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The Chinese military is preparing to launch new “exploratory” cyber-attacks against U.S. defense and civilian computer networks and systems as part of Beijing’s continuing efforts to level the playing field against the American military, according to a noted intelligence bulletin.

Quoting Asian sources, the China Reform Monitor, or CRM – a publication of the American Foreign Policy Council reported Wednesday that the attacks are scheduled to take place in early summer.

The publication said separate warnings came from the CIA and the Institute for Strategic Studies, which is run by the U.S. Army War College.

The latter “released a classified report on the subject as an early warning to the Defense Department, warning U.S. diplomats and law-enforcement agencies to be vigilant for attempts by Chinese student hackers to spread computer viruses to sensitive government Internet sites sometime in early summer,” the CRM reported.

CIA officials told WND they could not comment on the information contained in the CRM report. But other China experts have said for a few years that a “fear” of U.S. conventional military might is causing the People’s Liberation Army to press Chinese high-tech weapons developers to create such technologies and get them fielded as soon as possible. And in the meantime, they say, Chinese hackers have attempted to “test” U.S. computer systems, sometimes as a result of an international incident.

“Three years ago, Chinese anger spilled into cyberspace to protest the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade,” said the CRM report. “Only a year ago, a successful Chinese cyber [attack] knocked out the White House’s website for almost four hours. In addition, Chinese hackers defaced more than 660 sites in the U.S.”

“China-loyal hackers defaced almost 1,000 websites and launched a distributed denial-of-service attack against the White House and CIA during April 28-May 8, 2001,” added iDefense, a private-industry intelligence firm.

“Three hacker groups participated in the cyber assault while the Chinese government, at the very least, looked the other way: the Hacker Union of China, China Eagle and the Green Army Corps. The Hacker Union of China, also known as Honker Union of China, was credited with about half of the defacements,” said the iDefense analysis.

WorldNetDaily reported in March that the U.S. is also working on the development of cyber-warfare capabilities. But officials are tight-lipped about current U.S. abilities.

“There is not too much I can say about what the government does to protect its computer systems other than assure you of the fact that we have very extensive programs to protect our computer systems,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a briefing in April.

“We have a very active program that tries to ensure at any given moment that we have security,” he said. But at the same time, “it’s one that is constantly preparing itself for any threats that might exist.”

David Isenberg, a senior analyst at Intellibridge Corporation, a knowledge management and intelligence services firm, says he believes U.S. systems are vulnerable, but isn’t sure of China’s capabilities.

“Has China actually created offensive programs, who knows?” he told WorldNetDaily. “I’m sure they do research into it.”

But Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, a non-partisan think tank focusing on Russia and China, believes Beijing is attempting to rapidly improve its cyber-warfare techniques.

“It’s pretty scary,” he told WND. “Both reports warn us that the PLA is rapidly building a competent cyber-warfare capability.”

He said China’s huge population means “lots of brains” can work on improving its capabilities.

“I think we should prepare for substantial attacks against military and key civilian networks in the event of a PLA strike against Taiwan,” Fisher said.

“No matter how much we try to make our systems secure, there will always be the possibility of strikes,” especially from within, he added.

He said because of contractors who tend to use low-bid labor to service defense computers and those of private businesses, U.S. systems will be at risk of internal sabotage from operatives loyal to China.

“How many times all over the world are our vital computer systems being upgraded by the lowest-cost bidder?” he said.

Related stories:

Is Beijing using terror networks?

CIA: China still threat to U.S., Taiwan

U.S. developing cyber-warfare capabilities

‘Hello Kitty’ battles in cyberspace

Chinese view mission-critical computer code

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