China suspected in cyber attack on emails of top U.S. government, military officials

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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Just days after the Pentagon concluded for the first time that computer sabotage counts as an act of war, top U.S. government and military officials’ Gmail accounts were hit by what Google says was an attack by Chinese hackers.

Google announced Wednesday that hundreds of its email accounts, including those of many U.S. and South Korean officials, were targeted by a complex phishing scheme. The attack followed a recent announcement by Lockheed Martin that its computer security had also been compromised.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that the attacks will be investigated by the FBI. The White House said no official U.S. government email accounts were accessed.

In an appearance on Fox News Thursday, Florida Republican Rep. Allen West, who retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel, accused China of launching similar attacks against American personnel in Afghanistan when he was a civilian advisor to the U.S. military in the country.

“We have known for quite some time that we have been undergoing cyber attacks from China, as well within the two and a half years that I spent over in Afghanistan, we were experiencing the exact same type of cyber attacks against our communication systems and our information technology systems from China there,” West said.

Although China always strenuously denies any involvement in cyber attacks originating from within its borders, as it did with the recent attacks, security experts have long accused it of complicity.

“The denials Chinese officials make are just not credible,” said Dan Blumenthal, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on U.S. national security and foreign policy. “China has a very aggressive cyber-espionage strategy that it uses constantly.”

Blumenthal said the  focus on cyber-espionage and attacks is a attempt to assert power outside of the traditional land/sea/air paradigm.

“China’s being most aggressive in the spheres the United States doesn’t have control over — space and the cybersphere. I would say that’s further evidence these attacks are being generated from within the government.”

Coincidentally, two Chinese military strategists from People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Sciences released a report Friday arguing China must master cyber-warfare, the battleground of the future.

“Just as nuclear warfare was the strategic war of the industrial era, cyber-warfare has become the strategic war of the information era, and this has become a form of battle that is massively destructive and concerns the life and death of nations,” the strategists wrote.

Blumenthal said the U.S. should partner with allies that are frequent victims of Chinese hackers, such as Japan, India and Taiwan, to improve “cyber-resiliency.” He also said the U.S. should present evidence of such attacks to the international community.

“Being very candid and blunt with the Chinese about how we feel about these attacks is a step in the right direction,” Blumenthal said.