China’s military has finally pulled back the curtain on its cyber strategy, admitting for the first time that it (like countries around the world) has cyber units set up not only for defense, but for attack.
Officially, China’s line has always been that its government does not sponsor any form of hacking. Those denials rang hollow to foreign experts, however, who pointed both to evidence of Chinese cyberattacks and to the sheer folly of a country of China’s size and global importance not including cyberespionage in its intelligence-gathering arsenal.
Now Beijing may finally be ready to drop the charade. The updated edition of The Science of Military Strategy, an authoritative analysis of China’s military thinking, includes references to China’s cyber-warfare units. “This is the first time we’ve seen an explicit acknowledgement of the existence of China’s secretive cyber-warfare forces from the Chinese side,” Joe McReynolds of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis told The Daily Beast. “[T]hey’ve come out and said, ‘Yes, we do in fact have network attack forces, and we have teams on both the military and civilian-government sides.’”
The Science of Military Strategy, published in Chinese in 2001 (and translated into English in 2007) is a staple reference not only for Western scholars but for senior PLA strategists and decision makers, explains Andrew Erickson, an expert on Chinese military affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. The updated edition was published in Chinese in December 2013 but only recently became available to foreign analysts. China is well aware that the book is widely studied by foreign experts as well as Chinese military thinkers, meaning the reference to cyber-attack forces was likely a carefully considered decision.
McReynolds said China has dedicated cyber units operating in both the military and the civilian sphere. Within the PLA, China has “specialized military network warfare forces” for carrying out both offensive and defense cyber operations. China also has cyber specialists within civilian organizations, including the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security, “authorized by the military to carry out network warfare operations.”