China is preparing its legion of hackers to “wreak havoc” on critical US infrastructure, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned lawmakers Wednesday.
Digital infiltrators working for the People’s Republic of China are specifically targeting American water treatment plants, the electrical grid, oil and natural gas pipelines and transportation systems, according to the FBI director, who noted that the Chinese hackers far outnumber the bureau’s cyber personnel.
“China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real world harm to American citizens and communities if and when China decides the time has come to strike,” Wray told the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.
“To quantify what we’re up against, the PRC has a bigger hacking program than that of every major nation combined,” the FBI director said.
“In fact, if you took every single one of the FBI cyber agents and intelligence analysts and focus them exclusively on the China threat, China’s hackers would still outnumber FBI cyber personnel by at least 50-to1.”
Wray described the PRC’s hacking efforts as part of a the communist country’s “multi-pronged assault on our national and economic security,” which he called “the defining threat of our generation.”
To highlight how commonplace and pervasive China’s hacking efforts are, Wray noted that just earlier in the day the FBI identified “hundreds of routers” that had been taken over by the Chinese hacking group known as Volt Typhoon.
“The Volt Typhoon malware enabled China to hide, among other things, pre-operational reconnaissance and network exploitation against critical infrastructure, like our communications, energy, transportation, and water sectors,” he said.
Wray described the malware attack, thwarted by the bureau and its partners, as an attempt by the PRC “to find and prepare to destroy or degrade the civilian critical infrastructure that keeps us safe and prosperous.”
“And let’s be clear, cyber threats to our critical infrastructure represent real world threats to our physical safety,” he added.
In response to Wray’s ominous testimony, Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) said he had no doubt that the PRC’s hacking program was laying the groundwork for the next major world conflict.
“The difference here is that this has crossed the line from collecting on us and using cyber to get inside of our systems to putting malware in that can take out our systems,” Waltz said during an appearance on Fox News. “So, we have to start thinking about this differently.”
Waltz further argued that cyberattacks against critical US infrastructure should be considered “an act of war.”
“There is no difference in sending a missile into a dam or a water treatment facility than shutting it down through cyber means,” the Florida Republican said. “It’s an attack. It’s an act of war. We’ve got to begin thinking about it that way.”
Wray insisted that the US must remain vigilant and actively defend against threats from Beijing.
“Otherwise, China has shown it will make us pay,” he said.