By Sylvie Truong, The Readable
Feb. 1, 2024 8:15PM GMT+9
Top cyber officials of the United States testified before the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. on January 31 about the most pressing threats posed by Chinese hackers to U.S. critical infrastructure and American citizens.
Speakers at the hearing included the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly, General Paul Nakasone, who serves concurrently as the National Security Agency (NSA) director and the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr.
In his opening statement, Director Wray said, “China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities, if or when China decides the time has come to strike.” According to the FBI, China is targeting American critical infrastructure for the “sole purpose of disabling and destroying critical infrastructure in the event of a conflict—a conflict over Taiwan for example.”
Director Easterly testified to Congress that “CISA teams have found and eradicated Chinese intrusions in multiple critical infrastructure sectors including aviation, water, energy, and transportation”. She told Congress, “We have seen Chinese cyber actors, including those known as Volt Typhoon, burrowing deep into our critical infrastructure to enable destructive attacks in the event of a major crisis or conflict. This is a world where a major crisis halfway across the planet could well endanger the lives of Americans here at home through the disruption of our pipelines, the severing of our telecommunications, the pollution of our water facilities, the crippling of our transportation modes, all to ensure that they can incite societal panic and chaos and deter our ability to marshal military might and civilian will.”
When questioned by a Congress member about China’s aims, Director Wray replied that China has multiple goals. However, according to Director Wray, China’s overriding ambition is “to supplant the United States as a superpower.”
The panelists mentioned several times throughout the congressional hearing that a core tenet of Chinese military doctrine is to induce panic in the enemy’s society in order to “shake the enemy’s will to war” and to impact political decision making, referencing potential conflict over Taiwan. Director Wray noted that the Chinese Communist Party is the defining threat of this generation for the American people.
The congressional hearing took place after China significantly ramped up their cyberattacks against U.S. critical infrastructure in 2023. According to the Washington Post, China targeted a water utility in Hawaii, a power grid in Texas, a major West Coast port, and at least one oil and gas pipeline. It is also believed that China was behind the cyberattack on New York City’s railway system. In addition to the U.S., China actively targets entities in the Indo-Pacific region, such as critical infrastructure in Guam, and U.S. allies, including South Korea, Australia, and Japan.
This article was reviewed by Dain Oh and copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.
Sylvie Truong is a regular contributor to The Readable. Her interest in cybersecurity began in 2015, while working as a biomedical researcher at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center. She worked in the Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology Division, analyzing data using various software programs. Due to her experience there, she developed an interest in cybersecurity and implementing better practices to protect personal data, valuable research information, and more. Sylvie holds a master’s degree in neuroscience and education from Columbia University.