Tuesday, July 23, 2024

FBI warns Chinese malware could threaten critical US infrastructure

Must read

Stay informed with free updates

The FBI is “laser focused” on Chinese efforts to insert malicious software code into computer networks in ways that could disrupt critical US infrastructure, according to the agency’s director Christopher Wray.

Wray said he was acutely concerned about “pre-positioning” of malware. He said the US recently disrupted a Chinese hacking network known as Volt Typhoon that targeted American infrastructure including the electricity grid and water supply, and other targets around the world.

“We’re laser focused on this as a real threat and we’re working with a lot of partners to try to identify it, anticipate it and disrupt it,” Wray said on Sunday after attending the Munich Security Conference.

“I’m sober and clear minded about what we’re up against . . . We’re always going to have to be kind of on the balls of our feet.”

Wray said Volt Typhoon was just the tip of the iceberg and was one of many such efforts by the Chinese government.

The US has been tracking Chinese pre-positioning operations for well over a decade, but Wray told the security conference that they had reached “fever pitch”.

He said China was increasingly inserting “offensive weapons within our critical infrastructure poised to attack whenever Beijing decides the time is right”.

His comments are the latest FBI effort to raise awareness about Chinese espionage that ranges from traditional spying and intellectual property theft to hacking designed to prepare for possible future conflict.

Last October, Wray and his counterparts from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network that includes the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand held their first public meeting in an effort to focus the spotlight on Chinese espionage.

Wray said the US campaign was having an impact and that people were increasingly attuned to the threat, particularly compared with several years ago when he sometimes met scepticism.

“Now I find very little scepticism,” he said in a joint interview. “That’s true with foreign intelligence services and security services in particular, but it’s also true with the business community and increasingly with the academic sector.”

Some intelligence experts have warned that China is increasingly using Europe to conduct espionage because many security services have much fewer resources than the US. The Financial Times recently reported on a Chinese spy operation that recruited a far-right politician in Belgium.

Asked if European countries were increasing the resources devoted to countering Chinese espionage, Wray said: “Yes, is the short answer.”

“I can’t think of a single one where they’re not more engaged on it than they were . . . There’s still differences but even now they’ve all moved in the same direction.”

Wray said he had many discussions in Munich with partners about artificial intelligence, which he said would act as a “force multiplier” that would help China to conduct espionage and malign operations much more effectively.

“They already have built economic espionage and theft of personal and corporate data as a kind of a bedrock of their economic strategy and are eagerly pursuing AI advancements to try to accelerate that process,” he said.

Wray said it was key to stay focused on Chinese espionage, particularly since China was “playing the long game” at a time when other countries had to deal with global crises such as the Ukraine invasion and Gaza conflict.

“It’s important that we continue to keep hitting this topic lest something that is every bit as big a crisis in its own way gets afforded less attention than it otherwise deserves because it doesn’t have the kind of immediacy that full-on military conflict has.”

Latest article