HomeUncategorizedNSA Cyber Command: China Preparing and Pre-Staging Cyberattack Resources Against U.S.

NSA Cyber Command: China Preparing and Pre-Staging Cyberattack Resources Against U.S.

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The new chief of the U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency (NSA), General Timothy Haugh, has raised alarms about China’s covert cyber operations targeting the United States. Unlike conventional cyberattacks aimed at stealing sensitive data or military secrets, this new threat involves pre-positioning within critical infrastructure to unleash devastating attacks when the time is right. The scale and intent of these operations are unique, making them particularly concerning.

A Unique and Concerning Threat

General Haugh, speaking at a security conference in Singapore, described China’s cyber activities as “unique and different” from what has been seen before. He stated, “We see it as very unique and different—and also concerning.” The threat, known as Volt Typhoon, does not involve the usual data extraction or espionage. Instead, it embeds itself within vital systems that support civilian life, such as water supplies, power grids, and transportation networks. This insidious tactic aims to disrupt and cause chaos in the event of a conflict.

Pre-positioning for Future Attacks

The U.S. believes that Volt Typhoon’s objective is to “pre-position” within critical infrastructure networks, ready to strike when needed. These infiltrations have no immediate intelligence value, which makes them particularly concerning. General Haugh highlighted that this kind of access could enable China to launch damaging cyberattacks against the U.S. or its allies, causing widespread disruption and potential harm to civilian populations.

“We see attempts to be latent in a network that is critical infrastructure, that has no intelligence value, which is why it is so concerning,” Haugh explained. This suggests that the infiltrations are designed to lie dormant until activated for a more significant impact.

Targeting Key Infrastructure

One of the most alarming aspects of Volt Typhoon’s activities is its targeting of water systems. In Guam, a U.S. territory critical to military operations, Chinese hackers have infiltrated networks controlling water supplies. “It is very difficult to come up with a scenario where targeting a water supply for a civilian population, even if part of that population is also military, is an appropriate target,” said Haugh. Such actions have no legitimate military justification and raise significant ethical concerns.

In addition to water systems, Volt Typhoon has targeted other critical sectors. According to Haugh, “The state-sponsored Chinese campaign targeted a range of networks on Guam,” including communication, transportation, maritime, and other sectors. This widespread targeting suggests a strategy to cause maximum disruption during a conflict.

A Broad and Persistent Campaign

The scale of China’s cyber operations is vast and growing. In addition to targeting Guam, Volt Typhoon has attacked networks in communication, transportation, and maritime sectors across the U.S. and its territories. These intrusions are part of a broader strategy to disrupt critical communications infrastructure between the U.S. and Asia during future crises. Microsoft, which helped uncover the campaign, noted that the hackers were likely developing capabilities that could disrupt essential services like water supplies, power grids, and transportation systems.

Living Off the Land

Volt Typhoon employs a technique known as “living off the land,” where hackers gain access by posing as legitimate users and utilizing existing system tools to maintain their presence. This method makes detection difficult and allows them to remain hidden within the system for extended periods. Unlike traditional cyberattacks, which can be traced by the data they extract, these infiltrations leave no such trail.

General Haugh elaborated on this tactic, saying, “To gain access, Chinese hackers subvert the identity of a user on the network, allowing them to then operate as a user and use tools inherent in the system they are targeting.” This approach complicates efforts to identify and remove the intruders.

U.S. Response and Preparedness

In response to this growing threat, U.S. officials have gone public with the details of Volt Typhoon’s activities. By sharing this information, they hope to help other countries and critical infrastructure operators recognize and combat the threat. The NSA is working closely with over 1,000 defense-related companies and allies to bolster defenses and ensure secure networks.

General Haugh emphasized the importance of vigilance and collaboration, stating, “If they see a threat, they can share it with us, and we do the same with them—every day across a thousand companies.” This cooperative approach is crucial in defending against such a pervasive and sophisticated threat.

Moreover, the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command, which deals most directly with issues around China, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, is working closely with the NSA to ensure secure communication networks. This collaboration aims to enable the military to operate unaffected by any hacker that would target them, especially during a crisis.

ACZ Editor: China continues to prepare for war against the U.S., some in the U.S. are preparing for it. Others are not. In an all out war, we believe the U.S. and the West will prevail against China (and Russia and the rest of the new axis of evil), but many Americans will perish needlessly as the parts of our infrastructure left unprotected are attacked and fail.

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