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During an Aspen Institute forum, Jen Easterly, Director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), revealed that Chinese cyber operations targeting the United States have shifted their focus from cyber espionage to the deliberate disruption of critical infrastructure, aiming to destabilize American society.
Easterly emphasized that Chinese actors, who have long been in the spotlight, have now moved away from simple espionage as their primary objective.
By referring to espionage, Easterly specifically pointed to the theft of intellectual property, which she described as “the largest transfer of intellectual wealth in history.”
She further explained that the annual intelligence community threat assessment has documented a notable shift in Chinese attacks, moving away from espionage and towards disruptive actions that can cause significant instability.
According to the intelligence community’s threat assessment, in the event of a serious conflict with the US, China would likely engage in aggressive cyber operations targeting critical infrastructure and military installations, including pipelines and railroads, with the intention of impeding troop movements and instilling public panic.
Easterly highlighted the genuine threat posed by these actions, emphasizing the need for adequate preparation and response.
Addressing Chinese Threats: Building Resilience, Collaborating on AI
Given the gravity of the threat posed by Chinese state actors, Easterly expressed concerns about the US’s ability to prevent infrastructure disruptions and stressed the importance of building greater resilience. She cited recent incidents like the Colonial pipeline attack and China’s high-altitude balloon as evidence of declining public resilience.
Easterly stressed the need to be proactive in responding to and recovering from disruptions caused by Chinese state actors, emphasizing the importance of maintaining critical services, networks, and businesses despite the threats they face.
Beyond cybersecurity, Easterly expressed optimism about the potential for collaboration with China to address the risks associated with the development of artificial intelligence and prevent catastrophic consequences.
She suggested that just as negotiations have taken place regarding nuclear weapons, similar discussions should be considered in the realm of AI, which she believes will be the most powerful weapon of the 21st century.
Easterly made a separate observation, highlighting the distinction between the creation of nuclear weapons under national security frameworks and the development of AI by private companies driven by profit maximization for shareholders.