5 military uses for the internet according to Chinese Cyberwarfare

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This is an archived article from 2015.

In a Statfor article from 2014 five military uses for outlined, probably defined by the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Academy of Military Science in Bejing (军事科学研究院). While the publication is also available via Wikileaks, it’s not exactly a scandalous leak. By today’s standards China appears to be more honest about the rise of military and intelligence techniques to maintain control about information and internet connected computer systems. The methods do not appear to majorly difference to Western democratic initiatives.

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence

The first use is intelligence collection. The authors note that much of this intelligence is public, open-source information spread across the Internet that can be collated into something more valuable than the sum of its parts.
We see a lot of OSINT in Western societies as well. However before the Snowden leaks this was not a very discussion worth topic, and western journalists are still unfamiliar with the appropriate terminology.

While we often see politicians asking for data retention, we never see any results of the correlation capabilities of intelligence agencies. Analysis based on OSINT can only be an indicator. Verifying the facts is a task for executive authorities, which do not get tasked with intelligence data analysis. This fact is phrased in the last sentence: “something more valuable”. A certain transparency could help the social debate, however this is not to be expected.

Sabotage and Signals Intelligence (SigInt)

And through creative manipulation of the Internet, including hacking, even more valuable intelligence can be gleaned. The second military purpose is network paralysis — using botnets and viruses to disable websites, communications systems and even physical targets in the Stuxnet attacks.

The term “creative manipulation” is very fitting and demystifying the “cyperwar” aspect. From an intelligence perspective getting data from secured locations adds credibility to their content.
The use of federal backdoors for the means of intelligence is not foreign to Western democracies. Germany has a Federal Remote Trojan project and laws for backdoor access for federal authorities. Many governments buy digital intrusion technology from companies like VUPEN or FinFisher. These technologies are starting to become export restricted, if they are professionally developed.

The problem is that a targeted well executed SIGINT operation requires specialists, which Federal Policies do not have. This creates a vacuum of uncertainty, also due to the fact that information can be planted via the same intrusive means. Therefore getting “valuable intelligence” is a matter of precise and controlled execution.

Network defense

The third military use is network defense against the second type, and this requires a holistic system of active defenses to identify attacks and prevent sensitive information from being exposed.

The defensive measures of western government networks and computers are usually handled by outsourced contractors. In opposite to businesses governments usually have data classification, however executing it is with challenges. Western governments struggle with this as well, which we often see via Wikileaks e.g.

Network defense is not enough, which is pointed out with the phrase “holistic system of active defenses”. Common of the shelf security products have limited capabilities, especially when it comes to incident logging and security event correlation. The market of security products isn’t driven by technology advances, because customers rarely have the means to verify the effectiveness. Therefore it’s an indicator if a public organization appears as a customer.

Governmental internet activism

The fourth operational purpose of the Internet, according to Ye and Zhao, is “psychological warfare.” They noted that American publications have called the Internet the main battleground for public opinion and that the online organizing of opposition groups in Egypt and other parts of North Africa and the Middle East this spring is a good example of this form of cyber-warfare.

The internet can be used to spread propaganda, and the public opinion can be easily manipulated. Either via the means of social networking and campaigning based social engineering or by discrediting adversaries with information leaks. Using the internet for political messaging is one thing, using it to demotivate target groups in areas of war is another thing. Latter comes with the issue, that it is a double edged sword.


The fifth military purpose is using Internet technology to achieve effects on the battlefield, though being able to achieve predictable effects on a time frame necessary for planning and conducting an integrated military campaign continues to be a technical challenge.

Regardless of what intelligence, defense or manipulation uses evolve, a battle is won with weapons. Such weapons can be semi autonomous like drones or distributed like sensor network arrays. Such arrays are used to locate and track targets, or to guide weapon technology. The Internet of Things may also mean an internet, where a system becomes a weapon - either by intention or by sabotage.

Collaborative communication tools can be a significant advantage, however it requires secured communication, and a solid understanding of technology to secure the information against compromise. Sadly this is where western military organizations struggle, or do not advance at all.

Only 5

The key use is not related to costs or to effort. It’s skill. This is probably why a Chinese military academy published their strategic concept paper; they are the source of skill. Due to a different approach to the freedom of information in China PLA Military academy probably is the primary source of security knowledge.

In essence there are only minor differences: the rise of military technology is more than obvious in our Western culture. The NSA after all is a military branch of the US intelligence structure. Social resistance is a temporary problem at best. Mostly due to the fact that there are real reasons why countries need working intelligence in order to tap and surveil terror suspects. Otherwise their observations require a lot of manpower, which is hard to manage and to distribute.