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British General Warns of the Advantage Russia and China Have in Cyberspace

On March 13, Patrick Sanders, the head of the Strategic Command of the British Armed Forces, wrote an article for the Times. In the article he stated, “We are ceding the strategic initiative to our rivals. For all we herald the return of great power competition, the truth is it has never ended. While we drained our strength in interventions like Iraq, others have used the time and space to further their interests more strategically.” Sanders wrote for the Times, “China has pursued a strategy of winning without fighting, changing the terms of the international order; Russia has combined military and non-military means to alter the map, attempting to change the balance of power and undermine the cohesion of our societies through disinformation. Both are gaining a decisive advantage in information age military technologies.”

The senior military officer further stated, “The consequence has been a succession of strategic surprises, the erosion of strategic advantage and the loss of initiative. Unchecked it is not unthinkable that we will find ourselves vulnerable in time to a fait accompli, where as a nation we have capitulated without a shot being fired.”

Sanders listed a three-pronged integrated strategic response, including Defense Intelligence, Information Age warfare by deploying artificial intelligence systems, and growing grey zone capabilities to secure networks and data and regain the edge in electronic warfare.

Source: The Times, March 13, 2021
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/china-and-russia-have-seized-the-initiative-in-battle-for-cyberspace-fq87vg8dn

China to Increase Military Budget by 6.8 Percent in 2021

On March 7, at the 4th Session of the 13th National People’s Congress, Wu Qian, spokesperson for the PLA and the Armed Police Force delegation said that China’s defense expenditure would be 1,379.544 billion yuan (US$212.4 billion) in 2021, an increase of 6.8 percent over the previous year.

In explaining the reason for the steep increase in the military budget, Wu said, ”A strong country must have a strong army, and a strong army can ensure national security. National defense is as important as sunlight and air. At present, the instability and uncertainty of international security have become more prominent. The Covid-19 epidemic is raging around the world. Hegemonism, power politics, and unilateralism are on the rise from time to time. Regional conflicts and local wars exist continuously. The international security system and order are under attack. The risks and challenges in homeland security that China is facing cannot be ignored. Land border disputes have not yet been completely resolved; island territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes still exist; the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) authorities stubbornly adhere to the separatist stand of “Taiwan independence,” which is the biggest real threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. In view of the current complex situation, it can be said that the world is not peaceful, and national defense must be strong.”

Source: website of Chinese Defense Ministry, March 8, 2021
http://www.mod.gov.cn/topnews/2021-03/08/content_4880597.htm

Chinese Hackers Exploit NSA-linked Tools to Attack U.S. Targets

On February 22, Check Point Research, an American-Israeli cybersecurity company, published an exhaustive report discussing certain cyber tools. The report stated that cyber tools that the Equation Group, a group believed to be affiliated to the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), had fallen into the hands of a Chinese hacker group, which then repurposed them in order to attack U.S. targets.

In 2014, the Chinese group APT31 (APT is abbreviation of Advanced Persistent Threat), also known as Zirconium or Judgment Panda, made a replica of an exploit originally attributed to the Equation Group, known as EpMe. An exploit is a hack that leverages a security hole or flaw, as opposed to a hack that requires installing malware. The Chinese hackers then used that tool, which Check Point has named “Jian” or “double-edged sword,” from 2015 until March 2017, when Microsoft patched the vulnerability it attacked.

Check Point pointed out, “Both exploit versions for APT31’s “Jian” or Equation Group’s “EpMe” are intended for … elevating the privileges of the attacker in the local Windows environment.” “The tool is used after an attacker gains initial access to a target computer — say, via zero-click vulnerability, a phishing email, or any other option — to give the attacker the highest available privileges, so they could “roam free” and do whatever they chose on the already infected computer.”

Check Point believed that the Equation Group exploit samples could have been acquired by the Chinese APT in one of these ways:

Captured during an Equation Group network operation on a Chinese target.
Captured during an Equation Group operation on a 3rd-party network which was also monitored by the Chinese APT.
Captured by the Chinese APT during an attack on the Equation Group infrastructure.

The research report also mentioned that APT31 used “Jian” to conduct network attacks from 2015 to March 2017 until Microsoft patched the vulnerabilities.

APT31, a state-sponsored hacking collective, is alleged to conduct reconnaissance operations at the behest of the Chinese Government, specializing in intellectual property theft and credential harvesting, with recent campaigns targeting U.S. election staff with spear-phishing emails containing links that would download a Python-based implant hosted on GitHub, allowing an attacker to upload and download files as well as execute arbitrary commands.

Sources: Check Point Research, February 22, 2021
https://research.checkpoint.com/2021/the-story-of-jian/
WIRED, February 22, 2021
https://www.wired.com/story/china-nsa-hacking-tool-epme-hijack/

China’s Military Newspaper Reported Details of Border Clash with India, Claiming Victory

China’s top military newspaper PLA Daily published articles on February 19, which reported in detail the whole process of the military clashes between China and India last year at the West border area of the Karakoram Plateau. The report stated, “Since April 2020, the relevant foreign (India) troops have seriously violated the agreement between our two countries by building roads, bridges and other facilities in the Kalwan Valley area toward the border, deliberately provoking incidents, trying unilaterally to change the status quo of the border control, and even violently attacking China.” The report further disclosed that four Chinese military officers and soldiers died in a fierce fight in June 2020, after the negotiations failed.

