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From Hacker to Hacked; China Claims Massive Network Intrusions, or is it Crying Wolf?

Never one to sit idly by while being accused of unethical practices, China is now pointing its finger at the US, claiming that its computers containing political military and scientific secrets were infiltrated by outside sources. In this instance, Chinese officials are claiming that a majority of the computers used in the intrusion were based in the US.

While it is certainly possible that the US simply was "caught with its hand in the cookie jar," another plausible scenario is that China is simply trying to cover its tracks by itself appearing as a victim. After all, intrusions into high-level government computers have also been reported in London, Berlin, France, and New Zealand and while no county has officially accused them, all eyes have initially pointed at the Chinese government.

Realistically, the fact that such attempts at espionage are taking place should not be a surprise to anyone. Since the Internet became such a prominent piece of everyday life, the idea of cyber warfare has been part of military strategy to the point that most developed nations have created distinct commands dedicated to the protection and infiltration of Information systems, such as the creation of the Air Force Cyber Command (AFCC). However, with the advancements in detection technology the ability to track where attacks originate from has significantly improved providing the ability to more easily identify aggressors than was previously the case.

The problem lies in the fact that while the originating country of attack can typically be identified, officials must be careful in making accusations because the technology is not specific enough to identify if the attack originated from government computers, or not. It is becoming more common for vigilante hacking by private citizens and corporations to take place on behalf of governments. Thus, future responses will most likely be dictated by the sensitivity of what, if anything was actually taken and if the origin of the attack can be determined with certainty.

The number of reported instances will only increase globally because despite the fact that sources of attacks can be traced to specific countries, governments have a benefit of deniability by simply claiming the attacks did not originate from government computers. Without the ability to prove otherwise, opposing government leaders will have to temper their response, publicly at least, until there is emphatic proof the intrusion was a case of sponsored espionage.

As technology evolves so too will the face of cyber warfare. It is only a matter of time before an attack of significance happens and based on the current state of IT security in the U.S. federal government, the best the targeted agency can hope to do is detect the intrusion early enough to prevent any significant damage from occurring.

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