It should come as no surprise that reports of cyber attacks are on the rise since the Pentagon announced its new cyber strategy (which includes the use of “offensive” cyberattacks when necessary) at the end of April.
Since the announcement by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the following cyber ‘events have occurred’: Penn State reports hackers have been stealing data from the university’s DoD-affiliated engineering department for years (blamed on Chinese hacker spies), the IRS says at least 10,000 tax returns have been compromised (blamed on “Russian organized crime syndicates”), and, on Thursday evening, Washington reports what may end up being the largest data breach in history (blamed on China).
As noted last month, these events represent a remarkable step up the cyber attack accusation ladder compared to Washington’s attempt to blame North Korea for cyber-sabotaging James Franco and Seth Rogen last year.
Cynics might even be compelled to say that when a government has just issued a sweeping directive on how it plans to deploy cyber weapons going forward, it helps to be able to point to instances of supposedly serious breaches as justification for an “offensive” strategy.
One is also left to wonder if it’s any coincidence that just four days ago, one of Washington’s closest allies reported a massive data breach in its pension system that exposed 1.25 million citizens to prying eyes. That revelation came just a little over a month after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe made a thinly-veiled reference to Chinese hacking in an April speech to US lawmakers.
Correlation does not equal causation, but one can hardly ignore the number of supposedly “serious” cyberattacks that have occurred in the wake of the DoD’s stepped up cyber strategy.
One the heels of last night’s accusations, China has now responded, calling the US allegations “groundless” and “irresponsible.” Here’s NBC with more:
China accused the United States of making "groundless accusations" and being "irresponsible" Friday in blaming Chinese hackers for a vast data breach that could be the biggest cyberattack in U.S. history.
Four million federal workers may have had their personal information compromised in the attack, which officials said could affect every agency of the U.S. government.
U.S. officials and lawmakers identified the likely culprit as China, which has been suspected of involvement in previous government hacks.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the hack was "extremely sophisticated," and "that points to a nation state" as the responsible party, likely China.
However, China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told NBC News that it was very hard to prove who was responsible for cyber attacks.
"Without the thorough investigation, you jump to a conclusion so quickly. We think it is not scientific and
Between these latest allegations and the rheotric surrounding China's land reclamation efforts in the Spratly archipelago, Beijing is quickly learning that when it comes to accusations, Washington isn't always concerned about whether or not the official line is based in reality.
US foreign policy is self-serving to the extreme, and if a narrative needs to be spun to shape public perception and rally support against certain state and non-state actors, that narrative will be crafted, irrespective of factual concerns.
This strategy plays well in a unipolar world.
We shall see how effective it is against a multipolar geopolitical backdrop.