The article claimed that the Chinese military came out victorious, “Under the circumstances of unbearable tolerance, the border officers and soldiers resolutely responded to the violent acts and achieved major victories, effectively defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

On February 10, 2021, China’s Defense Ministry’s spokesperson declared that, after 8 months of confrontation, both sides have started to retreat from the border simultaneously.

Sources: PLA Daily, February 19, 2021;
http://www.81.cn/yw/2021-02/19/content_9987403.htm
Sohu, February 10, 2021
https://www.sohu.com/a/450383357_120504280

Report Reveals Beijing’s Sponsorship of High-Technology Research in Leading UK Universities

Civitas, a London based think tank, recently released a report titled, “Inadvertently Arming China?: The Chinese military complex and its potential exploitation of scientific research at UK universities.”

The report found that there is a ‘pervasive presence of Chinese military-linked conglomerates and universities in the sponsorship of high-technology research centres in many leading UK universities.’

The report, by Radomir Tylecote and Robert Clark, finds that at least 15 UK universities have productive research relationships with Chinese military-linked manufacturers and universities. The UK taxpayer sponsors much of the research at the university centres and laboratories through research councils, Innovate UK, and the Royal Society.

In many cases, these UK universities are unintentionally generating research that China’s military conglomerates sponsored and which may be of use to them, including those with activities in the production of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and also including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as well as hypersonic missiles and research in which China is involved in a new arms race and seeks ‘massively destabilizing’ weaponry.

This report analyses the relationships that at least 15 UK universities have established with 22 Chinese military-linked universities as well as weapons suppliers or other military-linked companies. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) deems many of these Chinese universities to be ‘Very High Risk.’

Sponsorship of high-technology research in UK universities covers areas such as:
▪ Metals and alloys;
▪ Aerospace physics and hypersonic technology;
▪ Ceramics, piezoelectrics and rare earths;
▪ Drones and radar;
▪ Shipbuilding;
▪ Data science, AI, and facial recognition; and
▪ Robotics (land, sea and space)

The report recommends the UK government should list all those Chinese military-linked companies and institutions that it wants to bar from sponsoring science research in UK universities and from research cooperation in general.

The authors also suggest the UK set up a new government organization similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), whose role would include monitoring and assessment of university sponsorship.

Source: Civitas, February, 2021

Inadvertently Arming China?

China-Pakistan Military Exercise Base Found Expanding

Well-known Chinese news site Sina (NASDQ: SINA) recently reported that, according to a number of Indian media sources, the strategic Pakistani Air Force Base (PAF) Bholari has gone through several rounds of upgrades. The PAF Bholari is located in Sindh Province, northeast of Karachi, Pakistan. It is located near the India-Pakistan border. Satellite images show numerous instances of new construction on that base. In December 2020, Pakistan and China had a joint air force exercise. The Pakistan Air Force chief said that joint exercises played a very important role in improving the combat capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force. Some of the recent base upgrades appeared to include supporting bases and the Combat Command Building. PAF Bholari was put into service in December 2017 and it is one of Pakistan’s most modernized military bases. PAF Bholari is positioned to support ground forces, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and some of the Pakistan Navy operations. China also has helped Pakistan jointly develop the JF-17 fighter jets.

Source: Sina, February 2, 2021
https://mil.news.sina.com.cn/zhengming/2021-02-02/doc-ikftpnny3441102.shtml

Global Times: The UK and Japan 2+2 Meeting Expressed Concern about China Seas

The Chinese government backed newspaper Global Times recently reported that the Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers of Great Britain and Japan met online. They issued a joint announcement after the meeting expressing “serious concerns” about the situation in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The ministers also said they are against any intent to change the status quo. They reemphasized the importance of maintaining freedom both of navigation and of flying over the South China Sea, and urged all parties to exercise restraint. Britain, as an outsider, has been raising its voice on the issue of the East and South China seas. Last December, the British Navy announced that it would send the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to the South China Sea. The Chinese Ministry of Defense spokesperson said that countries from far far away coming to the South China Sea to show military muscle is the true militarization of the South China Sea and that the Chinese military will take necessary measures to resolutely defend China’s sovereignty.

Source: Global Times, February 4, 2021
https://world.huanqiu.com/article/41n77fLOxuB

Military: China’s Airplanes Practiced Missile Attack on U.S. Carrier

According to intelligence from the U.S. and its allies, Chinese bombers and fighter jets carried out a simulated missile attack on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea.

They conducted the exercise in Taiwan’s air defense airspace on January 23, after China sent 13 warplanes into Taiwan’s southwestern air defense zone and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command dispatched the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group into the South China Sea.

A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said the Chinese aircraft did not come within 250 nautical miles of U.S. Navy ships.

Another person familiar with the matter said the Chinese planes had been staying about 250 nautical miles from the USS Roosevelt battle group. Dialogue between the pilots of the Chinese H-6 bombers showed that the planes were conducting a mock locking down and releasing anti-ship missile against the U.S. aircraft carrier.

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