As China intensifies its military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island is gearing up for the next big battleground: crippling cyberattacks.
Taiwan’s head of cybersecurity told CNN Business this month that the government is taking drastic measures to protect itself from technological flaws, including employing roughly two dozen computer experts to deliberately attack the government’s systems and assist it in defending against what Taiwanese authorities estimate are 20 million to 40 million cyberattacks per month.
Taiwan claims it has successfully defended against the vast majority of attacks. There have been hundreds of successful breaches, but only a few have been classified as “serious” by the government.
According to Chien Hung-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security, the huge number — and where Taiwan believes they’re coming from — has forced the government to take the issue seriously.
“We have a fairly high degree of confidence that many attacks originated from our neighbor,” he told CNN Business, referring to mainland China, based on the attackers’ actions and methodology.
“The operation of our government highly relies on the internet,” Chien said. “Our critical infrastructure, such as gas, water and electricity are highly digitized, so we can easily fall victim if our network security is not robust enough.”
Cyberattacks are becoming more common around the world. While China is far from the only country accused of orchestrating such attacks, the West has been particularly harsh on Beijing this week.
The US, the EU, and other allies accused China’s Ministry of State Security of using “criminal contract hackers” to carry out malicious activities around the world, including a March campaign against Microsoft’s Exchange email service.
After serious vulnerabilities were reported in major American sectors such as energy and food production, the Biden administration’s priorities in defending cybersecurity were highlighted in a coordinated announcement.
Taiwan suspects state-sponsored hackers were behind at least one major malware attack on the island last year, according to Chien. CPC Corporation, a government-owned refinery in Taiwan, was hacked in May 2020, rendering it unable to accept electronic payments from customers. The attack was carried out, according to the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, by a hacker group linked to China.
China has denied launching cyberattacks against Taiwan and others on numerous occasions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement to CNN Business, called the island’s accusations “baseless and purely malicious.”
Taiwanese authorities have also been chastised by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office for using cyberattacks to smear the mainland as a “habitual trick” to divert attention away from the island’s recent Covid-19 outbreak.
China blasted the claims as “groundless” after the West accused it of launching a massive global hacking campaign earlier this week.
“We strongly urge the United States and its allies to stop pouring dirty water on China on cybersecurity issues,” Zhao Lijian, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said on Tuesday. “China firmly opposes and cracks down on cyberattacks of any kind, let alone encourages, supports or indulges them.”