Schwartz Letter to Financial Times: Similar Chinese cyber attacks have taken place and are continuing
by Stephen Schwartz
Sir, In their excellent reportage on cyber attacks ("US left looking powerless after hacked Sony pulls 'The Interview' ", December 19), Geoff Dyer and Megan Murphy quote Jason Healey, "an expert on cyber issues at the Atlantic Council in Washington", who says that it would be wrong to treat the Sony hacking as an act of "cyber war" that demanded an equivalent response from the US military's Cyber Command. However, Mr Healey adds, if the administration did nothing in response, it could invite similar events, such as a "Chinese attack on a newspaper carrying unflattering stories about corruption".
"Similar events" have already taken place and are continuing. Institutions such as mine, which are concerned about the situation of Muslim Uighurs under the rule of Beijing in Eastern Turkestan (aka Xinjiang), are targeted for cyber sabotage.
My group has undergone six consecutive Chinese attempts to hack our US-based website, the most recent on December 16 at 3:59:54am, Greenwich Mean Time. We have a conscientious webmaster and have prevented access to the site by our "opponents".
Countries vulnerable to criticism on human rights are, I believe, more prone to cyber war than those worried about exposure of corruption. Financial wrongdoing may be handled by purges and public shaming of individuals as we see in China. Analysis of the suppression of minority ethnic or religious communities may do more to limit the room for a state to operate in the contemporary world. Russia has learnt something comparable following its aggression against Ukraine.
Such regimes further maintain networks for old-fashioned disinformation operations seeking to discredit their foreign critics, which may be more harmful in preventing free expression. Cyber war in the form of hacking or denial-of-service campaigns, the latter involving flooding of internet servers with access requests causing a breakdown, may be blocked or corrected and repaired within a short time. Disinformation campaigns have a tendency to endure, as our Centre has learnt. This is an additional factor, I surmise, in the European debate over the appearance of false information on Google.
Centre for Islamic Pluralism,
Washington, DC, US