I liked IR better when it was more about figuring out what happened than ~OMG CHINA~—
Kyle Maxwell (@kylemaxwell) May 09, 2012
I got a bit of friendly feedback after recently stating on Twitter that I get tired of all the constant drum-beating about China. That includes some notes from friends and colleagues whom I respect but who do not entirely agree with me. I thought I’d clarify my thoughts on the original APT as a result.
First, anybody who doesn’t recognize that China is engaged in a long-term (and heretofore incredibly successful) campaign of information operations against the West just hasn’t paid attention. We have the evidence, and even the PRC’s protestations to the contrary seem carefully constructed simply to parse meanings and split hairs. They engage in normal diplomatic cover speak, and I can’t fault them for that, but we should still recognize it for what it is. Denials of this reality ring as hollow as denials of the immense volume of fraud and related cyber crimes sourced from Eastern Europe and Russia.
That said, however, I believe some of the reaction in recent months has gone overboard. A number of high-profile individuals have had a significant presence in the press lately, and some of them seem to have the impression that the US should treat this as the most significant issue in its relations with the PRC. Given the range of issues that involve two of the most powerful nations in human history, I find this shortsighted. Climate change, energy policy, human rights, and macroeconomic issues all represent legitimate areas of discussion. Information operations (“warfare” if you like, but I don’t) comprise an important part of those issues but should not overshadow things like nuclear weaponry, for example.
At the same time, they indicate that only the “APT” matters and that professional incident responders only think in term of campaigns (rather than intrusions). I disagree: other significant issues do exist within our domains of threat intelligence, information security, and incident response, as well as within the separate scope of Pacific Rim foreign policy. When your rhetoric reaches the point where your professional colleagues start to openly wonder if you’ve become completely Sinophobic, then you should take a step back and ponder whether to dial it down slightly.
Yes, China’s IO campaigns certainly present a significant challenge in a number of ways, including the need for public awareness in the West, but that challenge exists within the context of many other important topics. Let’s not get so zoomed into one adversary and one issue that we lose focus on the rest.