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Cyber War – Time for a Paradigm Shift?

From June 8 through June 19, 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sent out notifications to 4 million current and former Federal employees informing them that their personal information may have been stolen. By the time FBI Director James Comey met Senators in a closed door briefing, he estimated the number of those affected to be 18 million.

U.S. intelligence indicated that the Chinese government was behind this cyber theft.

A recent Reuters report indicated that the hacking group was affiliated with the Ministry of State Security, which is responsible for intelligence work. Zeng Qinghong, Jiang Zemin’s top advisor and close ally, who was once in charge of China’s intelligence work, is believed to have great influence over this ministry. Whether Zeng created this incident as part of the CCP’s factional infighting to sabotage Xi’s upcoming U.S. visit or it was the CCP’s regular planned espionage is yet to be seen.

Regardless, this is a cyber security incident that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its adherents conducted against the U.S. In the past, the U.S. government reported publicly several times that the computer networks of many of its agencies and a number of large companies in the U.S. had been the victims of China’s cyber aggression. Last year, the Justice Department even indicted five People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hackers.

However, that seems to have had no effect on the CCP, as their work in the U.S. has continued unabated.

The cyber espionage was on a scale the U.S. has never seen before. Unlike traditional intelligence spying, which is conducted clandestinely and with a physical limitation on how much a spy can access, China’s cyber intrusions are virtually limitless. They come to someone’s private location, ignore the owner’s presence, break down the door, collect everything they can find, and leave. The next day, they come back, break down the door that the victim just repaired, and do the same thing all over again. The perpetrators are not afraid of being caught because they are in a location where the victim has no reach.

Cyber-attacks can be devastating, as computer systems and the Internet are increasingly becoming the brains and nerve system of human society. Nuclear plants can be set to malfunction; traffic control systems can be destroyed so that planes will be unable to land; the stock market can be impaired; and any high-tech based equipment can be rendered useless junk.

The U.S. has set up a military command for cyber warfare.

Unfortunately, it has yet to find an effective way to deter the CCP.

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” So first, the U.S. must understand the CCP’s cyber war scripts.

The PLA, China’s spy agencies, and its other agencies that conduct cyber intrusions against the West, being under the CCP’s command, are imbued with the Party’s mentality: they have no respect for human rights, ignore the world’s established rules, and are willing to sacrifice anything for the CCP’s own gain.

Thus, the CCP ordered tanks and guns against the student’s peaceful demonstration on Tiananmen Square in 1989. The government denied the spread of SARS and hid the patients from World Health Organization’s officials so as to present a good image of China. A PLA general stated that China was willing to win a nuclear war against the U.S. even at the cost of turning half of China into ashes.

A conventional strategy that the U.S. might take is “an eye for an eye”: to counter the cyber offense using a counter cyber intrusion. However, in that game setting, the U.S. faces much higher casualties due to its higher level of IT usage and wider network connections. Besides, the CCP is not afraid of sacrificing its own people’s well-being. Would a counter attack cause enough pain to deter it from attacking the U.S. again?

The Western world needs to find the CCP’s Achilles’ heel. There is one thing the CCP is afraid of: losing complete dominion over China. That’s why it keeps telling the Chinese people that the CCP’s rule is better than democracy, continues to suppress religious beliefs and promote only the communist theory, and has built a great firewall to block information.

Maybe it is the time for a paradigm shift to come up with a winning strategy.