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China launches stealth attack on key US military bases with malicious computer code

The United States and China have battled for supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region in recent years Image Courtesy Reuters

US intelligence agencies and Microsoft have reportedly detected the presence of unidentified computer code that has surfaced in telecommunications systems in Guam and various other locations in the United States (USA).

According to a report by the “New York Times”, the installation of the code was attributed by Microsoft, an American technology giant, to a hacker gang linked to the Chinese government, which raises serious concerns.

The alarm is being raised because Guam, with its strategically important ports and sizable US air base, is crucial to any potential US military response to a Chinese invasion or blockade of Taiwan.

According to the research, this code was frequently installed with “high stealth,” frequently using routers and other widely used consumer Internet-connected equipment.

The tracing of the incursion was deliberately made more complex by the use of this method, which complicated the task of the investigators.

The particular code in question is called “web shell”. A server can be accessed remotely without permission through this nasty malware. Home routers are particularly prone to such faults, especially older devices without updated software or security protections.

Microsoft has named the hacker collective behind the code “Volt Typhoon” and linked its efforts to a Chinese government-sponsored initiative.

The goals of this initiative cover maritime operations and transportation systems in addition to critical infrastructure, such as communications networks and electric and gas utilities.

Although it seems that espionage is the primary goal of today’s hacks, the potential for code to breach firewalls is alarming.

According to the NYT, the Chinese government could use the code for nefarious purposes to enable deadly attacks if it so chooses.

Microsoft says there is no evidence the Chinese hacking group used the access it gained to launch hostile assaults.

Chinese hackers and military, unlike Russian teams, generally prioritize espionage efforts over launching aggressive cyberattacks.

According to the study, the recent balloon incident indicated that China is carrying out an extensive intelligence-gathering campaign that covers several areas, including cyberspace, outer space and even the lower atmosphere. The identified code is only part of this campaign.

Even in notable cases like the theft of Office of Personnel Management (OPM) security clearance information during the Obama administration, China has consistently denied any involvement in the hacking of US networks.

Six million fingerprints were among the sensitive data of more than 22 million Americans that was stolen as a result of the OPM attack. This months-long cyberattack has far-reaching effects.

Following the event, Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, who were both in office at the time, reached an agreement that temporarily reduced China’s harmful cyber activity.

The most recent incident, however, showed that because of their importance, telecommunications networks are attractive targets for hackers, and Guam’s network is particularly important to China.

This is because military communications routinely use commercial networks, making them a prime target for information gathering.

China could acquire private military communications and intelligence by hacking Guam’s telecommunications network.

Officials assessing China’s ability to strike or disrupt Taiwan have paid particular attention to the focus on Guam. By 2027, according to President Xi Jinping, the People’s Liberation Army must be ready to annex Taiwan.

However, various U.S. government officials have also told Congress that this direction does not necessarily mean a firm resolve to launch an invasion.

It has been predicted that in the event of a conflict, China’s first steps would disrupt US communications and limit its response capabilities. This expectation has been reflected in multiple tabletop exercises conducted by the United States in recent years to mimic hypothetical attack scenarios.

These exercises simulate attacks on satellite and ground-based communications networks, focusing primarily on installations where U.S. military assets might be deployed.

Guam is one of those facilities that is quite significant. Andersen Air Force Base, based in Guam, would be a vital starting point for many Air Force missions to defend the island.

Also, US submarines need a navy port in Guam. Guam is a key exercise target because of its strategic importance and its role in assisting and coordinating military activities in the region.

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