Hackers affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army have infiltrated critical services in the United States in an effort to wreak chaos in the country’s logistical systems, US officials and industry security officials have said.
The computer systems of around two dozen critical entities have been burrowed into in the past year, the cyber experts told The Washington Post.
They said these cyber attacks are part of a broader effort to develop means of sowing chaos and panic or disrupt logistics in the event of a conflict breaking out between China and the US in the Pacific, they said.
A water utility in Hawaii, a major West Coast port and at least one oil and gas pipeline were among the victims, people familiar with the incidents told the outlet.
The insiders spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
READ MORE: Tensions mount as Chinese coastguard ship blasts vessels with water cannon
The hackers also reportedly tried to break into the operator of Texas’s power grid, which operates independently from the rest of the country’s electrical systems.
A number of entities outside the US, including electric utilities, are also said to have been targeted by the hackers.
The officials stressed that none of the cyber attacks affected industrial control systems that operate pumps, pistons or any critical function, or resulted in a disruption.
However, they said the attention on Hawaii, home to the Pacific Fleet, as well as at least one port and logistics centers, was notable, as it suggests the Chinese military desires the capability to complicate efforts by the US to ship soldiers and equipment to the region should a conflict break out between the two nations over Taiwan.
It comes after a cyber campaign by Volt Typhoon, a state sponsored actor based in China, was first detected about a year ago by the US government.
The US and China are struggling to bring stability to a relationship more fraught than it has been in decades.
For over a year, Chinese military commanders refused to speak to their US counterparts even amid a surge of close-call intercepts by Chinese jet fighters of American spy planes in the western Pacific.
President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed only last month to restore those communication channels.
Brandon Wales, executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said it was plain to see that China’s cyber attacks were a preparation for a potential conflict with the US.
“It is very clear that Chinese attempts to compromise critical infrastructure are in part to pre-position themselves to be able to disrupt or destroy that critical infrastructure in the event of a conflict, to either prevent the United States from being able to project power into Asia or to cause societal chaos inside the United States — to affect our decision-making around a crisis,” he said.
“That is a significant change from Chinese cyber activity from seven to 10 years ago that was focused primarily on political and economic espionage.”
Morgan Adamski, director of the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, confirmed to the newspaper Volt Typhoon activity seems to be “focused on targets within the Indo-Pacific region, to include Hawaii”.