Editorial: Biden needs to perceive both China and Russia as big cyberthreats - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Biden needs to perceive both China and Russia as big cyberthreats

President-elect Joe Biden has signaled the correct response to a massive cyberattack by Russia targeting more than 40 U.S. government agencies including Treasury, Energy and Homeland Security along with various government contractors. “Those responsible are going to face consequences for it” said the president-elect’s chief of staff, Ron Klain.

And we are talking about more than sanctions and perhaps kicking out a bunch of Russian attaches in the typical diplomatic tit for tat. “A good defense isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyberattacks in the first place,” Biden said. “Our adversaries should know that, as president, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”

Tough talk. Appropriately so, and especially comforting given the bizarre reaction of the man who now occupies the Oval Office. President Trump said he thought China was probably behind the massive hack despite his own intelligence apparatus and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying evidence clearly points to Russia.

It’s not clear what the Russians were fishing for. Experts say it could be anything from nuclear secrets to blueprints for advanced weaponry to dossiers on government and industry leaders. The infiltration has been going on for some time, and it will take months to determine the extent of damage and ferret out the hackers.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Trump has a Russia blind spot and correctly called for action, stating cyberspace is the future of warfare.

He is right. But Russia is not the only nation using it to cause damage. A New York Times report on the extensive Chinese Communist Party’s censorship and use of internet trolls to control the early narrative on the novel coronavirus and subsequent COVID pandemic is equally disturbing, with a very real casualty count in the United States and around the world.

Documents shared with the Times and Pro Publica by a hacker group inside China include more than 3,200 directives and 1,800 memos and other files from the offices of the Cyberspace Administration of China and make clear the CCP wanted to make the virus look less severe and authorities more capable as the rest of the world was watching. Rather than sound the alarm, China did just the opposite, helping to fuel the spread.

What happened here was its own form of cyberwarfare in tandem with a deadly virus.

Russia weaponized the internet with its hack. Meanwhile, research scientist Xiao Qiang at the University of California says, “China has a politically weaponized system of censorship; it is refined, organized, coordinated and supported by the state’s resources.”

The Chinese Cyberspace Administration reports to the Communist Party’s Central Committee, and according to the Times report, President Xi in February ordered tighter control of digital media. Bad news was played down, words like “fatal,” “lockdown” and “pneumonia” avoided. Websites were to use only government-published material and avoid any parallels with the deadly SARS outbreak that began in 2002.

In Hangzhou, propaganda workers wrote reports describing how they were ensuring that people saw nothing that contradicted the soothing message from the party that the virus was under control. That wasn’t just for domestic consumption. The rest of the world saw it, and many died because the alarm bells were slow to sound.

The Chinese censorship system “isn’t just for deleting something,” Xiao said, “They also have a powerful apparatus to construct a narrative and aim it at any target with huge scale.”

That’s every bit as alarming and dangerous as the Russia cyberattack. President-elect Biden should fashion exactly the same kind of tough response. Because while we don’t know the damage caused by the hack, we have a body count that can be attributed in part to Chinese internet censorship and disinformation.

Biden has signaled he has what it takes to stand up to Putin and call out the Russians. The world will be watching to see if he is willing to do the same when it comes to Xi and the Chinese Communist Party.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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