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

The US and China have been engaged in a tussle for supremacy in the Indo Pacific region over the last several years Image Courtesy Reuters

US intelligence agencies and Microsoft have reportedly detected the presence of an unidentified computer code that has been surfacing within telecommunications systems across Guam and various other locations across the United States (US).

According to a report by ‘The New York Times’, the installation of the code has been ascribed by Microsoft, a US-based tech giant, to a hacker gang connected to the Chinese government, raising serious concerns.

The alarm is being raised because Guam, with its important strategic ports and sizable US air base, is crucial to any potential reaction by the US military to an invasion or blockade of Taiwan by China.

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

The tracing of the incursion was purposefully made more complex by using this method, which made it more difficult for investigators.

The particular code in question is referred to as a “web shell.” A server can be accessed remotely without authorization thanks to this rogue malware. Home routers are particularly prone to such flaws, especially older devices without updated software and security protections.

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

The objectives of this initiative cover maritime operations and transportation systems in addition to essential infrastructure, such as communication networks and electric and gas utilities.

Although it appears that espionage is the main objective of the current hacks, the code’s potential to get past firewalls is alarming.

According to the NYT, the Chinese government might use the code for harmful reasons to enable deadly assaults if they so want.

Microsoft claims that there is no proof that the Chinese hacking group used the access they had gained to launch hostile assaults.

Chinese intelligence and military hackers, in contrast to Russian outfits, typically prioritise espionage efforts over launching aggressive cyberattacks.

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

Even in noteworthy cases like the theft of security clearance information from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under the Obama administration, China has continuously denied involvement in hacking into American networks.

Six million sets of fingerprints were among the sensitive data from over 22 million Americans that were stolen as a result of the OPM attack. This multi-month long cyberattack has far-reaching effects.

Following the event, Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, who were both in office at the time, came to an agreement that temporarily reduced harmful Chinese cyber activity.

The most recent incident, however, shown that because of their importance, telecommunications networks are attractive targets for hackers, and the Guam network is particularly significant to China.

This is due to the fact that military communications use commercial networks regularly, making them a desirable target for information gathering.

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

Officials assessing China’s capacity to strike or disrupt Taiwan have paid close heed 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 US government representatives have also made it clear to Congress that this direction does not necessarily signify a firm determination to launch an invasion.

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

These drills simulate attacks on satellite and ground-based communication networks, concentrating primarily on facilities where American military resources might be deployed.\

Guam is one of these facilities that is quite important. The Guam-based Andersen Air Force Base would be a critical starting point for many Air Force missions to defend the island.

Additionally, American submarines require a Navy port on Guam. Guam is a key target in the exercises due to its strategic importance and its function in assisting and coordinating military activities in the region.

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