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China blocks U.S. from cyber warfare
Question of the Day
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of cyber intrusions detected by the security firm Solutionary in March. It was 128 per minute. The story also misidentified Kevin G. Coleman, a computer security specialist at Technolytics. He is a consultant to the office of the director of national intelligence. Both errors have been corrected in this version.
China has developed more secure operating software for its tens of millions of computers and is already installing it on government and military systems, hoping to make Beijing’s networks impenetrable to U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
The secure operating system, known as Kylin, was disclosed to Congress during recent hearings that provided new details on how China’s government is preparing to wage cyberwarfare with the United States.
“We are in the early stages of a cyber arms race and need to respond accordingly,” said Kevin G. Coleman, a private security specialist who advises the government on cybersecurity. He discussed Kylin during a hearing of the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission on April 30.
The deployment of Kylin is significant, Mr. Coleman said, because the system has “hardened” key Chinese servers. U.S. offensive cyberwar capabilities have been focused on getting into Chinese government and military computers outfitted with less secure operating systems like those made by Microsoft Corp.
“This action also made our offensive cybercapabilities ineffective against them, given the cyberweapons were designed to be used against Linux, UNIX and Windows,” he said.
The secure operating system was disclosed as computer hackers in China - some of them sponsored by the communist government and military - are engaged in aggressive attacks against the United States, said officials and experts who disclosed new details of what was described as a growing war in cyberspace.
These experts say Beijing’s military is recruiting computer hackers for its forces, including one specialist identified in congressional testimony who set up a company that was traced to attacks that penetrated Pentagon computers.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong declined immediate comment. But Jiang Yu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said April 23 that the reports of Chinese hacking into Pentagon computers were false.
“Relevant authorities of the Chinese government attach great importance to cracking down on cybercrimes,” Ms. Jiang said. “We believe it is extremely irresponsible to accuse China of being the source of attacks prior to any serious investigation.”
Mr. Coleman, a computer security specialist at Technolytics and a consultant to the office of the director of national intelligence and U.S. Strategic Command, said Chinese state or state-affiliated entities are on a wartime footing in seeking electronic information from the U.S. government, contractors and industrial computer networks.
Mr. Coleman said in an interview that China’s Kylin system was under development since 2001 and the first computers to use it are government and military servers that were converted beginning in 2007.
Additionally, Mr. Coleman said, the Chinese have developed a secure microprocessor that, unlike U.S.-made chips, is known to be hardened against external access by a hacker or automated malicious software.
“If you add a hardened microchip and a hardened operating system, that makes a really good solid platform for defending infrastructure [from external attack],” Mr. Coleman said.
U.S. operating system software, including Microsoft, used open-source and offshore code that makes it less secure and vulnerable to software “trap doors” that could allow access in wartime, he explained.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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