The Biden administration says it's hunting for destructive computer code or malware; it believes China has hidden deep inside networks controlling power grids, according to theNew York Times.
The discovery raises suspicions that hackers acting on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army have embedded malware designed to disrupt U.S. military operations in the event China were to invade Taiwan.
"So if it's not just localized and if it's a deep infiltration and it's utilized in that way, you can imagine the banking system or the power grid going down nationally or the water systems being ineffectual nationally, and that could obviously disrupt operations at home, not just for the purposes of slowing us down in response but actually taking us out of the game altogether, unable to resupply our forces and the like," said Jamil Jaffer, former counsel to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Earlier in May, tech giant Microsoft warned that hackers likely acting on behalf of China targeted U.S. military assets on the island of Guam, seeding harmful computer code in communications infrastructure.
"It was referred to as a vault typhoon. And obviously, this raises some concerns about how deep in are the Chinese in our systems. Are they in just military systems? Are they just in that region? Is it spread more broadly across the country, other military bases overseas, or in the United States?" said Jaffer.
The news about the malware adds tension to an increasingly fraught U.S.-China relationship, with clashes that include increasing threats towards Taiwan and American efforts to ban complex semi-conductor sales to China.
The U.S. has also blamed China for other major infrastructure computer hacks as well as accusing the foreign power of spying on the continental U.S. with school bus-sized balloons.
For its part, China accused the U.S. of hacking into its telecom giant, Huawei.
The U.S. recently reiterated its commitment to defending Taiwan, the island nation off the coast of mainland China. Taiwan recently held military exercises.
"With respect to Taiwan, you know, the capability that we are providing them is defensive capability, as you know, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. We are committed to helping them get the capability they need to defend themselves. And so, this is no change from what we've done in the past," said Lloyd Austin, U.S. Secretary of Defense.
China regards Taiwan as a rogue province and a constant source of tension between the U.S. and China. Two nations that are trading partners and, at the same time, increasingly wary adversaries.
In response to the New York Times article, the Chinese embassy in Washington reacted with dismay, denying it engages in hacking and calling the United States a far bigger offender.
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