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“What’s so interesting from a strategic standpoint is that in the cyberarena, China is playing chess while we’re playing checkers,” he said.

Asked whether the United States would win a cyberwar with China, Mr. Coleman said it would be a draw because China, the United States and Russia are matched equally in the new type of warfare.

Rafal A. Rohozinski, a Canadian computer security specialist who also testified at the commission hearing, explained how he took part in a two-year investigation that uncovered a sophisticated worldwide computer attack network that appeared to be a Chinese-government-sponsored program called GhostNet, whose electronic strikes were traced to e-mails from Hainan island in the South China Sea.

GhostNet was able to completely take over targeted computers and then download documents and information. Some of the data stolen were sensitive financial and visa information on foreign government networks at overseas embassies, Mr. Rohozinski said.

The China-based computer network used sophisticated break-in techniques that are generally beyond the capabilities of nongovernment hackers, Mr. Rohozinski said.

Using surveillance techniques, the investigators observed GhostNet hackers stealing sensitive computer documents from embassy computers and nongovernmental organizations.

“It was a do-it-yourself signals intelligence operation,” Mr. Rohozinski said of the network, which took over about 1,200 computers in 103 nations, targeted specifically at overseas Tibetans linked to the exiled Dalai Lama.

Mr. Rohozinski, chief executive officer of the SecDev Group and an advisory board member at the Citizen Lab at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto in Ontario, said the GhostNet operation was likely part of a much bigger cyberintelligence effort by China to silence or thwart its perceived opponents.

A third computer specialist, Alan Paller, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on April 29 that China’s military in 2005 recruited Tan Dailin, a graduate student at Sichuan University, after he showed off his hacker skills at an annual contest.

Mr. Paller, a computer security specialist with the SANS Institute, said the Chinese military put the hacker through a 30-day, 16-hour-a-day workshop “where he learned to develop really high-end attacks and honed his skills.”

A hacker team headed by Mr. Tan then won other computer warfare contests against Chinese military units in Chengdu, in Sichuan province.

Mr. Paller said that a short time later, Mr. Tan “set up a little company. No one’s exactly sure where all the money came from, but it was in September 2005 when he won it. By December, he was found inside [Defense Department] computers, well inside DoD computers,” Mr. Paller said.

A Pentagon official said at the time that Chinese military hackers were detected breaking into the unclassified e-mail on a network near the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June 2007.

Additional details of Chinese cyberattacks were disclosed recently by Joel F. Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, the nation’s most senior counterintelligence coordinator.

Mr. Brenner stated in a speech in Texas last month that cyberactivities by China and Russia are widespread and “we know how to deal with these,” including widely reported “Chinese penetrations of unclassified DoD networks.”

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