In an ever-growing virtual world, cyberwarfare is likely to overshadow ground wars in the near future. A recent example of the growing importance of cyberwar is seen in the escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula.
Three South Korean banks – Shinhan, NongHyup and Jeju – and three TV broadcasters – KBS, MBC and YTN – were hit by cyberattacks, as malicious code infected some 48,000 computers in their networks on March 20. Following the initial attack, another 58 YTN affiliate servers and 14 anti-Pyongyang websites, including those operated by North Korean defectors, also suffered another round of attacks on March 25 and 26.
In the wake of the series of attacks, the South Korean government launched a probe, ultimately pointing the finger at North Korea. The South said Pyongyang was behind the massive hacking that paralysed the networks of the local financial firms and broadcasters.
As a member of the global community in the digital age, Taiwan is not immune to similar cyberattacks, especially those launched by its much larger neighbour across the Taiwan Strait.
According to the latest report on cybersecurity released by Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) earlier this week, the NSB’s external websites were hit by hackers 3.34 million times in 2012, which equals 209 attacks per day.
The intrusions mostly originated from China and generally targeted government and security service websites. They were, however, largely scouting efforts instead of actual attacks, the NSB said. Also, there were another 70,000 malicious hacking attempts last year that were successfully blocked, the bureau said.
The NSB report found that Chinese hackers have gradually shifted their focus from attacking Taiwan’s government institutions to focusing on civilian think tanks, telecommunications service providers, Internet node facilities and traffic signal control systems. China has been beefing up its cyberwarfare capability since as early as 2002, the NSB report said. So far, the total number of Chinese state-sponsored hackers is estimated to stand around more than 100,000 and Beijing has allegedly been putting US$80 million annually to sponsor the project.
Compared to the massive amount of energy spent by China to launch acts of cyberwarfare, Taiwan, the main target of Beijing’s attacks, has extremely poor capabilities to counter such efforts.
According to the Ministry of National Defence (MND), Taiwan’s military now only has three units under the MND’s Information and Electronic Warfare Command – which has 3,000 military personnel – that are responsible for countering cyberattacks.
Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu promised early this week that Taiwan’s military will soon establish a new cyberwarfare unit as part of government efforts to beef up its Internet security capability in the face of rampant attacks by Chinese hackers. The defence chief also stressed that developing systems to counter cyberattacks was a priority during the annual Han Kuang series of exercises, which is the nation’s largest annual drill. But such efforts from the MND are hardly enough to counter Beijing’s cyberforce.
The US, another major focus for Chinese hacking attempts, has doubled its cyberwar workforce – from 500 to more than 4,500 employees – and increased its cyberdefence budget to US$4.7 billion in 2013, up from $3.9 billion last year. In the United Kingdom, the government has launched an anti-cyberattack threat centre and has budgeted 650 million pounds over five years to sustain the ongoing project, which runs until 2014. To beef up Taiwan’s anti-cyberattack capabilities, more needs to be done than holding nationwide multi-agency exercises to simulate how the government would respond in the event of a cyberattack.
The government must allocate more funding to develop multiple cyberdefence systems to prevent cyberattacks from Chinese military and civilian
hackers. Government institutions should also build up stronger anti-hacker security measures. As pointed out by several lawmakers, the military and the NSB should consider recruiting civilian cyberspecialists to join the bureau and the MND as part of beefing up their capabilities.
As an island country known for its strong computer-related businesses and competitive young talent in the IT industry, Taiwan is not without help in the cyberworld. With proper incentives, the government may find a fresh infusion of talent to contribute their skills, devoting their energies to enhancing the nation’s Internet and telecommunications infrastructure security amid a growing threat from across the water.