FBI Warns Critical Chinese Hacking Effort Could ‘Wreak Havoc’

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party at a hearing on Wednesday that China is preparing a cyberspace hack that could “wreak havoc” on critical U.S. infrastructure.

“China is attempting to pre-position on U.S. critical infrastructure—setting up back doors to cripple vital assets and systems in the event China invades Taiwan and therefore, limiting our ability to assist Taiwan,” Wray said in his oral testimony Wednesday.

“China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities, if or when China decides the time has come to strike,” he said.

Chinese hackers have already successfully tested their skills against U.S. cybersecurity measures. The FBI director gave an example of hackers working with the Chinese military who were able to gain access to computer networks for a large American transportation center.

Meanwhile, Chinese hackers have targeted natural gas pipeline computers, the electric grid, and mainframes for water treatment plants. Senior U.S. police, military and intelligence officials are concerned that China could attack the U.S. in cyberspace as a distraction if it moves forward with an attack on Taiwan.

“This is unique in that it’s prepositioning [ … ] to be able to deliver effects at the time and place of their choosing so that they can disrupt our ability to support military activities or to distract us, to get us to focus on a domestic incident at a time when something’s flaring up in a different part of the world,” said Rob Joyce, cybersecurity director for the National Security Administration.

Wray warned that the public is apathetic about the seriousness of the threat and lacks a proper sense of urgency to counteract the danger from China: “There has been far too little public focus on the fact that PRC hackers are targeting our critical infrastructure. The risk that poses to every American requires our attention — now.”

“The United States will continue to dismantle malicious cyber operations – including those sponsored by foreign governments – that undermine the security of the American people,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement the same day Wray testified before Congress.