Chinese Information War: Espionage, Cyberwar, Communications Control and Related Threats to United States Interests

Posted on by Ben Rothke

It’s said that truth is stranger than fiction, as fiction has to make sense.  Had The Chinese Information War: Espionage, Cyberwar, Communications Control and Related Threats to United States Interestsbeen written as a spy thriller, it would have been a fascinating novel of international intrigue.

But the book is far from a novel.  It’s a dense, but well-researched overview of China’s cold-war like cyberwar tactics against the US to regain its past historical glory and world dominance.

In fact, just last week, the article China's Hacking Army Is Making the US Military Look Like Idiotsnoted that the cyber-war between China and the US is still very much ongoing, with countless hacking accusations already being thrown around this yea

Author Dennis Poindexter shows that Chinese espionage isn’t made up of lone wolves.  Rather it’s under the directive and long-term planning of the Chinese government and military.

Many people growing up in the 1940’s expressed the sentiment “we were poor, but didn't know it”.  Poindexter argues that we are in a cyberwar with China; but most people are oblivious to it.

Rather than being a polemic against China, Poindexter backs it up with extensive factual research. By the end of the book, the sheer number of guilty pleas by Chinese nationals alone should be a staggering wake-up call. 

In February, Mandiant released their groundbreaking report APT1: Exposing One of China's Cyber Espionage Units, which focused on APT1, the most prolific Chinese cyber-espionage group that Mandiant tracked.  APT1 has conducted a cyber-espionage campaign against a broad range of victims since at least 2006.  The report has evidence linking them to China’s 2nd Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army.

China is using this cyberwar to their supreme advantage and as Poindexter writes on page 1: until we see ourselves in a war, we can’t fight it effectively.  Part of the challenge is that cyberwar does not fit the definition of what a war generally is because the Chinese have changed the nature of war to carry it out.

Poindexter makes his case in fewer than 200 pages and provides ample references in his detailed research; including many details, court cases and guilty verdicts of how the Chinese government and military work hand in hand to achieve their goals

The book should of interest to everyone given the implications of what China is doing.  If you are planning to set up shop in China, be it R&D, manufacturing or the like, read this book.  If you have intellectual property or confidential data in China, read this book as you need to know the risks before you lose control of your data there.

Huawei Technologies, a Chinese multinational telecommunications equipment and services firm; now the largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world is detailed in the book.  Poindexter details a few cases involving Huawei and writes that if Huawei isn’t linked to Chinese intelligence, then it’s the most persecuted company in the history of international trade.

The book details in chapter 2 the intersection between cyberwar and economic war.  He writes that any foreign business in China is required to share detailed design documents with the Chinese government in order to do business there.  For many firms, the short-term economic incentives blind them to the long-term risks of losing control of their data.  The book notes that in the Cold War with Russia, the US understood what Russia was trying to do.  The US therefore cut back trade with Russia, particularly in areas where there might be some military benefit to them.  But the US isn’t doing that with China.

Chapter 2 closes with a damming indictment where Poindexter writes that the Chinese steal our technology, rack up sales back to us, counterfeit our goods, take our jobs and own a good deal of our debt.  The problem he notes is that too many people focus solely on the economic relations between the US and China, and ignore the underpinnings of large-scale cyber-espionage.

Chapter 6 details that the Chinese have developed a long-term approach. They have deployed numerous sleepers who often wait decades and only then work slowly and stealthily.  A point Poindexter makes many times is that the Chinese think big, but move slow.

Chapter 7 is appropriately titles The New Cold War.  In order to win this war, Poindexter suggest some radical steps to stop it. He notes that the US needs to limit trade with China to items we can’t get anywhere else. He says not to supply China with the rope that will be used to hang the US on. 

He writes that the Federal Government has to deal with the issue seriously and quickly, to protect its telecommunications interests so that China isn’t able to cut it all off one day.  He also notes that national security must no longer take a backseat to price and cheap labor.

Poindexter writes that the US Government must take a long-view to the solution and he writes that it will take 10 years to build up the type of forces that that would be needed to counter the business and government spying that the Chinese are doing.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is the archetypal wake-up call book.  Poindexter has written his version of Silent Spring, but it’s unlikely that any action will be taken.  As the book notes, the Chinese are so blatantly open about their goals via cyber-espionage, and their denials of it so arrogant, that business as usual simply carries on.

The Chinese portray themselves as benevolent benefactors, much like the Kanamits in To Serve Man.  Just as the benevolence of the Kanamits was a façade, so too is what is going on with the cold cyberwar with China.

The book is an eye-opening expose that details the working of the Chinese government and notes that for most of history, China was the world’s dominating force.  The Chinese have made it their goal to regain that dominance.

The book states what the Chinese are trying to accomplish and lays out the cold facts.  Will there be a response to this fascinating book?  Will Washington take action?  Will they limit Chinese access to strategic US data?  Given Washington is operating in a mode of sequestration, the answer should be obvious.

The message detailed in The Chinese Information War: Espionage, Cyberwar, Communications Control and Related Threats to United States Interests should be a wake-up call.  But given that it is currently ranked #266,881 on Amazon, it seems as if most of America is sleeping through this threat.

Ben Rothke

Senior Information Security Manager, Tapad

hackers & threats cyber warfare & cyber weapons

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