Although there hasn’t been a lot of commotion about it in the wake of Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, on Thursday, October 4, the largest cyberterrorism act in the history of mankind was uncovered. This wasn’t a “hack” by a group of plucky white-hat hackers defacing a corporate mainframe, nor was it Russian trolls leaking sensitive information. Rather, this was the culmination of three years of the West’s greatest threat having unrestricted access to nearly every single piece of important information transmitted, from personal computers to classified executive orders.

An article in Bloomberg detailed that since 2015, Chinese intelligence has infiltrated the company Supermicro, one of the world’s largest suppliers of motherboards — the essential “brain” of any computer — and placed tiny chips, less than a fraction of the size of a cuticle, in nearly all of their products. These chips, far smaller than the human eye could detect, were able to transmit nearly all information back to “controller” computers in China. In other words, anything that ran on Supermicro motherboards was being transmitted back to China. Supermicro’s customer list didn’t just include Apple’s core servers and Amazon’s mainframe. It also included Department of Defense data centers, CIA drone operation headquarters and top secret naval warships including, quite possibly, nuclear submarines.

While internal intelligences have known about this hack for some time, the full extent of the damage is still unknown, and the implications go far beyond a mere information breach. China produces a whopping 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs, meaning that they’re uniquely positioned for this kind of hardware hack, something that’s never been so much as attempted before, much less successfully pulled off. It’s long been speculated that China is leagues ahead of the U.S. in modern cyberwarfare, spending billions on specialized hacking teams and covert digital espionage. With this breach, that’s been confirmed. China isn’t just ahead of the U.S. in the digital realm, they’re miles away — and due to their slice of digital manufacturing, they’re the only ones capable of feasibly pulling off these kinds of hardware swipes, as opposed to more traditional viruses that operate off relatively less dangerous malicious software.

It’s true that we’re ahead of the rest of the world in many kinds of conventional warfare, from naval capacity to aviation innovations, but how useful is an advanced stealth bomber if the enemy knows where it’s going to hit a week before it launches? I’ve long stated that China is not the Japanese scare of the 21st century, and I’ll repeat it now: China is the largest, most advanced and richest non-Western nation on earth, ruled by an iron-fisted pseudo-communist autocracy that has no intention of ever willingly submitting to Western rule of law. The degree that we lag behind them in the warfare of the 21st century, that played by tactical hacking and computing developments, is more than just unacceptable. It’s dangerous. The further we allow China to get ahead in the information game, the fewer those flashy developments in air, sea and artillery matter and the more the contemporary Western order stops looking like a juggernaut and starts looking like a target.

Contact Max Goldenberg at mgoldenberg@colgate.edu.

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