Pentagon's China Assessment Contains Few Cyber Surprises

There aren't many revelations in the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on developments in China's military capabilities. The 94-page document released Wednesday notes that the People's Liberation Army doctrine identifies information warfare as key to countering a stronger foe, i.e. the United States. No surprises there.

Still, the report details how China has used its intelligence services and other means to obtain key U.S. technologies, controlled equipment and other materials not readily obtainable through conventional means. It provides more evidence of what most security experts already know: China is growing ever more adept at exfiltrating information from U.S. networks.

As disturbing as China's advances in technology may be, equally troubling is this assertion:

"China has made steady progress in recent years to develop offensive nuclear, space, and cyber warfare capabilities--the only aspects of China's armed forces that are currently global in nature. In the case of cyber and space weapons, however, there is little evidence that China's military and civilian leaders have fully thought through the global and systemic effects that would be associated with the employment of these strategic capabilities."

Defense analyst Andrew Krepinevich warns in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine about the erosion of the United States' technological and military edge. In an aptly titled piece "Get Ready for the Democratization of Destruction," he writes:

"The greatest danger of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland will likely come not from nuclear-armed missiles, but from cyberattacks conducted at the speed of light. The United States, which has an advanced civilian cyberinfrastructure but prohibits its military from defending it, will prove a highly attractive target, particularly given that the processes for attributing attacks to their perpetrators are neither swift nor foolproof. Foreign powers may already have prepositioned 'logic bombs' -- computer code inserted surreptitiously to trigger a future malicious effect -- in the U.S. power grid, potentially enabling them to trigger a prolonged and massive future blackout."

As Krepinevich concludes: "Think the current world order is fragile? In the words of the great Al Jolson, 'You ain't seen nothin' yet.' "