WASHINGTON (AFP) : The United States fears that potential malware planted in the country’s crucial power and communications networks by China is a “ticking time bomb” which may endanger the military in case of a conflict, a report said Saturday.
The New York Times, quoting U.S. military, intelligence and security officials, said the malware potentially gave China’s People’s Liberation Army the ability to disrupt U.S. military operations if Beijing were to move against Taiwan at some point.
The systems affected, the Times said, could allow China not only to cut off water, power and communications to U.S. military bases but also to homes and businesses across the U.S.
The report comes two months after Microsoft warned that state-sponsored Chinese hackers had infiltrated critical U.S. infrastructure networks.
Microsoft singled out Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory with a vital military outpost, as one target but said malicious activity had also been detected elsewhere in the U.S.
It said the stealthy attack, carried out since mid-2021, was likely aimed at hampering the U.S. in the event of a regional conflict.
Authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain warned at the same time that Chinese hacking was likely taking place globally, affecting an extensive range of infrastructure.
Discovery of the malware, the Times said, sparked a series of meetings in the White House Situation Room involving top military, intelligence and national security officials to track down and eradicate the code.
The newspaper quoted one congressional official saying the malware operation amounted to “a ticking time bomb.”
The White House issued a statement Friday that did not mention China or military bases.
“The Biden administration is working relentlessly to defend the U.S. from any disruptions to our critical infrastructure, including by coordinating interagency efforts to protect water systems, pipelines, rail and aviation systems, among others,” said Adam Hodge, acting spokesperson for the National Security Council.
He added that President Joe Biden “has also mandated rigorous cybersecurity practices for the first time.”
Reports of the malware operation come at a particularly strained point in U.S.-China relations, with China aggressively asserting its claim that Taiwan is Chinese territory and the U.S. seeking to ban sales of sophisticated semiconductors to Beijing.