As China creates military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island formulates plans for the next big frontier of warfare: crippling cyberattacks.
This month, Taiwan head of cybersecurity informed CNN Business that it is taking dramatic measures to guard against technological vulnerabilities by employing roughly two dozen computer experts to deliberately attack the government’s system and further help it to defend against what Taiwanese authorities estimate around 20 million to 40 million cyberattacks every month.
Taiwan has been capable to defend against the overwhelming majority of attacks. As per reports, successful breaches numbers in a hundred while only a handful are what the government classifies as ‘serious’.
According to Chien Hung Wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cybersecurity, the enormous number from where Taiwan thinks they are coming from has compelled the government to take issues seriously.
While referring to China, he told CNN Business, “Based on the attacker’s action and methodology, we have a rather high degree of confidence that many attacks originated from our neighbor.”
He explained, “The operation of our government highly relies on the internet.”
“Our critical infrastructure, such as gas, water, and electricity are highly digitized, so we can easily fall, victim, if our network security is not robust enough.”
Recently, cyberattacks are one of the increasing global threats. Beside china which is accused of orchestrating such attacks, Beijing is facing intense scrutiny from the west on the matter this week.
Earlier this week, the United States, the European Union, and other allies blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for deploying ‘criminal contract hackers’ to carry out malicious activities across the world involving a campaign against Microsoft’s Exchange email services in March.
The coordinated announcement has demonstrated Biden’s administrating priorities in defending cybersecurity, following serious vulnerabilities that had been reported in major American sectors like energy and food production.
Chien further asserted that Taiwan suspects that state-backed hackers were behind at least one major malware attack on the Island the previous year. Reportedly, in May 2020, CPC Corporation, a government-owned refiner in Taiwan was hacked and was further left unable to process electronic payments from customers. The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau accused a hacker group in connection to China of initiating the attack.
However, on the other hand, China has debunked claims that suggested launching cyberattacks against Taiwan and others. In a statement to CNN Business, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified the island’s accusations as ‘groundless and purely malicious.’ Furthermore, China’s Taiwan Affairs office criticized Taiwanese authorities for using cyberattacks to smear the mainland as a ‘habitual trick’ to deviate the public’s focus away from the Island’s recent COVID 19 outbreak.
China too denied claims by the west earlier this week on launching a massive global hacking campaign and termed it as ‘groundless’.
Zaho Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented, “We strongly urge the United States and its allies to stop pouring dirty water on China on cybersecurity issues.”
“China firmly opposes and cracks down on cyberattacks of any kind let alone encourages, support or indulges in them.”
Tensions with China
Since the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War, nearly 70 years ago Taiwan and Mainland China have been governed separately. The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan. However, Beijing considers the island to be an inseparable part of its territory. It has repeatedly threatened to use its force if required to prevent the island from formally declaring independence.
In the recent past, China has increased its military pressure on its neighbor Taiwan. In the month of June, the country sent more than two dozen warplanes near the island, asking Taiwan to alert its air defenses. This incident is considered the largest number of warplanes sent to the zone since Taiwan started to maintain records of such incursions last year. Beijing too issued military propaganda warning Taipei to ‘prepare for war’ as it develops stronger ties with the United States.
Earlier this month, US-based cybersecurity company Recorded Future claimed that a Chinese state-sponsored group has been aiming at the Industrial Technology Research Institute which is a Taiwanese hi-tech research institution. On this issue, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office accused Taiwanese authorities of creating anti china hatred and increasing cross-strait conflicts.
Preparing for risks
As per reports, several countries are concentrating on the global threat of cyberattacks, which have recently crippled one of the largest fuel pipelines in the United States and collapsed major operations for meat suppliers JBS USA.
In April, the US Department of Justice announces 2020 as the ‘worst year ever’ for exhortation related to cyberattacks. According to records in the cybersecurity firm Check Point Software, the first half of the ongoing year witnessed nearly a 102 percent increased in ransomware attacks compared to the same time period of the last year.
Allen Own CEO of Taiwanese cybersecurity company Devcore mentioned that many countries including United States, China, Russia, and North Korea have assembled formidable ‘cyber armies’ to obtain intelligence or infiltrate another country’s infrastructure or defend against the attackers that might do the same to them. He stated that this emphasizes Taiwan’s need to boost its own capability. He narrates, “In Information security, many people say that World War III will happen over the Internet”
In 2016, the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s highest administrative organ introduced the Department of cybersecurity to meet the security risks.
President Tsai Ing-Wen at that time announced cybersecurity as a matter of national security. She further disclosed the establishment of a new digital development ministry that will supervise the information and communication sector that will concentrate on protecting critical infrastructure.
Chien affirmed that self-governing island has been subjected to tens of millions of attacks monthly, a trend the government has recorded for at least the last few years. However, he mentioned that the country was capable to defend such attempts.
China refused to disclose any further details about the attacks, it only cited successful hacks that resulted in students’ data being stolen.
According to Tsai Sung-ting, CEO of Team T5 which is a cybersecurity solution provider, Even if a cyber intrusion is resolved such attacks can have long-term consequences on the grounds of information that attackers can gain access to.
He said, “We frequently observe that after they compromise an organization, the first thing is to steal the emails and the documents.”
“So even after you clean the infection this time, they may come back next month or a few months later. So I will say the threat is persistent.”, he added.