A more comprehensive and objective assessment of China’s cyber power is in urgent need. As Joseph Nye argued, exaggerated fears about growing Chinese power can either paralyze or become a cause of conflict.

 

I have seen several recent articles about China’s attempts to steal research information from our vaccine producers (following an earlier report about Chinese hackers paralyzing Mumbai’s electric grid). When we first computerized our financial services in the 1980s, a new genre of criminal emerged. Called cyber criminals, they developed expertise in crimes such as credit/debit card rip-offs, bank heists or ATM frauds. When credit cards started to carry a CVV, the crooks launched mobile crimes by pretending to call from banks. Banks responded with OTPs, the crooks started cloning mobile SIM cards. Then hackers would get into personal computers and grab information, such as passwords and account numbers, that would be traded on the dark net. In 2020, global cybercrime defrauded the innocent of almost one trillion US dollars. The most common cyber frauds include economic espionage, intellectual property (IP) theft and ransomware attacks. IP theft and financial crime accounted for at least 75% of the total cyber losses and posed the greatest threat to companies.

As governments around the world fought a desperate battle against such thieves, some nations decided to join the bandits. With China’s active encouragement, and that of its cronies, cybercrime has mutated, much like the Chinese virus, to cyber warfare or attacks on a nation’s critical infrastructure. Remember Stuxnet, the malicious computer worm first uncovered in 2010 that targets supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and is believed to be responsible for causing substantial damage to the nuclear program of Iran. Although neither country has openly admitted responsibility, the worm is widely understood to be a cyberweapon built jointly by the United States and Israel in a collaborative effort known as the “Olympic Games”, the first example of cyber warfare. In January of 1986, the first virus written for Windows based PCs was born. Known simply as “Brain,” it was written by two young Pakistani brothers.

While I am a bit tired of alarmist views that proliferate by the day, this report on attempted vaccine technology theft is truly disturbing, but totally in keeping with China’s Communist Party’s amoral, unscrupulous, unethical mindset. For in attacking India’s vaccine capability, it is dashing the hopes of the world. China sent its visiting card to 200 countries—it says virus and, hoping to frighten all countries into unquestioning obedience, it gave the world an example of its power to hurt. It hid the truth and sold defective equipment (people died because China lied).

In contrast, India’s visiting card says vaccine. India is showing the power of its example to heal, it has promised to share its powerful vaccine with the world and as of today has gifted over 7 million doses (including to Myanmar, to whom China promised 300,000 doses but nothing came while India quickly gave 1.7 million vials). In January 2021, the UN Secretary General said India’s vaccine production capacity was the best asset of world in the fight against the pandemic, and thanked us for gifting vaccines to UN peacekeepers.

Burning with envy and stung by its inability to find an effective vaccine, despite all its bluster and claims of supreme scientific ability, China is resorting to its usual tricks of theft and thuggery. Xi Pingpong had hoped to tell the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party in July 2021 that China’s anti-virus vaccine had saved the planet. He cannot do it now.

In June 2020 the US Department of Justice accused Chinese hackers of targeting vaccine development on behalf of the country’s intelligence service as part of a broader years-long campaign of global cybertheft aimed at industries such as defence contractors, high-end manufacturing and solar energy companies. US officials said that the suspects had previously stolen information about Chinese human rights activists and, at the behest of the Ministry of State Security, shifted focus in 2020 to trying to acquire coronavirus vaccine research information. These revelations came days after the United States and allied countries accused Russia of trying to steal information on vaccine development and suggest that China did far less to curb its spying than it had vowed to as part of a nonaggression pact signed with the United States in late 2015 that was aimed at curbing China’s efforts to steal American technological know-how. The FBI Deputy Director called the hacks part of a campaign of economic coercion akin to “what we expect from an organized criminal syndicate”. The suspects targeted hundreds of computer networks around the world and caused unnamed companies to lose hundreds of millions of dollars of intellectual property. Justice Department and FBI officials said the hackers were pursuing information and research about the virus vaccine from American biotech firms and described it as an attempt to steal the data. They tried to hack a Massachusetts biotech firm researching a vaccine as early as January 2020. In May 2020, they cyber attacked a California diagnostic firm developing virus testing kits.

Dear colleagues, the Chinese Communist Party is an organized crime syndicate.

Xi PingPong might claim the ability to influence the earth’s rotation on its axis or its revolution around the sun and hence cause tsunamis and earthquakes and floods and viruses etc, but he is very worried that a nation that China regards as the biggest barrier to its expansion in Asia is the darling of the world, the pharmacy of the world. So, he is foolishly testing India’s will. He is doing it for reasons of ideology, finance and military weakness.

India is curing the world, in keeping with its tradition of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, and has gifted millions of doses of its most effective vaccine to several countries and counting. China cannot match this (since its own technology, according to my outstanding microbiologist friends, belongs to the 1990s) nor can it accept an ideological pummelling. India’s leaders including the Prime Minister have publicly taken shots of the Indian vaccine. Have the Chinese leaders?

Second, its God being money, China would rather sell its vaccines at extortionary prices, not gift them like India is doing (so it will even try to degrade India’s vaccine manufacturing capacity). Remember the January 2021 fire at the Serum Institute of India’s new plant, a central player in global supplies of vaccines? Was it an innocent fire? In trying to steal our vaccine technology, possibly to produce cheap ripoffs, China is actually hurting the world that we are trying to help, committing yet another crime against humanity. Does China care? Please watch out, phony “Indian” vaccines made in China will be pushed into our country through China’s lapdog, with carefully faked “made in India” labels. I would recommend a mandatory death sentence for those involved.

