China intensifies its cyber attacks on Taiwan
With increasing intensity, China is waging a cyber assault on Taiwan’s government systems and political process.
As many as 40 million cyber attacks a month are being directed by China, according to Taiwan’s cyber chief, who told the Asia Times news website that the assaults are becoming more effective.
“The increasing precision of Chinese attacks is a matter of concern,” said Chien Hung-wei, head of the country’s Department of Cyber Security (DCS).
The hackers are now turning to commonly used search engines to penetrate government computer systems, giving them greater success and making it more difficult to detect the activity, according to a recent Reuters report. While many of the attacks are thwarted, hundreds are finding their mark.
Most of the attacks are considered minor, known as level one or level two incidents, and result in relatively insignificant changes to web pages or other damage, the DCS said. However, 10 level three attacks on digital domains may have compromised classified information, a troubling development.
The successful hacks come as no surprise to cyber experts. Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong are the most-targeted countries for cyber attacks in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the American cyber security firm FireEye. As a result, they are more likely to face what are known as advanced persistent threat attacks on high-value targets such as the government, the armed forces and tech industries.
Though the Chinese hackers use servers in the United States, Russia and other countries to cover their tracks, Taiwan technicians have identified certain characteristics that are typical of Chinese hackers, according to the Asia Times report.
The cyber assault is part of China’s continuing effort to exert influence over the self-governing Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. The island is home to rights groups and anti-China dissidents attracted to its democratic institutions, leading China to intensify its attacks.
In addition to the cyber assault, China is using economic and diplomatic leverage to attack Taiwan’s independence, according to a New York Times newspaper report. Combined, the efforts are considered the most intense in decades. The cyber targets have included Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party has traditionally supported independence.
The party now fears that China will attempt to influence elections by launching cyber attacks similar to those Russia launched during the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
“We are really aware that this may happen to us as well,” Yang Chia-liang, a party spokesperson, told the Financial Times newspaper.
In response to China’s aggressive posture, the country’s Information Communication Electronic Force Command, which Tsai established in 2017 as the world’s first independent military cyber command, is sharing information about major cyber attacks with Japan and the U.S., the Taipei Times newspaper reported.
In many ways, China’s malevolent actions are nothing new, said Lee Teng-hui, who in 1996 became Taiwan’s first democratically elected president.
“That goal is to swallow up Taiwan’s sovereignty, exterminate Taiwanese democracy and achieve ultimate unification,” Lee told The New York Times.