Military tensions between China and Taiwan fuel cyberwar

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China and Taiwan have successfully avoided escalating into a military conflict. However, both sides are engaged in active cyber warfare, according to a report.

After tensions between China and Taiwan did not escalate into a major military conflict in August, the world breathed a sigh of relief. But while guns are silent, keyboards are not.

Cyber ​​activities between China and Taiwan are characterized by multi-vector attacks, similar to what experts have observed between Russia and Ukraine, researchers at threat intelligence firm Cyberint say.

A recent report shows that cyber tensions are high and the number of national-level cyber attacks affecting China and Taiwan has increased significantly recently.

According to Shmuel Gihon, security researcher at Cyberint, the increasing number of cyberattacks will attract more competing hacker groups, increasing the risk of the heated cyber conflict spiraling out of control.


“It’s safe to assume that as tension continues, more will come into play, and as a result, more powerful threat actors will choose sides and demonstrate their skills. This leads to an escalation that we also saw in Russia-Ukraine,
Gihon
said Cyber ​​News.

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Tsunami in the forum

According to the researchers, one indicator of the increased activity is the growing number of comments about Chinese and Taiwanese security breaches on cybercrime forums. Comments on Chinese data leaks quadrupled in July compared to June.

The leak of a massive Shanghai police data set allegedly containing data on billions of people is partly to blame for the spike in comment traffic. However, this is far from the only China-based leak to have surfaced on criminal forums.

The report claims that hackers tried to sell the Shanghai Suishenma QR code with 48.5 million unique users. In theory, the data could allow attackers to track every user since January 2022.

The number of comments on data leaks by Taiwanese companies also increased many times over in July. While the pace of growth slowed in August, the number of comments was at least twice as high as in the first month of summer.

“The breaches include large nation-state and nation-affiliated corporations that we have seen few before,” the report said.

Military tensions between China and Taiwan are fueling active cyber warfare
Image from Shutterstock.

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The researchers also noted increased pressure on Chinese organizations from hacker groups taking sides in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Groups like AgainstTheWest, KelvinSecurity, Anonymous and others have targeted China because of Beijing’s ambiguous support for Russia’s efforts.

“Western threat actors have already embedded themselves in this major conflict and begun to breach anything that stands in their way. This has drawn both countries deep into Western cybercrime forums,” the report said.

The report’s authors see a changing cyber landscape that came to life after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. While attacks on Russia and China have historically been considered taboo, cyberattacks on sensitive websites, government agencies or other government services are becoming the norm.

The new approach could eventually lead to a steady escalation from smaller cyberattacks targeting government websites to more damaging incidents affecting critical infrastructure.

“The battle between the two countries has already begun, digital warfare is here, and we are seeing the increase in ricochets,” the report’s authors claim.

Military tensions between China and Taiwan are fueling active cyber warfare
Image from Shutterstock.

Lessons learned

Even if the conflict between China and Taiwan has not reached the temperatures seen in the Russo-Ukrainian war, Gihon believes there are lessons to be learned for Asian nations.

For one, hacktivists are likely to side with the “outsider” of the conflict, which in this particular case is Taiwan.

If the cyber conflict between Taiwan and China resembled what is happening in Ukraine, China should prepare its infrastructure to withstand a spate of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

After Kremlin troops invaded Ukraine, several hacktivist groups launched numerous DDoS attacks on Russian service providers, disrupting financial services and shutting down media.

“We expect China to be a lot harder to compromise because they had a great use case in Russia-Ukraine to learn from, which means they’re prepared for these types of attacks,” Gihon said.

According to him, the Chinese energy sector could be the main target of hackers supporting Taiwan. Meanwhile, China-linked hacker groups would likely use Beijing’s vast resources to conduct data theft, espionage operations, and other sophisticated cyberwar campaigns against Taiwan.


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