Forbes says that counterfeiting is the largest criminal enterprise in the world, with sales of counterfeit and pirated goods totalling over USD 2 trillion per year, which is more than drugs and human trafficking. It is expected to grow to $2.8 trillion and cost 5.4 million jobs by 2022. According to The Counterfeit Report, “China produces 80% of the world’s counterfeits”. Third, since China cannot fight a conventional war against a powerful country like India, it relies on unconventional means such as cyber attacks. The very success of the Chinese economy coupled with their “one child policy” have produced a far less tougher breed of soldiers, who now rely on the marvels of modern science and technology including cyber warfare techniques. This so called “wealth effect” has already had serious deleterious effects on the armies of Europe, Japan and even the US rendering the citizens of these countries generally war averse.

Chinese pharma companies have been involved in several product quality scandals for using expired materials, mixing different batches, failing to test them properly, and destroying records to conceal misconduct. China spent years vowing to clean up its vaccine. Any reports of deaths or illness could reignite mistrust in vaccines. So, all negative information is suppressed. The demand for vaccines in China inspired a cottage industry of scalpers—called “yellow cows” in China, the people who usually score the newest iPhones or hot railway tickets—charging as much as $1,500 for a vaccine appointment. Socialism with Chinese characteristics has strange notions of integrity and probity. It does not have powerful homegrown indigenous technology so it cheats and copies and steals and has this inherent stupidity of warning its targets about its intentions.

Remember the frequent complaints of Western companies operating in China that they were being forced to share their technology with their Chinese partners?

In August 2020, Papua New Guinea refused to repay a USD 74 mn loan used by Huawei to build a fancy data centre that exposed government files to theft. PNG Minister Timothy Masiu said firewalls expired two years before project was commissioned. Stealing PNG government files (I have served in Port Moresby) will hardly allow China to colonize the moon, but it reflects a diseased mindset.

In March 2011, India asked mobile operators to change the SIM cards of all mobile phones to indigenously made SIMs, as foreign SIMs could contain embedded worms which could adversely affect the functioning of cellular networks. Cyberspace is no different from the information or communication space. It is actually a subset of communication systems and networks.

In 2018, a report by Computer Emergency Response (CERT-In) documented that China carried out the highest number of attacks on the official websites of India. China was the host country for 35% of all intrusion activities recorded from across the globe targeting Indian websites. The companies widely targeted government industries like ONGC and IRCTC and banks like SBI with a specific targeting of state data centres of banks across states.

But is China’s cyber capability as awesome as is supposed? No!

Cyber warfare encompasses far more areas than the military and intelligence gathering. It is therefore logical to measure one country’s cyber capability by a more comprehensive evaluation, which at least includes: technological research and development (R&D) and innovation capabilities; information technology industry companies; internet infrastructure scale; influences of internet websites; internet diplomacy and foreign policy capabilities; cyber military strength; and comprehensiveness of cyberspace strategy. If evaluated along all these criteria, China’s cyber power is not the Goliath it is made out to be. Though there are a massive number of Chinese speakers throughout the world, Chinese languages are only used by less than 2% of all websites, while almost 55% use English.

China is more and more dependent on information networks in all aspects, including in defence. Although it has a large-scale technology industry and possesses the potential to compete with the US in some, most of its core network technologies and key software and hardware are provided by US companies. India’s capacity is indigenous. The so-called Ten King Kongs of China, all big technology companies, are American.

A more comprehensive and objective assessment of China’s cyber power is in urgent need. As Joseph Nye argued, exaggerated fears about growing Chinese power can either paralyze or become a cause of conflict. The involvement of the Chinese PLA in cyber warfare is alarming as it is not restricted to espionage but aims to target critical infrastructure during a conflict. So what if hospitals are paralyzed and people die? China could not care less. Impressed by how the US military benefited from the application of high technologies in the Gulf War—and subsequent operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq—China began to realise that it badly needed such technologies, mainly information technologies, which play critical roles in modern warfare. Though there is no commonly accepted definition of cyber warfare, it is strategic warfare in the information age, just as it was nuclear warfare in the 20th century.

I have read somewhere that an estimated 50,000 analysts in Chengdu, China are solely stationed to probe and focus on India and its repertoires, including the cyberspace. China was said to be conducting passive surveillance of the Indian cyber networks.

Why does this shock us? China’s morality is deceit and stealth.

Cyber warfare as planned by the Chinese can take a whole nation down if they successfully target critical infrastructure. Aviation industry, power grids, banking system, medical services can all be hit to paralyze the country. In 2015, the IEEMA (Indian Electronics and Electricals Manufacturers’ Association) asked for a complete ban on Chinese equipment being used in the Indian power sectors. This was after the 2012 National Power Grid failure which was caused owing to cyber-attacks.

After the first round of a cyber-attack, the targeted side can respond with a precise counter-attack as long as it has a strong defence. The attacker will then suffer unfavourable outcomes if its own defence is not good enough. This is where the world is focusing and developing defences every day to counter data thefts by China. When asked about these attempts, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman it was “irresponsible and ill-intentioned” to make allegations without proof…“as a staunch defender of cybersecurity, China firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of cyberattacks. Speculation and fabrication have no role to play on the issue of cyberattacks.”

How is that for doublespeak? Is not China also totally committed to democracy and freedom of speech?

In attacking India’s vaccine capability, China is trying to destroy “the best asset of world in the fight against the pandemic”. Already there are “hate crimes” across the world against “Asian Americans”—it is politically incorrect to say “Chinese or Chinese-looking”. With the latest media reports, these will increase. Xi PingPong is annihilating his people’s reputation. Let the world send a powerful message that China’s chicanery is not acceptable by boycotting the February 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.