US Cyber Command boss says China's spooky cyber skills still behind

Paul Nakasone rates the Middle Kingdom a 'pacing challenge'

The boss of US Cyber Command has opined that China's cyber and surveillance capabilities are not ahead of, or even comparable to, to those of the United States.

"There is a scope-scale sophistication that we ascribe to what China is doing today. Are they getting better? Yes," the commander of US Cyber Command, general Paul Nakasone, told a Thursday event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Nakasone referred to China as a "pacing challenge" for the US.

"It is the generational challenge that we will address, our children will address, our grandchildren are going to address. We see it across the major lines of national power. And they're diplomatic, information, military, and economic," explained Nakasone. "It's different than adversaries that I've seen in my three decades-plus of service in the Army."

The general, who as is customary simultaneously serves at Cyber Command and as director of the National Security Agency, said he was both confident and vigilant that classified networks had not been infiltrated by Beijing. However, he did express concern that China seeks positions in critical infrastructure – of the United States, its allies, and territories – for future purposes.

Nakasone stopped short of accusing China of aiming to facilitate malevolent actions, instead opining "If you're in our critical infrastructure it's not to collect intelligence."

Part of the US's success in keeping systems secure, the commander said, is its engagement with the private sector. That strategy saw a boost with Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine – a time US authorities shared some sensitive cyber information and ran offensive, defensive, and information cyber operations to support Ukraine.

"The private sector gives us the ability to address, again, the piece that we talked about previously: an adversary's scope, scale, and sophistication. Doing it with a series of partners, with a very, very focused strategy, it pays off."

While the Russian aggression brought a step-change to management of global cyber security issues, Nakasone said the previous year – 2021 – was pivotal for the US and cybersecurity.

"Remember what 2021 was like for us as a nation. It's SolarWinds. It's Microsoft hacking in March. It's Colonial Pipeline in May. It's JBS and Kaseya by the summer. In one year, nine months really, we have supply chain, we have ransomware, we have zero-day attacks," Nakasone recalled.

He concluded: "It was the point in time – I think at least for myself and for our agency and command – cyber security [became] national security. That's a big year. And I think that that, from that year forward, we think differently." ®

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