Understanding motives of recent cyber attacks against US

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Though economically devastated, Iran’s motives for cyber hacking should be seen purely as geo-political one-upmanship and not cyber espionage for several reasons: first, they lack a manufacturing infrastructure that requires the kind of western technology that has already been stolen; second, there have been no reported incidents to indicate that Iran is offering U.S. secrets (other than our drones) to China in order to raise cash; and third, Iran is aware that even the hint of cyber malfeasance against U.S. targets would cause an immediate and devastating response by the U.S. which would likely collapse an already fragile regime.

China, on the other hand, is most assuredly engaged in continuous corporate espionage against the U.S., with sensitive U.S. infrastructure vulnerabilities paying dividends to the military. No one doubts that China has a massive corruption problem, which is openly discussed in news stories appearing throughout Asia and even inside the People’s Republic itself. Without any form of oversight, the one-party Communist regime is free to do as it pleases and answers to no one; that our critical computers and networks are vulnerable makes a tempting target for any adversary, much less one who is defiantly exerting influence not only in its own region but throughout the world.

China is not worried about the imprisonment of its corporate spies operating in the U.S., and shrugs off cyber hacking complaints by U.S. businesses appearing in American media outlets. They know full well that the U.S. will not curtail imports of Chinese manufactures because it will damage the frail U.S. recovery and that American retailers will have a hard time finding a replacement for China. Chinese leaders are also acutely aware that it was their seemingly inexhaustible supply of cheap labor that forestalled a U.S. recession in 2001. They will continue their cyber hacking activity, and are gambling that the U.S. response will only be chest-pounding and not import restrictions.

Few China watchers consider the changing attitude of the Chinese people, who are absolutely convinced that this is going to be a Chinese-dominated century. Having tasted ‘the good life’, former peasants who have invested their family fortunes into real estate investments (their only investment option) expect that the expanding nation will repay them by continuing to enlarge the middle class. It is this bourgeoning middle class that is at the forefront of Chinese leadership concern, for this nouveau riche class may not, it turns out, be completely satisfied with their newfound wealth and, some leaders fear, may be wanting something more - the democratic freedoms that are found in the West.

To the Chinese, freedom is a term whose meaning they are quickly learning, especially after the stark comparison between the cantankerous American election and the ‘silent’ Chinese election. To keep these whispers from growing, the State is resolutely focused on continued economic expansion, hoping that the country’s new found wealth will continue to satisfy the masses. For that to continue though, the nation needs to broaden its economic base by producing more advanced technologies – like trains, planes, and automobiles, which will provide the kind of cash that is necessary to keep the populous at bay while the nation’s leaders figure out a way to halt what may prove an unstoppable force for change. In this larger context, that is, saving China from their own ‘Arab Spring’, China’s leaders have a lot more to worry about than U.S. outcry over ‘alleged’ cyber espionage.

Gabberty is professor of information systems at Pace University in New York City. An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University Polytechnic Institute, he has served as an expert witness in telecommunication and information security at the federal and state levels. Gabberty has more than thirty years’ experience as a consultant to Wall Street’s financial community and authored numerous articles on information and communication technology, the impact of e-commerce, and competitive advantage of nations.