Recent Chinese Cyberattacks Aim To Cause ‘Societal Chaos’ In U.S.: Report
TOPSHOT - US President Joe Biden greets Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' week in Woodside, California on November 15, 2023. Biden and Xi will try to prevent the superpowers' rivalry spilling into conflict when they meet for the first time in a year at a high-stakes summit in San Francisco on Wednesday. With tensions soaring over issues including Taiwan, sanctions and trade, the leaders of the world's largest economies are expected to hold at least three hours of talks at the Filoli country estate on the city's outskirts. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Hackers affiliated with China’s military have reportedly tapped into dozens of critical U.S. systems over the past year to test its capacity to create chaos in American life, according to U.S. and security industry officials.

The hacks appeared to be made with an intention toward some future action rather than disrupting systems in the moment and suggest that the People’s Liberation Army of China is testing its and the United States’ capabilities in case hostilities break out over Taiwan, experts told The Washington Post.

One of the agencies responsible for monitoring and combating foreign cyber threats is the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security.

“It is very clear that Chinese attempts to compromise critical infrastructure are in part to pre-position themselves to be able to disrupt or destroy that critical infrastructure in the event of a conflict, to either prevent the United States from being able to project power into Asia or to cause societal chaos inside the United States — to affect our decision-making around a crisis,” CISA executive director Brandon Wales told the Post. “That is a significant change from Chinese cyber activity from seven to 10 years ago that was focused primarily on political and economic espionage.”

The cyber attacks hit various targets, including a water utility in Hawaii and at least one oil and gas pipeline. Hackers also attempted to break into Texas’ independent power grid. None of the attacks caused a significant disruption, and the hackers appeared to prioritize creating pathways into the systems that could be used again at a later date.


“You’re trying to build tunnels into your enemies’ infrastructure that you can later use to attack. Until then you lie in wait, carry out reconnaissance, figure out if you can move into industrial control systems or more critical companies or targets upstream. And one day, if you get the order from on high, you switch from reconnaissance to attack,” Joe McReynolds, a China security studies fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, told the Post.

The jump in aggressive cyber activity out of China comes when U.S.-China relations are more tense than in previous decades.

Tensions have risen recently over China’s aggressive posturing and actions in the Indo-Pacific region, including threatening to take over Taiwan. The Biden administration has officially maintained a position of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, neither committing nor declining to come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an attack from China.

In February, the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon after it traversed the continental United States. China claimed that the balloon was an unmanned civilian airship used for meteorological study that blew off course. Another spy balloon appeared over Taiwan last week, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. The appearance of the new spy balloon comes months after U.S. intelligence officials reportedly believed that China had suspended its spy balloon program over the incident with the U.S.

President Joe Biden has recently attempted to cool tensions by meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a summit in San Francisco last month. Biden pressed Xi on reopening military channels between the U.S. and China and cracking down on the fentanyl precursor industry in China that fuels the Mexican drug trade.

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