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Tom Purcell: Cyber attacks Chinese investment monitoring?

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

The White House is downplaying an alleged breach of its computer systems by state-sponsored Chinese hackers. I caught up with a computer whiz I know — his online name is “Sleep with the Phishes” — to gain insight.

Purcell: The U.S. government and private industry are facing increasing attacks by sophisticated state-sponsored cyber adversaries. What the heck is going on?

Sleep with the Phishes: Well, dude, emerging economies have always gotten ahead by stealing product designs and other useful information from successful companies in more advanced economies. In the old days, they had to use spies and bribe people. Now, thanks to cyberspace, all they have to do is penetrate global computer networks. They have gotten very good at doing so.

Purcell: But professional hackers who work for the Chinese government allegedly breached a White House computer system. Why attack the White House?

Phishes: Well, dude, we don't know for sure. But in addition to attacking private companies to steal intellectual property, state-sponsored hackers have a vested interest in penetrating government and military systems to gather intelligence, learn about top secret strategies and tactics, and maybe even plan future cyber attacks.

Purcell: What kind of cyber attacks?

Phishes: The U.S. military uses sophisticated tools and computer systems to wage war. Imagine if you were able to gain access to those tools and systems and shut them down in the middle of an exercise -- or combat. This is why the U.S. military now views cyberspace as its new domain. They need to protect it just as they do land, sea, air and space.

Purcell: So how did state-sponsored Chinese adversaries allegedly penetrate White House systems?

Phishes: Yes, they allegedly tried to penetrate White House systems, but they are trying to penetrating multiple government systems. What they do is called “phishing.” They send bogus emails to people. The emails have attachments or links that connect to malicious sites. Once the emails are opened, the attachments or links unleash “malware” that can run in the background undetected. It can capture a person's user name and password. Once an adversary has that information, he may be able to gain access to potentially sensitive information.

Purcell: Did the adversaries make off with classified information from the White House?

Phishes: No, dude, the malware was detected and shut down before any harm occurred. But personally, I think the Chinese were up to something else!

Purcell: Such as?

Phishes: Look, the Chinese own more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt. I think they are trying to monitor the White House's real plans to address America's debt and deficit problem.

Purcell: That sounds a little farfetched.

Phishes: In a normal world, it would, but if my hunch is right, the Chinese could be on to something. America is spending $1 trillion more every year than we are taking in. The Federal Reserve is printing money out of thin air and buying a significant percentage of U.S. debt.

Purcell: We are printing money to buy our own debt? That doesn't sound so good.

Phishes: It is not so good. You need not be an Ivy league economist to see disaster ahead if the economy doesn't get turned around. All that funny money and debt can create massive inflation or, worse, a real collapse. That would make the $1 trillion in bonds the Chinese hold a bust.

Purcell: So you think the Chinese are using sophisticated adversaries to keep an eye on their $1 trillion investment?

Phishes: Considering how poorly America is responding to its problems, wouldn't you?

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. E-mail him at: Tom@TomPurcell.com

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