US officials are searching for Chinese malware hidden in various defense systems that could disrupt military communications and resupply operations, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The administration believes malicious computer code has been hidden inside “networks controlling power grids, communications systems and water supplies that feed military bases,” officials told the Times. The discovery has heightened concerns that hackers could “disrupt US military operations in the event of a conflict,” according to the Times. The two nations have been increasingly at odds over Taiwan as well as over China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific.
One congressional official told the newspaper that the malware was “a ticking time bomb” that could allow China to cut off power, water and communications to military bases, slowing deployments and resupply operations. Because military bases often share the same supply infrastructure as civilian homes and businesses, many other Americans could also be affected, officials told the Times.
The malware revelations echo a pattern of recent breaches by China-based hackers previously reported by CNN.
Last week, the email account of US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns was hacked, three US officials familiar with the matter told CNN.
Earlier this month, Microsoft and the White House confirmed that China-based hackers breached email accounts at two dozen organizations, including some federal agencies. The Biden administration believes the hacking operation – which Microsoft said was launched in mid-May – gave the Chinese government insights about US thinking heading into Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing in June.
Among the agencies targeted were the State Department and the Department of Commerce, which has sanctioned Chinese telecom firms. US officials and Microsoft analysts initially had trouble identifying how the hackers got into the email accounts, which made clear that they were dealing with a sophisticated hacking team, a US official told CNN.
US officials have consistently labeled China as the most advanced of US adversaries in cyberspace, a domain that has repeatedly been a source of bilateral tension in recent years. The FBI has said Beijing has a larger hacking program than all other governments combined.
Blinken raised the hacking incidents in a meeting with a top Chinese diplomat in Indonesia earlier this month, a senior State Department official told CNN, but the official would not “get into the specifics” of the extent to which the hack was raised.
“We have consistently made clear that any action that targets US government, US companies, American citizens, is a deep concern to us and that we will take appropriate action to hold those responsible accountable and the secretary made that clear again,” the official said.
CNN’s Sean Lyngaas, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.