The Complex

DOD report calls out Chinese hacking, but what do we do to stop it?

So what's new in the Defense Department's new report about Chinese military capabilities? The biggest news seems to be that the Pentagon is actually saying that Chinese-military hackers are attacking its networks. Not that this should be news to readers of Killer Apps.

The report states that numerous U.S. government computer systems around the world are being "targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military." It goes on to say that China is using cyber espionage to collect intelligence on U.S. diplomatic, economic, and "defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs."

The same skills being used by Chinese cyberspies to steal information could easily be used in a destructive attack against U.S. networks, the report points out.

Again, nothing new. Heck, this isn't even the first time the U.S. government has called out China on hacking.

The real question is: what will it take to stop widespread cyber espionage before it leads to all-out cyber warfare: Sanctions? A military deterrent? What about a nuclear-armed military deterrent?

Preventing cyber espionage and cyber attacks is "a consequences calculation and the consequences aren't there," said one Senate staffer who works on cyber issues. For "everybody from your common hacker to your professional hacker to the nation states, the consequences aren't there" to deter these kinds of actions.

He went on to compare the current era of cyber espionage to the "Napster days" of free music downloading.

"There was nothing that was going to deter college-age students from ripping off music until there was a consequence that was associated with it and the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] had to go out there and start suing," said the staffer.

Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at Mandiant, thinks that while it's important for the U.S. government to call out the Chinese government's bad behavior, it's going to take more than harsh language to deter state-backed cyber espionage. (Remember, Mandiant is the firm that published a report in February detailing the exploits of what is believed to be a PLA hacking unit against worldwide targets, including the U.S. government.)

"It's important for noncommercial, government entities like DOD to make definitive statements on Chinese cyber capabilities," Bejtlich told Killer Apps. However, "because the Chinese consider espionage a tool for economic development, and the economy is one of their top national security concerns, they will not change course if the U.S. only complains with words. They are more likely to constrain their behavior if the U.S. imposes specific sanctions and exercises all elements of national power."

Bejtlich's comments echo those of Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee who has repeatedly urged the State Department to impose sanctions on any foreigner found to aid cyber espionage against the United States government or businesses.

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National Security

Video: The Navy's stealth drone makes its first arrested landing

Happy Monday. Here's some drone history being made: This video shows the U.S. Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) making its very first arrested landing. On May 4, the stealthy drone landed aboard a mock aircraft carrier flight deck, painted on a runway at the Navy's airbase at Patuxent River, Md.

The Northrop Grumman-made X-47B is meant to prove that the Navy can operate a fighter jet-sized stealthy drone from aircraft carriers -- paving the way for a fleet of similar aircraft to enter service around 2020 under a program called Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS. The Navy is testing the X-47B's ability to do everything from safely taxi around a crowded flight deck to takeoff and land autonomously on a carrier's four-acre deck (a human simply gives the plane clearance to land and then monitors the jet while a computer controls the actual maneuvers).

The X-47B is slated to fly from an actual aircraft carrier for the first time in the next year or so; the whole demonstration program will run until 2015.

Meanwhile, the sea service will soon give Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed, and General Atomics contracts to flesh out their designs for a stealthy, carrier-launched drone capable of flying through advanced air defenses, spying on potential targets, and even dropping bombs on them under the UCLASS program. That program is intended to incorporate the lessons learned from the Navy's experience with the X-47B to field operational jets by the end of this decade.