the sheer number of attacks emanating from China made the country a top concern.

"Irrespective of the sophistication, the volume of exploitation attempts yielded enough successful breaches to make China the most threatening actor in cyberspace," according to the draft.

The commission's findings raise the question of how to defend against such persistent attacks. Gunter Ollman, chief technology officer for Damballa, said the best way to bolster defenses is for defense contractors and other industries to share information when breaches are discovered. Damballa sells technology for discovering successfully planted malware through anomalies in system operations.

Ollman is in favor of sharing everything that is known about the attacks, the attackers and the targeted infrastructure. "These attacks typically aren't targeted at one particular [defense] contractor," he said. "They are much broader than that. They [attackers] are testing many doors simultaneously, and sharing intelligence can be used as a stronger mechanism for detection and helping to mitigate future threats."

Sharing of information between corporations and the Department of Homeland Security has been a subject of much debate, due to privacy issues. Because of the controversy, Congress has yet to pass the proposed Cyber Security Act, which would give the government access to information on corporate networks that are under attack.

Because of Congress' failure to act, President Obama is considering issuing an Executive Order to implement some provisions of the act. Darren Hayes, an expert in computer forensics and security and a professor at Pace University, says government action is needed to better protect the intellectual property of U.S. companies, as well as military and diplomatic secrets.

"Everybody is talking about it, but no legislation has been put into practice," Hayes said. "Nothing meaningful from my perspective has been done."

Today, most Chinese attacks on military and government systems seem intended to steal technology or intelligence, the Bloomberg report said. However, the panel believes that could change and attacks could become more destructive.

A report the commission released in March said China's military, called the People's Liberation Army, has been preparing for possible cyber warfare in its modernization efforts.

"PLA leaders have embraced the idea that successful war-fighting is predicated on the ability to exert control over an adversary's information and information systems, often preemptively," the report said.

In a speech last month to business leaders in New York, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that a cyberattack on the nation's critical infrastructure, such as transportation, water supply or the electric grid, could be a "cyber Pearl Harbor -- an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life."

Panetta warned that the U.S. would retaliate quickly against such an attack. He also said the government would not rule out a preemptive strike, if such an attack was eminent.

[See related: Security experts push back at 'Cyber Pearl Harbor' warning]

Read more about malware/cybercrime in CSOonline's Malware/Cybercrime section.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Cybersecurity Act of 2012U.S.-China Economic and Security Review CommissionapplicationsData Protection | MalwarelegalDamballasoftwaredata protectionBloombergcybercrime

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Antone Gonsalves

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place