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HomeGeneralUS Officials Claim Chinese Hacking Operation Against Infrastructure Threatens American Lives

US Officials Claim Chinese Hacking Operation Against Infrastructure Threatens American Lives

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The U.S. government announced the disruption of a particularly hazardous and potentially life-threatening Chinese hacking operation. This operation involved hijacking hundreds of infected routers, which were covertly used to target critical infrastructure networks in the United States and its allies.

In unusually candid terms, senior officials described the operation as part of Beijing’s evolving and increasingly concerning campaign. This campaign aims to establish a presence in U.S. computer networks responsible for critical functions, from ensuring safe drinking water to managing aviation traffic. 

The objective is to have the capability to launch damaging cyberattacks swiftly during a future conflict, potentially including scenarios related to Taiwan. The announcement made on Wednesday was a component of a coordinated effort by senior Biden administration officials.

The objective was to emphasize what FBI Director Christopher Wray termed the “apocalyptic scenarios” that fuel their concerns regarding China’s sophisticated and well-resourced hacking capabilities.

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Western intelligence officials note that China’s hacking skills and sophistication have accelerated significantly over the past decade. Of particular concern is Beijing’s keen interest in infiltrating U.S. critical infrastructure networks, which is seen as posing an unparalleled cybersecurity challenge, causing heightened alarm among officials.

“This is a world where a major crisis halfway across the planet could well endanger the lives of Americans here at home through the disruption of our pipelines, the severing of our telecommunications, the pollution of our water facilities, the crippling of our transportation modes—all to ensure they can incite societal panic and chaos and to deter our ability to marshal military might and civilian will,” said Jen Easterly, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, during congressional testimony on Chinese cyber threats.

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The detected activity attributed to China, according to officials, is deemed to be “likely just the tip of the iceberg.” In December, the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation took decisive action after obtaining court approval to dismantle a botnet. This network of hacked devices consisted of small office and home office (SOHO) routers.

Most of the routers identified were Cisco and Netgear products, and their vulnerability stemmed from reaching the so-called end-of-life status. This status indicated they were no longer receiving routine security updates from the manufacturers. 

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Officials clarified that the infected routers were not necessarily directly connected to the critical infrastructure networks targeted by the hackers. Instead, they served as nodes to conceal malicious activity, making detection more challenging.

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Officials successfully eradicated the botnet from the routers, severing their connection with the hackers. Simultaneously, they installed code to prevent potential reinfection. The FBI did not provide advance notification to individual owners regarding the operation of the routers. This approach was chosen to address the issue urgently, as explained by officials.

China has consistently denied engaging in cyberattacks against the U.S. or any other nation. Meanwhile, it has asserted that American intelligence agencies are responsible for such activities. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

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