By Doug Kelly, CEO of American Edge Project
A chilling new report has unraveled a dramatic escalation of China’s cyber aggression against America. Beijing is now actively targeting critical U.S. infrastructure for major disruptions, aiming to infiltrate and cripple key military controls, power grids, water systems, energy pipelines, and communication networks. This concerted effort by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directly threatens America’s national security and economic stability, in sum, the fabric of our society. The implications of China’s efforts are dire, with potential for catastrophic cyberattacks that could leave millions vulnerable and jeopardize our nation’s foundations and ability to function.
The Washington Post report details how Chinese state-sponsored hackers are silently gaining access to the networks of numerous critical infrastructure entities, including defense systems, utilities, transportation providers, and healthcare institutions. While currently limited to reconnaissance and data collection, these stealth intrusions lay the groundwork for potentially devastating cyberattacks in the future.
Official assessments by America’s military and cyber leaders support the new report’s findings about China’s nefarious intentions. Earlier this year, the Annual Threat Assessment (ATA) published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) warned that “China almost certainly is capable of launching cyberattacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines, and rail systems.”
Echoing the ATA, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly outlined how, if China invaded Taiwan, the CCP might simultaneously launch attacks against key U.S. infrastructure, including “the explosion of multiple gas pipelines, the mass pollution of our water systems, the hijacking of our telecommunication systems, the crippling of our transportation nodes.” Easterly noted that this would be “designed to incite chaos and panic across our country and deter our ability to marshal military might and citizen will.”
In addition to planning crippling preemptive cyberattacks, China is also hyper-focused on stealing the West’s emerging technologies – AI, quantum technology, robotics, biotechnology, automation, and more – which could help China overcome America both economically and from a national security standpoint. FBI Director Christopher Wray blunted noted that “the Chinese government is absolutely the biggest threat we face” and that “There is no greater threat to innovation than the Chinese government.”
While China escalates its cyber activities, American technology companies stand as vital defenders of our nation’s digital security. Through their investments in cybersecurity, these companies act as guardians of sensitive data, partners in law enforcement’s fight against cybercrime, active combatants against foreign misinformation campaigns, and pioneers in developing the innovative solutions needed to stay ahead of ever-evolving cyber threats. Their role in protecting our critical infrastructure, intellectual property, and democratic values cannot be overstated.
Unfortunately, short-sighted policy decisions both domestically and internationally threaten to undermine these vital efforts by American companies and make the world less safe from China’s authoritarian ambitions. These anti-innovation proposals include antitrust activities, restrictions on mergers and acquisitions, forced data sharing measures, and other actions that could stifle innovation and hinder our ability to develop cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions.
Instead of targeting our front-line defenders, policymakers should instead focus on accelerating private sector innovation, strengthening cybersecurity standards for critical industries, and increasing collaboration between government and industry for sharing information, developing effective strategies, and deploying necessary resources.
The time for informed action is now. We must recognize the severity of China’s cyber threat, empower our innovators and defenders, and strengthen our cyber protections. The free world is counting on us to get it right because it matters which country – and which set of values – builds the future.