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Alleged Chinese hacker attack stirs fears of digital cold war

President Bush may confront China over suspicions that its military hacked US defense computer systems.

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US President George W. Bush has signaled that he may confront Chinese President Hu Jintao about the alleged electronic espionage, commenting that the US relationship with China is "complex." Meanwhile, as China's military has recently seen the "unprecedented expansion and modernization of its military," Australia, which is currently hosting the leaders of both the US and China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum, has expressed concerns that its computer systems may also be a target for PLA hackers, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Last night, the former senior official with responsibility for the Pine Gap spy station near Alice Springs, Ron Huisken, warned the claimed hacking by the Chinese military into sensitive US defence computer systems could be repeated in Australia.
Dr Huisken said having an ability to enter the computerised defence systems of others and disable them in the event of conflict had become a "holy grail".
"The Chinese are open in recognising it as a force multiplier," he said.

Beijing-based freelance journalist and Guardian blogger Chris Dalby indicates that the PLA's most recent hacking escapades may have been part of a bid to win additional funding from the Chinese government. While China's top politicians have made an effort to actively engage the diplomatic community to better facilitate the nation's rise, Mr. Dalby argues that the PLA has embraced "Cardinal Richelieu's ideology of pursuing foreign objectives motivated by national interests alone."

The principal reason may well lie with the People's Liberation Army, China's all-powerful war machine, which has been accused by the Pentagon of carrying out these attacks. The secretive Communist party is putting the final touches on its upcoming 17th party congress, and the PLA is jockeying for position to ensure its formidable power is not threatened. Throwing the odd US or German state secret on the table will not do them any harm. Had they been able to make this move undetected, showing that the billions of yuan poured into shaping the PLA into a modern "informationised armed force" had been well-invested, then this might have been a master political coup.
However, having their attacks not only detected but then publicised across world headlines will not play well at home or abroad. It may cement opinions that China is fully-equipped to wage modern cyber-wars but it will do little else beyond fuelling mistrust of the Beijing government.

The current standoff between China and the West has taken a far different shape than the one between the East and the West during the cold war, reports The Independent. While a nuclear arms race dominated the last diplomatic conflict, this one is marked by a war for information. Chinese cyber-spies operating largely out of the city of Guangzhou reportedly aim to steal everything from classified military materials to industrial trade secrets.

It's hard to believe in the 30-degree-plus heat of Guangzhou, but this city has been named one of the epicentres of the Cold Cyber War. Instead of missiles pointing at capital cities, and huge standing armies facing each other across ideological divides and barbed-wire fences, the only weapons in this secret war are keyboards, some sharp minds and a lot of caffeine pills.
The experts tell of how cyber spies breach supposedly unbreachable firewalls as smoothly as a skilled jewel thief, before swooping on a hard drive, snatching the secret files, and sending them to a third country, usually somewhere in Asia such as South Korea or Hong Kong. Then they make good their escape, often leaving no trace of the raid.
The secret agents and operatives are bleary-eyed computer whizzkids, cranked on cigarettes and coffee as they snoop through computer networks at Western military bases, armaments companies and aerospace giants. They hang out in online chatrooms rather than barrack rooms or smoky bars in communist enclaves, but they are just as hard to track as their Cold War counterparts.