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Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping continued to consolidate his power at a meeting of China’s Communist Party. During the four-day session, the Central Committee met to pave the way for him to secure a third term as president, an unprecedented move with global impact as China tries to position itself for global dominance. This happened just days before President Joe Biden met with Xi in a virtual summit aimed at de-escalating tensions between the two countries.
Xi is widely considered to be the most powerful leader since Mao. And as Xi increases his power, he is utilizing new tactics to show strength on the world’s stage with cyber-activity.
China is the preeminent threat that we face as a nation, and they are increasingly leveraging the cyber realm to impact our national security. The frontlines of cybersecurity are a never-ending battle, with new groups lurking to steal data, compromise infrastructure, and interfere with business operations. Their aggressive and consistent mode of operation, and highly sophisticated tactics, distinguish them from other adversaries – making them a double threat. As a way of protecting against the threats that China presents, we must work together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that we are equipping all American citizens, communities, and businesses with the necessary methods for prevention.
In 2015, China announced the “Made in China 2025” plan to shift its economy toward higher value products and services, including pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and other high-tech industries. Since then, there has been a significant increase in cyber-espionage focused on intellectual property theft and financially motivated cyber-crimes.
There are more than a dozen Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) groups, who are targeting cyber espionage, that receive direction and support from the state. Though similar in attack to other attackers, APT groups try to steal data, disrupt operations or destroy infrastructure. Unlike most cyber criminals, APT attackers pursue their objectives over months or years. They adapt to cyber defenses and frequently retarget the same victim.
A notorious Chinese hacking group known as APT 41 conducts a wide range of operations including data theft, innovative supply-chain attacks, and the use of unique tools and targeting techniques. Their work is consistent with China’s national strategy to move production capabilities upmarket into research and development-heavy fields, showing a strong link to their government.
The duality of APT 41’s state-sponsored activity and its own cybercrime operations is demonstrated in the group’s simultaneous operations. APT 41 has consistently run its own financially motivated campaigns concurrently with espionage operations. And over the course of time, experts have watched APT 41’s espionage change, suggesting that the group has been given new missions or contracts to complete.
China and cyber-criminals working on their behalf will continue to exploit network vulnerabilities around the world to accomplish their goals. Their increase in espionage for economic, political, and strategic purposes will have devastating effects on the U.S. if we are not able to counter their efforts.
Throughout my professional career, I have led teams in the development of technology to protect networks from threats. These capabilities have been tested and utilized by General Electric’s threat research group and even the Department of Homeland Security. Central to being successful in that role was understanding the evolution of threats and the goals of the actors. These same tactics must be used by leaders in government to safeguard our systems and protect us from threats.
Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-De Pere) is an example of how reaching across the political aisle can lead to the advancement of promising cybersecurity solutions. Rep. Gallagher serves as a member of the bipartisan Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus and as Co-Chair of the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Recently, Gallagher, alongside several Democratic colleagues, reintroduced the Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2021 – which helps promote American international leadership in cyberspace, a key recommendation of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.
As Chairman Xi consolidates his power and plans to change China’s political landscape with another run for president, the U.S. must be both strategic and nimble when it comes to cybersecurity. We must take bipartisan action to secure both government and consumer networks and continue to optimize them when vulnerabilities are found.
Technological advances mean that warfare and diplomacy will continue to evolve, and in this new environment, the U.S. must stay ahead of the curve to ward off threats by state actors like China.
– B.K. Gogia is an entrepreneurial business leader with extensive experience in cybersecurity and data science. He resides in northern Virginia.