New revelations and assertions of cybercrime on an international scale and attempts to misleadingly politicize users of the internet erupted last week, with American, German, British and Dutch officials sharply blaming the Russian military for a worldwide campaign of electronic attacks on sports organizations, businesses and media; Vice President Pence accusing China of election interference; and an alarming report in a major medium of Chinese computer hardware malfeasance.
Western countries issued coordinated denunciations of Russia for running what they described as a global hacking campaign, targeting institutions from sports anti-cheating groups to a nuclear power company and a chemical weapons watchdog.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the charges as cooking up a “diabolical perfume cocktail” dreamt up by someone with a “rich imagination,” but not much imagining was necessary to reach an evidence-based conclusion that something rotten had long been brewing in Moscow.
It was just disclosed that last spring four Russians were apprehended in the Netherlands with spying equipment like wi-fi antennae at a hotel located next to the intergovernmental Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters. The Russian men had plans to travel on to a laboratory in Switzerland used by the OPCW to analyze samples, but were expelled to their motherland.
Earlier, Britain released an assessment based on work by its National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) accusing Russia’s military intelligence agency of employing a network of hackers to sow worldwide discord.
Russia’s military has also been blamed by Britain for sending two agents to kill Sergei Skripal, a former Russian agent, with a nerve agent sprayed on his door. Skripal, his daughter and a police officer fell seriously ill and a British woman later died from poison allegedly used by the Russian would-be assassins.
British and Australian authorities also accused Russia, as has the U.S., of the devastating 2017 cyberattack on Ukraine that targeted everything from the Ukranian energy grid to the country’s internet infrastructure to its journalists and its military and politicians. Russian hackers even allegedly attempted to steal the private correspondences of multiple Ukrainian religious leaders.
The United States has sanctioned Russian intelligence agents for attempted interference in the 2016 U.S. election and cyberattacks, and indicted seven suspected Russian agents for conspiring to hack computers and steal data to delegitimize international sports drug-monitoring organizations and punish officials who had revealed a Russian state-sponsored athlete doping program. And, more alarmingly, for trying to hack into a nuclear power company that provides atomic fuel and plant designs.
Australia, New Zealand and Canada were among other countries to issue strongly worded statements backing their allies’ findings.
Last Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence had harsh words for China in a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, attacking the People’s Republic for using the internet to interfere in American politics and to trample the freedoms of its own people.
Mr. Pence accused China of “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.
Echoing allegations made by President Trump the previous week, the vice president asserted that China is interfering in the U.S. midterm elections. “There can be no doubt,” he said, that “China is meddling in America’s democracy.”
“Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policy,” Mr. Pence said. “As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”
Then there is the report from Bloomberg Businessweek that China secretly inserted surveillance microchips into servers used by major technology companies, including Apple and Amazon.com.
The report was denied by the companies cited but detailed what it asserted was a sweeping years-long effort to install the surveillance chips in servers whose motherboards — the “brains” of the powerful computers — were assembled in China. One affected company had its servers used by U.S. government clients, including Department of Defense data centers, Navy warships and the CIA in its drone operations.
The surveillance microchips reportedly could have connected to outside computers and secretly downloaded software to bypass security protections, such as passwords or encryption keys, stored elsewhere on the affected servers, enabling remote computerized spying.
The explosive evolution of communications technology and the increased reliance on computer hardware and software by governments and industries alike have made cyberspace the new frontier of espionage, commercial crime, propaganda and even, conceivably, warfare.
From the very birth of the internet, Torah leaders have warned of the threats it poses to the spiritual welfare of its users. The technology is now revealing itself as a danger no less to the social and physical welfare of the world.