The Chinese military sees major weaknesses in its own cyber domain, according to a new report from RAND.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sees cyber, along with space, and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities as increasingly vital elements of its ability to deter or defeat a technologically advanced adversary in a future information war. However, the PLA has a clear perception of Chinese cybersecurity weaknesses, the report said.
The report highlighted part of the perceived vulnerability is linked to a belief that offense is much easier than defense in the networks warfare domain.
“Although most attention devoted to Chinese cyberactivities focuses on Chinese cyberespionage and the theft of international property, PLA analysts actually view China as potentially vulnerable to enemy cyberactions.”
The report, China’s Incomplete Military Transformation: Assessing the Weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army, was sponsored by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to assess the weaknesses of the PLA across various domains.
The Chinese military “clearly views itself as occupying a relatively disadvantageous position because of its perceived inferiority in the key aspects of ‘network military struggle,’ which include cyber reconnaissance, cyberattack and defense, and cyberdeterrence.” The PLA can be expected to focus significant resources on continuing to improve its capabilities there, RAND said.
It also said this vulnerability is likely to become worse. As China becomes more networked to modernize and increase its capabilities against technologically advanced opponents, the PLA “will become increasingly dependent on technology that is vulnerable to disruption, thus creating a potential weakness that an adversary could exploit.”
The RAND report noted another potential weakness in China’s approach to cyberactivities.
“Still another potential weakness in China’s approach to space, cyber, and EW that Chinese analysts do not appear to have addressed in great detail at this point is the possibility of unintended effects or inadvertent escalation,” it said.
PLA analysts appear to ignore the limitations or unintended effects of cyberactions while focusing on the positive offensive outcomes. This is a “troubling tendency, especially when coupled with the emphasis the analysts place on seizing the initiative in the struggle for information dominance,” the report said.