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5/29/2007
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China To Use Computer Viruses As Cyberwarfare First Strike

The Defense Department reports that the People's Liberation Army is moving beyond traditional battlefields and into cyberspace.

The People's Liberation Army in China is building up its cyberwarfare capabilities, even creating malware that could attack enemy computer systems in first-strike attacks, according to a report from the Department of Defense.

The PLA, which is the largest standing army in the world, has established information warfare units geared to developing viruses that can attack enemy computer systems and networks, the Defense Department reported. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 mandates that the secretary of defense make an annual report to Congress on the current and future military strategy of the People's Republic of China.

This year's report, which was released late last week, said China also is building up "tactics and measures" to protect friendly computer systems and networks. In 2005, the PLA began to incorporate offensive computer operations into its exercises, primarily in first-strike tactics against enemy networks.

"Much uncertainty surrounds the future course China's leaders will set for their country, including in the area of China's expanding military power and how that power might be used," reads the report. "The People's Liberation Army is pursuing comprehensive transformation from a mass army designed for protracted wars of attrition on its territory to one capable of fighting and winning short-duration, high-intensity conflicts against high-tech adversaries -- which China refers to as 'local wars under conditions of informatization.' "

Defense researchers noted that China's focus on preparing for military contingencies in the Taiwan Strait, including the possibility of a U.S. intervention, appears to be an important driver of its modernization efforts. "The pace and scope of China's military transformation has increased in recent years, fueled by continued high rates of investment in its domestic defense and science and technology industries, acquisition of advanced foreign weapons, and far reaching reforms of the armed forces," the report states.

The DOD's report also noted that China is making a significant push out of the traditional warfare areas -- land, air, and sea -- to a more "modern battlefield" of space and cyberspace.

The United States also noted that it's unclear how much of its budget China is spending on these expansive moves. Those expenditures, the DOD reported, remain "far above officially disclosed figures."

The PLA is investing in computer network operations such as network attacks, network defenses, and network exploitation, according to the report. "The PLA sees [computer network operations] as critical to achieving 'electromagnetic dominance' early in a conflict," said the report, adding that China is focused on developing the ability to disrupt battlefield information systems.

The DOD also reported that while China is focused on preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait, it's also "surveying the strategic landscape beyond Taiwan."

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