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Taiwan hit by jump in cyber attacks from China

TAIPEI - Taiwan has been hit by a jump in serious cyber attacks from China during the past two years in the latest sign that Beijing is only increasing its pressure as the United States reaffirms its support for the self-ruled island.

Taiwan hit by jump in cyber attacks from China

A man types on a computer keyboard in front of the displayed cyber code. Taiwan has been hit by a jump in serious cyber attacks from China during the past two years in the latest sign that Beijing is only increasing its pressure as the US reaffirms its support for the self-ruled island.

TAIPEI - Taiwan has been hit by a jump in serious cyber attacks from China during the past two years in the latest sign that Beijing is only increasing its pressure as the United States reaffirms its support for the self-ruled island.

Taiwan’s government departments are bombarded by tens of millions of hacking attempts each month but the number of “high-impact incidents” — which include targeted attacks aimed at stealing sensitive government data and personal information — tripled from four in 2015 to 12 in 2017, according to Chien Hung-wei, director-general of the cyber security department under the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s cabinet.

The Chinese Communist party, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory, has ratcheted up coercive measures against the government in Taipei since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive party, which replaced the more pro-China Kuomintang.

The rise in cyber warfare was part of a hardening of Beijing’s approach to Taiwan, another senior security official in Taipei said.

“The number of cyber attacks has been increasing quite sharply, and mainly targeting the government agencies.”

There has been a “further intensifying of (China’s) efforts” in recent months, the official said, pointing to the higher frequency of Chinese military drills in its territory and targeting of Taiwan’s dwindling number of official diplomatic allies.

Taiwan’s cyber agencies do not publicly disclose where attacks come from, however, China was “the principal threat” and used Taiwan as a “proving ground” for refining its cyber espionage techniques, said Mr Benjamin Read, manager of cyber espionage analysis at FireEye, a cyber security consultancy.

“Many (examples of) Chinese malware first appeared in campaigns against Taiwan before later being observed targeting interests in the US,” Mr Read said, adding that the group expected “the volume of China campaigns targeting Taiwan to increase” as geopolitical tensions heighten.

The upsurge also reflected a broader strengthening of China’s “offensive cyber capabilities”, said Ms Samm Sacks, a China cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.

“It is part of a higher-level vision by (Chinese president) Xi Jinping to build China into a cyber superpower,” she said.

The US was working with Taiwan officials to help them deal with the problem and to assess the threat to US interests, said Mr James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy.

Both US and Taiwan representatives questioned the efficacy of China’s tactics.

“If the goal is to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwan polity and to pursue peaceful reunification it doesn’t seem like it contributes much to such a policy,” Mr Moriarty said of the broader Chinese strategy.

China’s aggressiveness created concerns not just in Taiwan, but also among neighbouring countries, the Taiwanese official said.

“China has to do some serious thinking on their side,” he said. The US has recently taken steps to reaffirm its support for Taiwan.

This month it opened a new US$255 million (S$348 million) de facto embassy in Taipei and in March US President Donald Trump signed a new law promoting closer relations between officials in Washington and Taipei.

Both events were opposed by Beijing. The US is also considering more frequent arms sales to Taiwan, despite China’s opposition. FINANCIAL TIMES

 

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