FBI chief has revealed that Chinese hackers are targeting critical U.S. infrastructure, including its water treatment plants, electrical grid, and oil and natural gas pipelines.
In a testimony before a US congressional committee on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the top investigation agency successfully executed an operation to shut down a group of hackers known as Volt Typhoon.
“China’s quest to steal American intellectual property to gain an economic and militaristic edge over the United States hasn’t let up. But the scope of its malicious cyber activities has expanded to target our nation’s critical infrastructure, Wray told lawmakers during the hearing, which looked to measure the risks that Chinese cyber efforts poses to U.S. national security.”
“There has been far too little public focus on the fact that PRC [People’s Republic of China] hackers are targeting our critical infrastructure — our water treatment plants, our electrical grid, our oil and natural gas pipelines, our transportation systems,” Wray told the the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party during his opening remarks. “And the risk that poses to every American requires our attention now.”
China’s state-sponsored hackers are posturing themselves to be able to take down these vital resources at a moment’s notice. That way, if conflict breaks out between the two major powers, China can cripple those resources and do direct harm to U.S. citizens, Wray warned.
Wray pointed out a breakthrough in taking out one such threat. On Wednesday, it was announced that FBI, with the help of partners, identified Wi-Fi routers that had been infected with malware originating from a Chinese government-sponsored hacking group.
“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—steps China was taking, in other words, to find and prepare to destroy or degrade the civilian critical infrastructure that keeps us safe and prosperous,” Wray said. “So working with our partners, the FBI ran a court-authorized, on-network operation to shut down Volt Typhoon and the access it enabled.”
Microsoft had warned in May last year that Volt Typhoon had targeted many American public assets, including hacking government email accounts.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request would help the FBI bolster its 56 field offices’ ability to investigate cyber threats, Wray’s written testimony to the committee stated.
The Budget Request includes an additional $63 million for more agents, enhanced response capabilities, and strengthened intelligence collection and analysis capabilities.
Cuts to the Bureau’s budget would hinder the FBI computer intrusion program’s ability to combat Chinese threats to U.S. economic and national security “before they can do significant harm,” the written testimony noted.
Wray testified beside witnesses from across the U.S. government’s highest levels of cyber leadership at the hearing.
by Joji Xavier
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