China is significantly boosting its capabilities in cyberspace as a way to gather intelligence and, in the event of war, hit the U.S. government in a weak spot, U.S. officials and experts say.
Outgunned and outspent in terms of traditional military hardware, China apparently hopes that by concentrating on holes in the U.S. security architecture, its communications and spy satellites and its vast computer networks, it will collect intelligence that could help it counter the imbalance.
The U.S. President, who is scheduled to visit China next week, has vowed to improve ties with the Asian giant, especially its military.
But according to current and former U.S. officials, China’s aggressive hacking has sowed doubts about its intentions. U.S. officials and experts of all political persuasions in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, in private industry and in think tanks are convinced that China is behind many of the most egregious attacks.
A senior Air Force official estimated that, as of two years ago, China has stolen at least 10 to 20 terabytes of data from U.S. government networks, the larger figure equal, by some estimates, to one-fifth of the Library of Congress’s digital holdings. Nuclear weapons labs, defense contractors, the State Department and other sensitive federal government agencies have fallen prey.
What experts do not know is exactly what has been stolen or how badly U.S. systems have been exposed.