Cyber hacks, media hacks and political hacks.

Jul 2, 2020

Greatly increased defence spending plus proposed cyber capability tie us more to the USA and clearly will be seen by China as unfriendly. Can we rely on a dysfunctional USA and do we really understand Chinese motives and the level of threat from it?

Why would China want to attack us if we were not a proxy for the US? 

There is nothing new in countries spying on other countries or interfering in their domestic affairs. Queen Elizabeth I had a very efficient spy network run by Sir Francis Walsingham. The British went to war against China to force them to buy British opium which was banned in China. And of course, recently Australia got involved in Timor Leste. The American CIA has a track record of promoting coups to remove democratic governments that threatened American commercial interests, e.g. Guatemala 1954. These days Mata Hari is less popular than sigint. Sigint is reading signals of others. Bletchley Park broke the German enigma code during WW2 and there are many other examples. Australia, like most other countries with the capability, has an organisation devoted to electronic eavesdropping. Today hacking is much more advanced. Not only can skilled hackers read signals but they can also break into databases. Criminals do it to make money and countries do it to get commercial or military advantage. What is new today is the availability of technology that makes earlier tools seem prehistoric.

In an interesting article in Foreign Affairs, former US Secretary of Defense and CIA Director set out what could be considered a US view and possibly an Australian one. “Cyberwarfare has become one of the most powerful weapons in a nation’s arsenal, giving countries’ the ability to penetrate an adversary’s military and civil infrastructure, interfere with democratic processes, and aggravate domestic divisions. The Russians are particularly skilled in this arena, having launched cyberattacks against Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, and others. The United States is developing the capability to defend itself against cyberattacks, but it also needs to take the offensive from time to time, especially against its primary adversaries. Authoritarian governments must get a taste of their own medicine.”

What is interesting about this statement is how it suggests that the bad guys do it and the good guys must do it only to teach the bad guys a lesson. Given the American record of interference in other countries affairs this claim is mind boggling. It is not just the Russians who are particularly skilled in this area. However, China now seems to have replaced Russia as public enemy number one both in the USA and in Australia. .

The Australian government has now gone one step further by binding us even closer to the USA through the acquisition of missiles and an upgraded cyber capacity. Morrison has not publicly identified China by name but it is clear that both the cyber expansion and the major upgrade in weaponry are directed against China. Proxies like ASPI and compliant media have not hesitated to claim that Morrison has “called out” China. These actions clearly identify us in Chinese eyes as a lackey of the USA and as a partner in American attempts to to turn back the tide of Chinese economic and military growth. It’s very naive to think that China will change its polices because of public criticism by Australia, or even Europe and the USA. . We should never forget that the slogan “China has stood Up” is not just empty words but is deeply rooted in the century of humiliation inflicted on China by aggressive Western nations which showed no interest in Chinese human rights. They do not see us as the good guys and a majority of Chinese are happy with the system.

A major stumbling block for the proposed recruitment of 500 extra staff to protect against cyber attacks (and probably to initiate our own) is that 500 additional suitably qualified Australians do not exist in the current labour market and the few that do are not likely to be interested in working for the government when they can get better pay and conditions in the private sector. According to security experts I have consulted we would have to import people at a high level of ability to be really effective. In the longer term we need to upgrade cyber education to train high level practicioners and give them experience. A number of foreign governments have the capability to hack us and it is not easy to be sure that we have determined where an attack is coming from. Recruiting from other countries immediately creates a security problem. Our five eyes partners are perfectly capable of hacking us to get commercial information for their firms as are some sophisticated criminal groups. Russia, China, Israel and the USA have the capability to attack us and, under some circumstances, the motive. We do not know how capable our organization is or will be. Nor do we know if they are focused only on some countries or on threats from all sources.

Finally, any threat assessment looks at capability and motive. Capability is not too hard to work out but motive is not so easy. Why would China want to attack us if we were not a proxy for the US? The measures taken therefore would seem to to make us a target. Clearly there is a battle for supremacy going on between China and the USA. Talk about values and sovereignty are meaningless slogans which our government substitutes for rigorous analysis of Chinese motives and American motives. We need less political spin and more hard head analysis of long term Australian interests.

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