This headline from CNN – “Joint Chiefs Chair: Chinese Hacking Not Necessarily a Hostile Act” – reads like it came from the Onion. But don’t jump into your bunker yet – the reasoning behind this apparently blissfully naive statement by General Martin Dempsey is at least slightly plausible:
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he “believe(s) someone in China is hacking into our systems and stealing technology and intellectual property, which at this point is a crime.”
But Dempsey said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he cannot attribute the Chinese hacking to China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, that if it could be proven that the PLA was behind a hacking of the defense infrastructure, whether it would it be considered a “hostile act,” Dempsey said such wasn’t necessarily the case.
Now, you can quibble over the semantics in this. A cyberattack on the United States’ defenses might not come from the Chinese government itself – though one has to wonder how much privacy hackers enjoy, given China’s notoriously censor-happy culture. Moreover, even if a private hacker was good enough to evade the Chinese government’s own crop of cybersecurity experts and bypass our security, it’s fairly obvious that the hacker in question would be able to sell his method for a very high price.